West Papuan Morning Star flags flying at Federation Square, Melbourne (Australia), December 1, 2012.  (Photo: West Papua Media)

A History of the Morning Star Flag of West Papua

by Leonie Tanggahma for West Papua Media

Historical Analysis

December 1, 2012

West Papuan Morning Star flags flying at Federation Square, Melbourne (Australia), December 1, 2012.  (Photo: West Papua Media)
West Papuan Morning Star flags flying at Federation Square, Melbourne (Australia), December 1, 2012. (Photo: West Papua Media)

For more than 50 years, the Morning Star Flag has been the symbol of West Papua’s unity and its quest for Freedom and Justice. Thousands have been inspired by it, as it became the main icon embodying the struggle for Independence. And this flag, just like any other flag of any other country, has a history, a proud history.

5 April 1961: Inauguration of the New Guinea Council

On 5 April 1961, a representative body for the then Dutch colony of Netherlands New Guinea was inaugurated: the New Guinea Council or Nieuw Guinea Raad[1] [1]. It was the task of the Council to make the wishes of the Papuan people known on the issue of self-determination, within a year. However, news came that the United States of America and Indonesia were putting pressure on the Dutch  to convince them to transfer its colony to the United Nations, and then to the Indonesian administration. The members of the New Guinea Council immediately gathered for an emergency session and appointed a National Committee to draft a Manifesto expressing the wishes of the Papuans which would include national symbols for the upcoming State.

19 October 1961: Flag and other national symbols officially adopted by way of Manifesto

Committee members Bonay, Jouwe, Tanggahma and Torey were asked to submit designs for the flag and arms. Mr. Torey withdrew and a choice had to be made between the designs of Messrs. Bonay, Jouwe and Tanggahma. The designs of Mr. Jouwe were accepted by 14 votes to 17 as national symbols.  After the national symbols were officially adopted, everyone was visibly moved and proud. According to official testimonies: “Then, all those present rose from their seat and while the emotion was clearly overtaking all those present the manifesto was read by the Chair of the National Committee, Mr. Willem Inury; it was subsequently unanimously accepted and signed by the National Committee. The attendees were then invited to also sign the manifesto … The national flag consists of a red vertical band along the hoist side, with a white [five-pointed] star in the center. Adjacent to the red band, is a series of [consecutive] blue and white lines, with a total of seven blue and six white lines.”[2]

This manifesto dated 19 October 1961 stated that: “in accordance with the ardent desire and the yearning of our people for our own independence, through the National Committee and our parliament, the New Guinea Council, insist with the Government of Netherlands New Guinea and the Netherlands Government that as of 1 November 1961,

a) our flag be hoisted beside the Netherlands flag;

b) our national anthem (“Hai Tanahku Papua”) be sung and played in addition to the Netherlands national anthem;

c) our country bear the name of Papua Barat (West Papua), and

d) our people be called: the Papuan people.”[3]

he Manifesto of 1961 may not have been an independence Proclamation, but its wording was strong and clear in relation to the will of the Papuan people to become independent, it was a declaration of intent, as it also stated that: “On that basis, we, the Papuan people, demand to get our place in the midst of other independent nations and peoples. In addition, we, the Papuan people, make our contribution to the preservation of peace and freedom around the world.”[4]

1 December 1961: Official inauguration of the flag as a territorial flag

The Dutch accepted most of the terms of the Manifesto except for the date of installation and the denomination of the flag: the inauguration of the flag happened on 1 December and not on 1 November as requested by the Papuans. The General Assembly of the UN was to hold a meeting in late November on the issue, and recognition by the Dutch of the symbols could have been interpreted as an endorsement of an independent West Papua by the Dutch Government. The Dutch did not want to provoke the Indonesians, even if it meant that the demand of the Papuans would not be heard. In terms of the denomination, the Dutch authorities recognized the new flag as a territorial flag (landsvlag) and not as national flag.

