It was the Spaniard Ynigo Ortiz de Retes who, in 1545, gave the name Nueva Guinea to a strip of land on the north coast of the world's second largest island (after Greenland), which is now half Irian Jaya Indonesian and half Papua New Guinean territory.
Irian Jaya, the western half of the island, is Indonesia's biggest province of about 410,000 square kilometers, representing almost 21 percent of the country's total land area. 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. Jayapura, the neat provincial capital on a hillside overlooking the bay, is 3,520 kilometers away from Jakarta.
Irian Jaya is a tropical island with primeval rain forests, powerful rivers, beautiful beaches, lakes, and mountains. The highest mountain is Mount Jayawijaya, with snowcaps covering its 5,000-meter-high peaks. The area is also rich in natural resources, including fish, timber, and precious metals.
Irian Jaya is a land of exceptional natural grandeur. Its jungles are among the wildest, most impenetrable in the world. Eternal snow capped mountain ridges more than 5,000 meters high, with walls plunge hundreds of meters down onto floors filled with small glacier lakes. It has scenic beaches in abundance as well as immense stretches of marshlands. Cool grassy meadows lie at the foot of the towering mountains. Rivers cut through dark forests until their sluggish, crocodile infested mouths disgorge the water into the sea.
The highest peak of the central mountain range is Puncak Jayawijaya (5,500 meters). Second and third are Gunung Trikora (5,160 meters) and Gunung Yamin (5,100 meters), respectively. The biggest lake is Paniai, followed in order of declining size by the lakes Ronbenbai and Sentani, both in the vicinity of Jayapura, and Anggigita near Manokwari.
On the basis of physical features and differences in language, customs, artistic expression and other aspects of culture, the indigenous people of Irian Jaya are distinguished into about 250 sub-groups, although they all belong to the Melanesian race, and are related to the people inhabiting the islands along the southern rim of the Pacific. The Negritos are believed to have settled on the island first, probably some 30,000 years ago, followed by the Melanesians. The people of the central highlands still maintain their ancestral customs and traditions, and are virtually untouched by alien influences. Most of the changes have so far taken place among the coastal people, who are being subjected to ever increasing contacts with the world outside. This process of change is being accelerated by the work of missionaries, who have been working for many decades among the local populations. The people of the north and west are mostly Protestants, while those of the south and of the hinterland around Enarotali are Roman Catholics. Those around Fakfak and the Raja Ampat Islands are mostly Moslem. Animism is still practiced by isolated tribes in various parts of the province.
Irian Jaya is famed for its Bird of Paradise.
19th Century wound down,
only one of the world's great
lands still remained cloaked in mystery: New Guinea. Here was a place
where pulp writers could indulge their fits of fancy, populating this
great unknown island with strange beasts and even stranger people, and
no one could yet prove otherwise. The Baliem Valley, where agriculture
had been going on for 9,000 years, and which supported a population
density of almost 1,000 people per square kilometer, first felt the
gaze of an outsider in 1938.
Today hardy travelers can still get a special thrill pulling out a good, US produced flight map of Irian Jaya and seeing the words "Relief Data Incomplete" printed across great swaths of territory. Irian's 1.6 million people from a patchwork of ethnicity, speaking by estimate as many as 250 distinct languages. The island's great size and rugged terrain have isolated them from one another for thousands of years, and each has developed a distinct culture and lifestyle.
The Dany of the central high islands, perhaps the best-known of the Irianese, live in communities of tidy little thatch-and-wood huts, surrounded by neatly kept gardens of sweet potato vines. The scene has reminded more than one writer of the farm country of the American Midwest, and as such it is remarkably incongruous sight on an island otherwise unmarked by the hand of man. Although the stone axe was unceremoniously abandoned as soon as steel became available a few decades ago, the Dani remain resolute in sartorial matters: penis gourds for men, and fiber skirt's for women. Even a concerted effort by the fledgling Indonesian government failed to convince Dani men that's pants were superior to their horim.
If Dani are Irian's most famous group, the Asmat of the South Coast of the island's most motorious. Historically, Asmat Culture was centered around a cycle of head hunting. Fresh enemy heads were necessary to bring about the periodic spiritual rejuvenation of the village. As long ago as 1770, Captain Cook's landing party was sent packing from their territory with valley of arrows and frightening bursts of lime, but the Asmat's most famous victim may have been Michael Rockefeller, who disappeared after his boat capsized of Irian Jaya Southern shore in 1961. He could just as well have met a more prosaic death by drowning, however, or been devoured by a saltwater crocodile. Today, the mention of cannibalism-or ritual warfare in the highland-yields embarrassed smiles and shrugs, and it has of course been banned by the government. But there are still pockets of this great island where mention and government haven't yet reached, and no one can say what cultural practice exist here. Modernization and tourist infrastructure, have come to Irian Jaya, in much more limited way than in western Indonesia. Wamena in the heart of Baliem Valley, is an hour-long, daily flight from Jayapura, Irian's bustling and the South Coast, require quite a bit more patience and organization.
The reward of a visit to Irian are manifold: snorkeling in clear, coral-field water off Biak; smoking a clove cigarette and cracking pandanus nuts in a warm hut in the highlands; or laying back in a canoe, a livid sunset lighting up the sky, the only sounds the rhythmic strokes of the paddles and the sweet, mournful singing of the Asmat.
One of world's richest reefs (!) are located in West Irian Jaya. This area is part of Indonesia, and shares the main island of Irian Jaya with neighboring Papua New Guinea. Consisting of a group of more than 600 islands, this is a majestic realm more varied and colorful than you can ever imagine. The Marine Conservancy called it the most biologically diverse coral reefs in the world after their 2003 expedition. "This reef should be protected at all cost because it represents a baseline to which all other reefs in the world may be compared" according to world renowned fish biologist Dr. Gerald Allen.
The first quake, hit at 2.10am local time (6.10am NZT) at a depth of 21.2km.
The second quake, a 7.2-magnitude tremor, struck at 2.11am local time (6.11 NZT) at a depth of 12.3km.
The third and smallest earthquake at 5.2 magnitude, struck about four hours later, at a depth of 17.6km.
The Indonesian meteorological and geophysics agency put the strength of the second quake at a much stronger 7.4. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.
The were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The area closest to the epicentre is a remote, sparsely populated part of the country.