The Identity of People from Central Highland of Papua

Tito Panggabean (Independent researcher)
Lamtiur H. Tampubolon (Atma Jaya Catholic University)


There is a village in the central highlands of Papua, located in remote areas and it is laid in the border district of Intan Jaya and Mimika, which is the traditional boundary of the Moni and Amungme. Its population consists roughly about 200 household heads or 900 inhabitants. Not so many people know about this village because no one has ever visited the village, as there is no access and adequate transportation to get there. The village is divided into two regions: the first called “Kepala Air” (Hulu) and the second is “Muara” (Hilir). In that village, none of the young men still wear “Koteka”. Only a few old men who still do it. Housing in the village is no longer scattered and traditional, but it is located in one area and under the resettlement program. The name of the village is Aroanop, which is inhabited by the Amungme, Moni, Dani and Nduga. This paper will examine the issue of identity or multiple identities on the Papuans in the Central Highlands by taking the case of the village of Aroanop. Based on the origin, ethnicity, kinship (clan), and folklore, it shows that they all (Amungme, Moni, Dani, and Nduga) derived from the same lineage. According to local folklore, these people fragmented into smaller groups and they spread out and settle in the valleys of the Central Highlands. One day, there was a mining company donated its development funds (community social responsibility funds) for these people and turned them into one identity, the so called “Amungme” tribe. Later, they evolved into the identity of seven tribes (Amungme, Mee, Moni, Nduga, Damal, Dani, and Kamoro that is located on the coast). Thus, identity can be interpreted as economic benefits for those who become its members. This study is based on one-year research in the village (it was not in a continuous period, however). As this was a qualitative study, we did some in-depth interviews, participant-observation to community leaders, and other community members such as women and children, as well as workers in the village of Aroanop. In this study, photographs of people’s activities became an important tool when we analyzed the data. Based on the result of the study, the authors perceive that identity is a social construction. At one time the term “Amungme” became a favorable identity for those who use it because they can take an advantage from it. However, in these days, people more likely use identity of seven tribes. Thus, we argue that in the future, if those identities were no longer beneficial, they would leave it and shift to another new identity which would be more profitable when they interacted with outsiders.