Indigenous peoples in West Papua

West Papua covers the western part of the island of New Guinea, comprising the Indonesian provinces of Papua and Papua Barat. 50% of its 2.7 million inhabitants are indigenous. The remaining 50% are Indonesian migrants, many of whom have been brought to West Papua by the Indonesian government’s large-scale transmigration program.

Within Indonesia, West Papua is a territory of extremes. On the negative side, it is the region with the lowest development index. Forty percent of its population is poor (compared to the national average of 16.6%). The maternal mortality rate is the highest in Indonesia (1,025 per 100,000 live births compared to 307 for the nation as a whole) and HIV/AIDS prevalence is the highest in the country (a case rate of 67.55 out of every 100,000 people). Papua is the province with the widest variation in HDI (Human Development Index). It ranges from a very low 47 in the rugged highlands of Jayawijaya where mainly indigenous peoples live to 73 in the port city of Sorong with a big transmigrant community.

On the positive side, it can be reported that West Papua is the most geographically and culturally diverse of Indonesia’s provinces, with more than 250 Melanesian indigenous ethnic groups. West Papuan forests cover 42 million hectares, 24% of Indonesia’s total forested area and West Papua is home to 54% of Indonesia’s biodiversity.

One of the big challenges is to find a way in which the natural resources can be used to improve the livelihoods of the indigenous peoples. In this, the Papuans feel supported by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous of Peoples (13/09/2007), and the Law on Special Autonomy which Indonesia passed in 2001 for Papua Province. The province originally covered the whole of West Papua but in 2003, the Indonesian government declared the westernmost part of the island a separate province, and in 2007 this was named Papua Barat (West Papua). The split is widely opposed by the Papuans, where it is viewed as a violation of the special autonomy law.

Download the 2010 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in West Papua to read more about major developments and events during 2009

In the 2011 yearbook, news about the situation of indigenous peoples in West Papua was included into the general article about Indonesia, which you can find here.


IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

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