This is a contribution by Iain Wilson to a discussion on Eastnet <> mailing list about the origin of the name Irian for the island of New Guinea.
A note on first mention of the name was made in an earlier contribution.
See also Iain Wilson's own site on the etymology of "Irian" 

Date: Mon, 21 Dec 1998 18:28:45 -0500
From: ICW <>
Subject: What is in a name? Irian Vs Ikut....

I realize this is an old debate but I am like a bull dog when I get going on a subject. As some of you may recall there was a debate on whether Irian was an acronym standing for Ikut Republik Indonesia Anti Nederland. I personally had serious reservations as to the truth of this. It simply did not ring true. As a few of you may recall I tracked down a source that quoted from a 1536 source document by the Portugese in which Papua is refered to as Irian.

I promised to do more research which I have done. I had the pleasure of eating dinner the other day with an old acquaintance of some 20 years, Dr. Jan Godschalk, a Dutch man whose folks worked in irian when he was a boy. He lived in Irian for many years and in his adult years moved there and taught anthropology at the University of Cenderawasih. He no longer resides there but is in Canada. Anyhow, he has 2 MA's, a PHD and a Doctorate and has one of the most extensive libraries on Irian I have ever seen. I queried him about this Irian question. He was fairly certain it was a Biak word and not an acronym.

I raided his library and discovered he was correct! From one of the old Biak story - poems the word Irian is used to refer to the mainland of Papua Barat. It is an excerpt from one of their Manarmakeri stories. Interestingly enough the West Papua flag with the morning star has very definite roots in Biak mythology and religious beliefs.

Translated ([a word placed here in italics] is Bahasa Biak or a name from Bahasa Biak)

"Father Kayan (means rich man) Sanawi (Manarmakeri) stand up, you are holy. You eclipse the sunlight on Mount Yamnaibori, the mountain of the maiden of Biak in order that we may put everything on board and leave for Irian the mainland. For my eyes have beheld Sampari (the morning star) rising, which did not stay in Jumamba in the east."

I think that should finally settle this question of the origins of the word Irian. Two seperate and unrelated sources confirm that Irian is NOT an acronym. Many of my Irianise friends have bought into that myth and I think it is sad that 1.) A story has been made up depicting a form of oppresion when the real oppresion is out there. and 2.) that a VERY Irianise word is being shunned - meaning Indonesians without effort are getting the irianise to shun a word that really is theirs.

Iain Wilson

Source: Freerk Ch. Kamma, 1972, Koreri: Messianic movements in the Biak-Numfor Culture Area, translated by M.J. van de Vathorst-Smit. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, see there p. 27.
(original title: 1954, De messiaanse Koréri-beweging in het Biaks-Numfoorse cultuurgebied. Den Haag: Voorhoeve).

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