All the specifications concerning the flag and other Papuan symbols can be found in the so-called “Territorial Flag Ordinance” (or “Landsvlagordonnantie”) Number 68 of 1961. This Ordinance specifies among others that: “(1) The territorial flag of Netherlands New Guinea shall be a rectangle consisting of a vertical wide red striped at the hoist and seven horizontal blue stripes separated by six white stripes. In the centre of the vertical red stripe is a white five-pointed star, with one point pointing vertically upwards. The five points of the star shall each form an angle of 36 degrees. (2) The height and length of the flag shall bear to each other the proportion of 2 to 3. The width of the red stripe shall be two fifth of the height of the flag. The blue and white stripes shall be equal in height. The diameter of the circumscribed circle of the star shall be seven eighths of the width of the red stripe.” [5]  Another ordinance (Number 69 of 1961) provided for a national anthem for Netherlands New Guinea. Ordinance Number 70 of 1961, also called the “Administrative Order for the implementation of Section 2 of the Territorial Flag Ordinance”, stipulates the terms and conditions under which the flag is to be raised. And Section 5 states: “This Order, which may be cited as Flag Order, shall come into operation on December 1, 1961.”[6]

And so on 1 December it happened, for the first time, our Morning Star flag was raised, next to the Dutch flag; our national anthem (”Hai Tanahku Papua”) was played and sung together with the Dutch national anthem; our country was given the name of Papua Barat (West Papua), and our people were given a name: the Papuan people.

Nine years of international Fraud and Deception led by greed, racism and the total disrespect for human life

Just 18 days after the installation of the Papuan symbols, on 19 December 1961, the President of Indonesia, Soekarno, made his call for the infamous Tri Komando Rakyat (or TRIKORA), the People’s Threefold Command. On that day he called for a total mobilization of the people of Indonesia, (1) to destroy what he considered a Dutch-promoted Papuan State; (2) to fly the Indonesian flag over the territory of West Papua, which he erroneously called West Irian; (3) to prepare for war over what he called West Irian. For Indonesians this represented the so-called liberation of the territory from the Dutch. For Papuans the TRIKORA was the call for an illegal military aggression from a country which did not recognize its sovereignty. Military aggression was followed by legal deception as the Dutch and the Indonesians signed the New York Agreement of 15 August 1962, an agreement regarding the future of the Papuans but they themselves were never consulted. The Papuans were betrayed by those who signed this agreement which regulated the transfer of the administration of New Guinea to the United Nations. This administration lasted from 1 October 1962 to 1 May 1963. Then it was to be handed over to Indonesia for a period of six or seven years, after which the Papuans were supposed to freely choose, through a referendum, whether to join Indonesia or become an independent nation. Legal deception was followed by political fraud. In August 1969 the so-called “Act of Free Choice” was organized. At the time, West Papua had been under Indonesian rule for over six years: every expression of Papuan nationalism was systematically bloodily suppressed, possible opponents were arrested and tortured, punitive expeditions were carried out across the country and bombings and rocket attacks were conducted by the Indonesian army. The so-called “Act of Free Choice” itself was pure deception, fraud and deceit, a stage-managed play in which Indonesian officials selected 1026 Papuan electors who voted on behalf of 800,000 Papuans at the time. The electors were all carefully prepared for the Musyawarah: an Indonesian system of decision-making where there is unanimous agreement: 1025 Papuans finally decided unanimously that they wanted to belong to the Republic of Indonesia (one was sick that day). The normal one-man/one-vote principle usually applied for a referendum had not been respected as the Indonesians argued that Papuans were too primitive!

1 July 1971: the territorial flag becomes a national flag

In protest against the failure of the implementation of the “Act of Free Choice” the Free Papua Movement (OPM) proclaimed the independence of the Republic of West Papua on 1 July 1971.  Under Article 2 of UN resolution 1514: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”  Another UN resolution, Resolution 1541, explains that exercising your right to self-determination means that you are allowed to choose between independence, autonomy or integration within an existing state. Since the beginning, the Papuans chose for independence; and they opted for that same option time and time again.

The Manifesto of 1961 was a declaration of intent; the Proclamation of 1971 was the realization of that intent. The proclamation stated: “With the help and blessing of God Almighty, we take this opportunity to declare to you all that today, 1 July 1971, the land and people of Papua have been proclaimed to be free and independent (de facto and de jure)”.

On 1 July 1971, the Papuans chose to take the Morning Star Flag which had been recognized by the Dutch as a territorial symbol. The Papuans decided to proclaim it a NATIONAL symbol; they did the same with the national anthem (Hai Tanahku Papua).


[1] Newspaper report. Sydney Morning Herald, 6 April 1961.

[2] Official government magazine Pengantara of 21 October 1961.

[3] Official government magazine Pengantara of 21 October 1961

[4] Official government magazine Pengantara of 21 October 1961

[5] Bulletin of Ordinances and Decrees of the Government of Netherlands New Guinea, 1961, No. 68, issued on 20 November 1961.

[6] Bulletin of Ordinances and Decrees of the Government of Netherlands New Guinea, 1961, No. 70, issued on 20 November 1961

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