The World of West Papua

April 12, 2010

From Hollandia to Port Numbay

Filed under: History — by Land of West Papua @ 1:06 pm

Recently on 7 March 2010 Jayapura town celebrated its 100th anniversary. The commemoration took place at Papua Trade Center in the municipality. It was raining when the Mayor of Jayapura, MR Kambu, led the anniversary ceremony. Jayapura town residents and government officials attended the event. There was mixed feelings since the century old commemoration coincided with the spirit to reclaim the native name of Numbay to replace Jayapura as the name of the municipality.

Jayapura as the town is currently known has undergone name-switching several times. Starting as Hollandia then Kota Baru, Sukarnapura, and presently Jayapura. The site where the current downtown is located, locally known as Numbay, saw the arrival of a party of Dutch colonial army troops led by Captain FJP Sachse on 7 March 1910. This date is marked as the birthday of Jayapura town. This unknown territory soon turned to a small European settlement thus justifying the Dutch claim of the territory. Captain Sachse named the area Hollandia due to similarities of geographical features between Numbay and the northern coast of the Netherland.

During WW II and sometime afterwards it was widely covered in wartime press as Hollandia. In 1950s it was called Kota Baru (Malay words) or New Town in English. The name Jayapura in Sanskrit literally means victory town (Jaya means victory, while Pura means town). In late 1960s it was briefly named Sukarnapura after President Sukarno who visited the territory boosting the Indonesian morale to oust the Dutch.

After the reformasi or reform swept Indonesia, marked by the toppling of the former Indonesian president Suharto in 1998, there has been a Papuan identity revival sentiment culminating in the granting of the name Papua by the late President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) replacing the former name Irian Jaya. To Papuans, this handing back of their long gone pride means a lot. Although the special autonomy legislation for Papua is not widely accepted by all Papuans, it is still to some Papuans the best option on the table to answer grievances inflicted for so many years on Papuans.

Nevertheless a part in the special autonomy legislation stipulates the name Papua as the official name of the province, a formal acknowledgment of the existence of Papuan identity. To some Papuans this name change may mean little but when thinking back to Suharto repressive era, the granting of the word Papua is certainly an impossibility which amounts to certain death; similar to the morning star flag display in public in those days.

So people may wonder after the name Port Numbai is acknowledged by the government, would it till be possible for Port Numbai to further switch to, say, Hollandia? Critics, let alone Indonesian nationalists, publicly condemn the move to change the name of Jayapura to Port Numbay. The word Port clearly, they argued, symbolizes British or European colonial sentiment. One particular person compared it in suspicion to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

The decision to use the name Port Numbay in stead of Jayapura was accomplished through a public consultation and debate on 29 January 2010 facilitated by the Jayapura municipality government. Municipality government top officials as well as traditional leaders representing the native inhabitants of Jayapura municipality were among the stakeholders who attended the meeting, In spite of opposition, 73% of the attendees voted in favor of Port Numbay. Now it awaits formal/legal acknowledgment.

Things seem to go counter clockwise to some degree for Papua. During the New Order era (Suharto time) no Papuans dared to mention the word Papua loudly in public fearing the repercussion. Now it is formally used as the name of the province. If the name Port Numbay or Numbai is formally endorsed by Jakarta then it could not be denied that sometime into the future other similar claims around Papua and West Papua may surface demanding equal share of their history. For pragmatic reasons people may opt for making use of old words or names. One particular hotel not far from the downtown of Jayapura near the wharf uses the name Humboldt Bay as its name (below picture) after the renowned German explorer-botanist. The Indonesian official name for the bay is Yos Sudarso Bay after the Indonesian Navy Commodore Yos Sudarso who perished with his ship in a naval engagement with the Dutch in 1962 in the Arafura Sea.

In 2003 and 2004 ago there was a small shop right at the heart of downtown Jayapura bearing the name of Hollandia. Now it uses other commercial name in stead. The shop owner was a Javanese. The Humboldt Bay hotel owner on the other hand is a non Papuan from Sulawesi island which showed that not all Indonesians were allergic to colonial symbols and sentiments.

The meeting facilitated by the Jayapura municipality government on 29 January this year which brought a new name change to the town was a giant leap forward in terms of democracy for West Papuans as well as for Indonesia.


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: