Originally a Dutch colony like the rest of Indonesia, West Papua held elections in 1959 and the elected council took office in 1961, in preparation for full independence. However, the Dutch handed the area over to a UN temporary administration, who in turned gave it over to Indonesia in 1963. The controversial plebiscite known as the Act of Free Choice , held in 1969, resulted in an improbable 100% vote in favor of joining Indonesia. The region, renamed first as Irian Barat (West Irian) and then Irian Jaya (Glorious Irian) has been under heavy Indonesian military control ever since, with the outgunned Free Papua Movement (Operasi Papua Merdeka or OPM) fighting for independence.
The name Papua was restored in 2000 in a sop to the nationalists. A controversial decision to divide the province into three parts was met with violent riots and remains stalled in legal confusion.
Papua is incredibly diverse and different from the rest of Indonesia (or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world). Despite of a population of under three million, Papua is home to over 800 languages and has cultures that are technologically still in the Stone Age. Cannibalism was practiced until the 1970s and there are still whispered rumors of the practice continuing.
Nearly all travellers arrive by plane. The main gateways are Biak, Manokwari and Jayapura, although there are also limited flights to Fakfak and Sorong. Only Garuda has direct flights from Jakarta to capital Jayapura; all other carriers, including Air Efata, Batavia Air and Lion Air, fly circuitous routes with stops at intermediate cities like Makassar (Ujung Panjang).
Pelni boats also stop at Jaypura and Farfak , amoungst other destinations. This is a relaxing and interesting way to arrive if you have the time.
There are no buses to the Papuan Border. Car or motorbike hire for some of the distance is required.
The Free Papua Movement (Operasi Papua Merdeka or OPM) continues to operate throughout Papua and all of Papua's major cities have seen violently suppressed riots. The OPM has also kidnapped Western hostages on two occasions, although their targets are mining company employees and Indonesian security personnel, not tourists. Travel permits (surat jalan) are required for travel beyond the major cities; they can be obtained at Jayapura and Biak. Some parts are off-limits to all visitors and journalists of any stripe are not welcome.