Subsistence farming is carried on (some of the highland tribes terrace and cultivate mountains with slopes of 45°); taro, bananas, sugarcane, and sweet potatoes are the principal crops. Wild game is trapped, and there is fishing along the coast and the rivers. The Grasberg Mine, in central Papua, is the world's largest gold deposit and also contains valuable copper and silver deposits. Magnetite has been found in the Sterren (Star) Mts. near the Papua New Guinea border, a region unexplored until 1959.
The Dutch first visited the west coast of the island in 1606. They extended their rule along the coastal areas in the 18th cent., and in 1828 claimed possession of the coast west of the 141st meridian and in 1848 of the north coast W of Humboldt Bay. The Dutch claim to the western half of the island was recognized by Great Britain and Germany in treaties of 1885 and 1895. In World War II the northern coastal areas and offshore islands were occupied (1942) by the Japanese but retaken (1944) by the Allies, after which Hollandia became a staging base for operations in the Philippines.
Following Indonesian independence (1949), the Dutch retained control of what was then called Netherlands (or Dutch) New Guinea. Years of dispute over the territory culminated in a declaration of independence in 1961 by native Papuans, which was not recognized by Indonesia, and the landing (early 1962) of Indonesian guerrillas and paratroopers there. The conflict between the Dutch and Indonesia ended in late 1962 when the Netherlands agreed to UN administration of territory and, after May 1, 1963, transfer of it to Indonesian control pending a plebiscite (to be held under UN supervision before 1970). In Aug., 1969, several hundred tribal leaders, voting as representatives of their people, chose to remain under Indonesian rule, and Indonesia then formally annexed the territory. The province, which had been known as Irian Barat (West Irian) was officially renamed Irian Jaya in 1973.
Many Papuans objected to the annexation; resistance to Indonesian rule, which began in 1962, has persisted, leading to sporadic conflicts and repressive army control. In June, 2000, a congress of Papuan activists declared the province independent as West Papua, an action that was rejected by the Indonesian government, which subsequently responded with a military crackdown on independence supporters. The area, however, was subsequently granted (2001) limited autonomy. In 2002 the provincial government adopted the name Papua for the province.
A national government proposal in 2003 to split Papua into three provinces sparked new unrest there, and the Indonesia constitutional court annulled (2004) the law that divided the province. However, the court nonetheless accepted the establishment of West Irian Jaya prov., which had already been created on Papua's western peninsula. West Irian Jaya prov. was renamed West Papua prov. in 2007. Immigration of Malays from other parts of Indonesia to Papua and West Papua, which has been encouraged by the national government, has contributed to discontent among indigenous Papuans and help fuel the ongoing resistance to Indonesian rule, as has economic development of mineral resources that has contributed little to reducing poverty in rural areas. Since late 2018, there has been increased fighting between government forces and Papuan separatists. In 2019 a racial incident involving Papuan students in Surabaya, Java, sparked several weeks of recurring protests by Papuans, which spread from West Papua to other provinces.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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