A name for the island of New Guinea
, only ever actually applied to the Indonesian-controlled western half (the eastern half being Papua New Guinea
). When Indonesia
became independent from the Netherlands
in 1945, they retained their colony of Dutch New Guinea
, whose people were ethnically very different (Melanesian
). But in the 1960s a reasonably fraudulent act of free choice took place, and Irian was united with Indonesia in 1969.
The Indonesian province took on the name of West Irian (Indonesian name Irian Barat) or in 1973 Irian Jaya. After the downfall of the dictator Suharto in recent years, with a certain democratization of Indonesia, and with the collapse of their occupation of East Timor, Indonesia extended an olive branch of autonomy to Irian Jaya. The provincial assembly decided to adopt the name West Papua, which had been in use for many years by the separatist movement OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdéka, or Free Papua Movement).
There was some confusion about this. The central government announced the division of Irian Jaya into three provinces in 1999 and appointed governors, but this did not go through.* As of 1 January 2002 it was officially renamed Papua, and in November 2003 a new province of Irian Jaya Barat was split off from it.
The capital is Jayapura, formerly Sukarnoputra.
* See http://rulers.org/indoprov.html