New Guinea was first inhabited by humans about 50,000 years ago. Papuans likely migrated from Southeast Asia, where they arrived 50,000 - 70,000 years ago from Africa. The Papuans disbursed throughout New Guinea, primarily populating the interior highlands; they also reached Australia about the same time & are the ancestors of the aboriginal peoples there. A 2nd major migration, of Austronesian peoples, took place about 3,000 years ago. These people settled mainly in the coastal areas of New Guinea & the surrounding islands.
Western New Guinea, formerly Irian Jaya, Netherlands New Guinea and Papua, is the western half of the island. This area was discovered by Portuguese & Spanish explorers in the early 1500's. It came under Dutch control in 1660 & became part of the Dutch East Indies in 1824. In 1962 the Dutch relinquished control to Indonesia. Today Western New Guinea comprises two provinces - West Papua & Papua.
We sailed aboard the National Geographic Orion along the western & southern coasts, visiting the areas of Raja Ampat, the Moluccas (including Banda Island, the origin of nutmeg) & several villages in the Asmat region. One location had not been visited by westerners for 20 years & due to internal strife had split into two villages - Yahun & Yufri. Our visit unexpectedly precipitated a reconciliation. As a result we were greeted with drums, dancing & ultimately a Spirit Dance, which incorporated all of the 13 masks & costumes from both villages, a spectacle that had never been seen before, by anyone!