By Jonathan McLeod*
Papua is Indonesia’s poorest and least populated region, but, as they say, rich in natural resources.
It is developing quickly in the era of pemekaran, an Indonesian word that literally translates as “blossoming,” or “subdivision”. It describes the rapid proliferation of local government institutions that is happening throughout Indonesia, penetrating regions that just a decade ago were totally bereft of infrastructure or public services (McWilliam 2011).
Even in the few months that I have spent researching in the district of Tambrauw, on the Bird’s Head of New Guinea, I’ve watched the pipes being laid and the roads being built, slowly reaching out from the main coastal town to the mountainous interior. Throughout the rural regions of Papua, development and pemekaran are more or less synonymous, people seem to want it, and it’s happening quickly.
Whereas in the Suharto Era, or the New Order, economic progress and indigenous culture were considered mutually exclusive, Papuans are increasingly empowered to document and formalize indigenous rights, especially after a landmark legal decision in 2013 (The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Indonesia 2013).
Throughout Indonesia, regional and local governments are launching initiatives to incorporate customary land rights and local traditions, or adat, into policy and governance frameworks. Rather than this being a merely technical problem, it means there is a simultaneous push to “develop”, and yet also to revive adat and embrace cultural identity (Davidson and Henley 2007).
For decades in Kalimantan and Sumatra, massive deforestation and the disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples have gone hand in hand. So far Papua has mostly avoided a similar fate, but there is also no clear alternative model Papuans are following.
Sustainable development pathways like carbon credit trading and ecotourism are frequently discussed, but mostly still just a vision. Ambivalence ensues, but also the possibility of something new.
Inviting the state in
As autonomous as many of the tribes of the Bird’s Head still are, rarely do we see an effort to evade the state (Scott 2009). Rather, people are eager to create a more “Papuan” one (Slama and Munro 2015).
In Tambrauw, many villages nestled in the rugged forest terrain take days to reach by foot from the nearest dirt road or river. People in such places eagerly anticipate the arrival of infrastructure, yet also want to protect their forests from exploitation.
Parents send their children to the closest town or the port city of Sorong for schooling, where they live with relatives or in boarding houses. Or the whole family simply moves. Social and cultural changes accelerate as the next generation grows up in a bustling urban environment, increasingly reluctant to pulang kampung, or return to the village.
The main way that adat is transmitted in this region of West Papua is through traditional education or initiation, where boys or young men live in the forest for years at a time with a teacher, learning skills such as how to hunt, use plant-based medicine, perform rituals, and practice wuon, or sorcery.
Nowadays only a small minority of the boys in Tambrauw receive this education (there is a similar, though much shorter equivalent education for women). Most people seem to lament this fact, even as they readily embrace modern education, a cash economy, and consumer goods. It appears very difficult to combine the two, even though the core of their cultural identity – as they describe it – is on the verge of disappearing.
Beside goods and services, roads bring what people refer to as pengaruh, or “influences.” Down the river and in the coastal communities, school children are considered more nakal, or naughty. Young men more commonly drink heavily, and fight. In general people feel less safe, and lament the disruption of calm, traditional village life, and the loss of adat.
There seems to be no guide and little established discourse on how to reconcile the gains and losses in the push to modernize.
Shortly after I moved to Syukwes, a small Abun village that is accessible only by river or on foot, the men starting building fences. In the older part of the village there is a cluster of traditionally built homes, with bamboo walls and sago palm roofs.
But the most visible manifestation of pemekaran in the interior is the recent construction of “permanent” houses – a standardized design using sawmilled wood, corrugated iron roofs, and oriented to face the “road”, which is now just a grassy lane.
Why was it so important to build the fences?, I wondered, and asked. They are primarily aesthetic, and do nothing to keep animals or people out of their yards. But they do neatly define boundaries and, along with the new houses, make Syukwes look a little more like a coastal town than a forest village.
One of the men told me: it’s to prepare for the asphalt road (which could be years away for arriving), and that “it will be easier for the government to inspect us.” This is a striking statement, considering how independent and egalitarian Abun people are in their daily lives, even compared to the other ethnic groups in the region.
