New Guinea is a hot, humid island rising from the sea with some of the most impenetrable jungles in the world and yet also has snow caps covering almost 5,000 metres - high mountain peaks, towering over glacier lakes, island is full of mysterious rivers, birds of paradise, endless swamps and impassable rainforests. New Guinea is now divided into two parts: the eastern part is called Papua New Guinea, independent state, and western part, formerly known as Irian Jaya, now called West Papua. West Papua is Indonesia's largest ( 421,981 km2, representing 22% of total Indonesia's area ) and easternmost province and covers the western half of the world's second largest island ( after Greenland ). It is the least populated, least visited and most remote province of Indonesia. It is a land of outstanding natural splendour, with stunning scenic beaches, huge stretches of marshlands, cool grassy meadows and powerful rivers carving gorges and tunnels through dark and dense primeval forests. More than 75 percent of the land is covered by dense tropical forests, with only about 1.5 million people, with an average population density of 2.8 persons per square kilometer, the lowest in Indonesia. The most heavily populated and cultivated parts of the island are the Paniai Lakes district and the Baliem Valley to the east. The people of the island can be divided into more than 250 sub-groups, which are closely related to the islands along the southern rim of the Pacific and include among others, the Marindanim, Yah'ray, Asmat, Mandobo, Dani and Afyat. Those in the central highlands still maintain their customs and traditions and because of the terrain have virtually been untouched by outside influences. Communications hove always been difficult here and different tribes have lived, for the most part, in isolation even of each other, resulting in an incredibly diverse mixture of cultures. The flatter coastal regions of West Papua, however, were visited as early as the 7th century by traders from Sriwijaya. European traders began arriving in the early 16th century, looking for spices and have left historical footprints in the area with names such as Bougainville, Cape d'Urville and the Torres Straits, named after Luis Baez de Torres, a Spanish navigator from the early 17th.It was the Dutch who made the most lasting impact on the island, who in 1828, formally made Papua a Dutch Territory which was not released until 1962. The Provincial capital of Jayapura is built on hills which slope down to the sea and is accessible by boat and place. It was here that General MacArthur assembled his fleet for the invasion of the Philippines during the Second World War.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Jayapura is the capital and the biggest city of this easternmost province. It is a neat and pleasant city, built on the slope of a hill overlooking the bay. General Douglas Mc Arthur's World War II quarters still stand here. The Museum Jayapura is located inside the Cenderawasih University campus. Tanjung Ria Beach, known as base G by the Allies during World War II, is a popular holiday resort with facilities for water sports. From Skyline in the hills behind the city, one gets a beautiful view of Jayapura, Jotefa and Humboldt bays and the lake Sentani area.
There is a settlement on the shore of this lake not far from Jayapura where one can observe local traditions as they are practiced in the daily lives of the people. The short trip from Jayapura, pleasant as it is, offers a little foretaste of the province's magnificent sceneries.
Baliem Valley and Dani tribe
The lush Baliem Valley lies in West Papua's highlands, at 1,500 metres above sea level. The fertile, heavily cultivated 525 km2 valley floor is encircled by the steep Sudirman mountain range. Early morning clouds and mist often hide the surrounding heights, creating an eternal and mystic atmosphere that gradually dispels with the sun's rays. These clouds kept the valley hidden away from Western eyes until 1938 when American explorer Richard Archbold flew his seaplane over the mountains and sighted through a gap in the clouds a lush valley dotted with thatched roofs of Dani hats. In 1945, the first missionaries made contact with the estimated 95,000 tribes-people that the world was made aware of the valley and its inhabitants. The creamy brown Baliem River, about 55 km long and 15 km wide, snakes through the valley before pouring out through a southern gorge to the Arafura Sea. The indigenous people of the Baliem Valley, Dani, Lani and Yali, are a Neolithic race with unknown origins. Until the 1960s when steel was introduced to them, they were using wood, flint and stone weapons and tools. Although foreign influence continues to chip away at their believes and traditions, the ethnic people live basically as they have done for centuries, following tribal laws and time-honoured customs. In the villages, men still wear the penis gourd while the women wear string skirts and carry babies or piglets in their fibre bags.
Agats is the only town in Asmat ( the land and the people share this name ). The Asmat people who live along the remote southeast coast around Agats, once feared headhunters and cannibals and now famed for their artistic "primitive" woodcarving. Modern civilization did not reach this area until recently. The first recorded encounter with European occurred in 1770 when English explorer James Cook stopped in Smat territory near the Casuarina Coast in search of fresh water. As Cook and his men approached the jungle, a group of Asmat appeared. Cook, fearing danger, fired at the group and returned to his ship. In 1913, this place was named Cook's Bay. The area, however is still largely untamed wilderness.
Biak Island, lying on West Papua's north coast is 50 km long and 18 km wide. Town of Biak, built on the rocky soil of an island, on the rim of Cenderawasih Bay, is West Papua's gateway. Travellers go to Biak for diving or snorkelling or because of an interest in the World War II battles between the Allies and the Japanese fought here. Biak is the site of an Indonesian naval base, and Japanese caves are found near Ambroben. Cenderawasih Bay and islands off Papua's western tip hold some stunning, unexplored reefs and it is truly a diver's paradise. The outfit takes divers to World War II wrecks and other fine sites in the Sorong area, in the Raja Ampat islands and in Dore Bay.
Cartensz Pyramid ( Puncak Jaya )
Cartensz Pyramid is one of the Seven Summits ( the highest mountain on each continent ) and those mountaineers who want to reach the Seven Summits need to include a climbing expedition to this beautiful but remote place. Though discovered by the Dutch explorer Cartensz in 1623, Heinrich Harrer was the first person to climb to its summit and he only accomplished this in 1962. Due to Indonesia taking control of Irian Jaya from the Dutch in 1963 and its government's great concerns about the security, it has imposed strict restrictions on access to Irian Jaya and its mountains and for many years refused permits and permission to visit the area. Therefore until quite recently it had not been possible to climb in Irian Jaya and only lately had these controls been somewhat relaxed. Apart from Cartensz Pyramid there is also another very attractive mountain nearby, Ngga Pulu, a glacial mountain. Ngga Pulu had originally been the highest mountain on the island until the continuance of global warming over many years had reduced it by some 20 metres, although that difference varied from year to year, depending upon snow falls and rock movements. Cartensz Pyramid is also snow-capped, but is mostly a very tough rock climb, whereas Ngga Pulu is mainly a steep glacial climb, mainly treacherous over the final ice and snow sections.