In Pictures: Traditions under threat in Papua

Indonesian province of West Papua, rich in human and natural resources, is struggling against poverty and big business.


West Papua, Indonesia - With a population of four million people, 252 tribes and 307 languages, this easternmost province is rich in natural and human resources.

But it is also the most underdeveloped with the highest poverty level and the lowest education rate in the country. It is also the most politically sensitive place in Indonesia - a nation of 250 million people.

West Papua chose to be a part of Indonesia in a 1969 referendum on independence. But some Papuans refused to recognise the result of the referendum, which they say was the unanimous choice of elders handpicked by the Indonesian military. They have been rebelling against Indonesian rule ever since.

The story of West Papua, to this day, is heavily coloured in human rights violations committed by the Indonauesian armed forces.

West Papua contains some of the last great tracts of undisturbed rainforest in the Asia-Pacific region, an estimated 33 million hectares in 1997. But that number has dropped dramatically since then. The central government plans to massively expand palm oil plantations in West Papua. This means also converting community forests, which are the source of livelihood for many locals.

To improve the situation in Papua, the central government granted the province a special autonomy status in 2001. This authorises local administrations to manage their own areas with little intervention from the central government, and grants special autonomy funds, which some say rarely benefit people because of corruption.