Language Diversity in the Land of Papua

January 24, 2019 | Nora Ekawani

Language is a salient marker that distinguishes humans from other beings. Through language humans are capable of communicating and expressing their thoughts and feelings in so many ways. So, language, a means of communication between peoples, plays a vital role in our lives. Can you imagine living without language? Wouldn’t our lives become so complicated?

Ferdinand De Saussure, a philosopher from France stated that language is a distinguished feature of our kind. Because with language every social group thinks that they are a unit that differs from the other groups. So, there is no question why Indonesia has wide varieties of language.  This is because Indonesia consists of many ethnic groups and cultures. Before we go further into that, it is important to know that Indonesia have one national language which is called Bahasa Indonesia. The varieties of language mentioned come from local languages of different regions.


According to the Language Development and Construction Agency, under the Ministry of Education and Culture, that have been conducting language mapping exercise since 1991, there are 652 languages from 2,452 observed regions to date. Based on accumulations of language distribution per province, the total reached 733. That is still not the final total because not all languages in regions such as East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, North Maluku, Papua, and West Papua have been mapped and identified. From the data, there are 384 languages in Papua Island only. It is clear that Papua Island is the region with the highest level of language diversity compared to other regions in Indonesia. It means, Papua Island – consists of Provinces of Papua and West Papua – contributes more than half of the total languages identified.

Papua Island is a culture-rich region. The island, with an area of 786,000 km², is divided into two countries Papua New Guinea in the eastern half and Indonesia in its western half. Indonesian Papua includes the provinces of West Papua and Papua. The West Papua province is located in the western part of Papua Island – the easternmost island of Indonesia. The capital is Manokwari. The name of this province was West Irian Jaya. But based on Government Regulation number 24 of 2017, 18 April 2007 the name was changed into West Papua. While Papua – the capital is Jayapura – is the easternmost province of Indonesia that directly bordered with Papua New Guinea. The Papua Island’s provinces of West Papua and Papua were granted special autonomy status.

Here are some examples of local languages in the provinces of West Papua and Papua:

  1. Aabinomin: spoken by Aabinomin ethnic group in Baso Village, Mamberamo Hulu District, Mamberamo Raya Region, Papua Province
  2. Arandai: spoken at Botonik Village, Arandai District, Teluk Bintuni Region, West Papua
  3. Biak language: spoken by Biak ethnic group in Kajasbo Village, Biak Timur District, Biak Numfor Region, Papua
  4. Fkour: spoken in Pair Putih Village, Fokour District, Sorong Region, West Papua
  5. Koiwai: spoken in Anda Air Village, Kaimana District, Kaimana Region, West Papua
  6. Korowai Karuwage (Korowage): spoken by Karuwage people, Firiwage District, Boven Digoel Region, Papua
  7. Maraw: spoken by Wondeu ethnic group in Webi Billage, West Yapen District, Yapen Region, Papua
  8. Mpur: spoken in Kebar Viilage, Kebar District, Tambrauw Region, West Papua
  9. Ndarame: spoken by Agumatum ethnic group in Wowi Village, Seredela District, Yahukimo Region, Papua
  10. Wardo: spoken in Boni Village, Warwarbomi District, Raja Ampat Region, West Papua
  11. Yamas: spoken by people living in Yamas Village, Joerat District, Asmat Region, Papua


As previously explained, beside those 11 languages there are still many more local languages spoken in Papua Island. Unfortunately, according to the research of the Agency of Language Development and Construction, some local languages are currently on the verge of extinction because of fewer and fewer speakers. According to the Agency, of the 652 local languages that have been identified and mapped, there are only 71 languages that have been revived from 2011 to 2017.


The Language Agency also classified the status a number of local languages. The results are 19 languages are categorized as safe, 16 are stable, 2  are experiencing setbacks, 19 are on the verge of extinction, 4 are in critical situation, and 11 are already extinct. Those extinct languages are of Maluku and Papua. From Maluku there are Kajeli/Kayeli, Piru, Moksela, Palumata, Ternateno, Hukumina, Hoti, Serua and Nila. From Papua there are 2, Tandia and Mawes. While those in critical situation are Reta from East Nusa Tenggara, Saponi from Papua and also Iba and Meher from Maluku. The Agency of Language Development and Construction is targeting all local languages will be identified in 2019. Hopefully this target will be achieved and to support it Indonesian people need to start loving their respective local languages.

Nora Ekawani
Penulis, Lulusan Arkeologi UI, Pengamat Budaya, Pencinta Wastra
Tags : culture, diversity, local, local language, papua

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