As much as Abun value their cultural identity, autonomy, and the peacefulness of village life, they also enjoy the order modernity seems to promise, both in terms of services and, for a lack of a better word, the aesthetics.
Many outsiders with resources – particularly sophisticated conservation NGO’s backed by global climate change funding – are encouraging and empowering people to embrace, document, and legally encode their traditions, which are now admired and considered an asset.
This is complicating both the future of development in the region as well as the evolution of Papuan identity. Currently the most concrete and technical outcome of the indigenous rights movement is the mapping of customary lands. This entails clan meetings where community members discuss and draw boundaries for clan territories and also the location of sacred places; once agreed upon, the territory is mapped with GPS units and later uploaded to a national database that eventually, it is hoped, the government will formally recognize in the course of development planning.
The mapping of customary land, as well as the recognition of an official clan leadership structure, is a new and much more systematic way of thinking about land, power, and social relationships in general. Land rights – such as the building of a new house, clearing a forest garden, or hunting – is based on clan affiliation, but permission and actual use is informal.
At times it seems to me as if all roughly 4,000 Abun people are related in some way or another, and through their wide social networks (that also connect through marriage to adjacent tribes) people can ask a relative’s permission to enter and use an area of forest, even if they are not part of the same clan. Moreover, clan leadership until very recently has been unclear and weak, and tribal leadership essentially non-existent.
Abun traditionally live in small settlements, until at least World War II primarily in clusters smaller than what we would call a village (the word for “village” in Abun, as in many places in Papua, is borrowed from Indonesian), and they still frequently move about the landscape.
Men head out alone into the forest or travel to nearby relatives for weeks at time, often alone, unannounced, and simply because they feel like a change of scenery. My sense from talking to people is that many Abun enjoy the experience of the city, of traditional village life, and the quietude of the forest, so they simply move back and forth when they miss the benefits of one over the others.
It’s not difficult to imagine that a process of territorialization, with the precision of a GIS system and the power of nationally recognized laws, will change this dynamic, and the landscape itself. Nevertheless, people want security of land access in the face of social conflict, and the constant development pressure by the Indonesian government and outside business interests which have literally torn apart other regions of the country.
In other words, they are embracing the technological conversion of adat as the most promising way to both modernize and protect their land rights.(*)
*Jonathan is a PhD candidate in the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and currently conducting fieldwork in West Papua, Indonesia on indigenous land rights and sustainable development planning.
Urgent international intervention in the Regency of Nduga, Papua Province, Indonesia : Open Letter
OPEN LETTER TO :
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
James Marape, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
Shinzō Abe, Prime Minister of Japan
Ueli Maurer, President of the Swiss Confederation
Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden
Antti Rinne, Prime Minister of Finland
URGENT INTERNATIONAL INTERVENTION IN THE REGENCY OF NDUGA IN THE INDONESIAN PROVINCE OF PAPUA
Indonesian security forces are killing civilians in Nduga, a remote regency (kabupaten) in the province of Papua.
The bodies of four women and a boy who disappeared on September 20, 2019, were found yesterday, the most recent victims of army violence in Nduga. They had been buried secretly to hide the crime committed by the army.
In early 2019, large numbers of additional Indonesian troops were sent to Nduga after an altercation involving the OPM, a Papuan group opposed to Indonesian sovereignty of Papua. By including the civilian population in this conflict, killing them indiscriminately with modern weapons, Indonesian security forces (army and police) not only are breaking international law but are making the conflict worse.
Papuan inhabitants of Nduga (2,168 sq klm) are a distinct ethnic group numbering about 100,000 people. The violence by the Indonesian army which escalated in 2019 has resulted in more than 40% of the population now being internally displaced persons. This means twelve administrative districts of Nduga have been emptied of their population, many schools left deserted, buildings and agricultural land vacant. This year, with 190 people in Nduga killed, Indonesian army policy is nothing less than ethnic cleansing and must be stopped immediately.
The Indonesian government in Jakarta is responsible for the actions of the Indonesian army but clearly the army is operating beyond all law, killing for no reason other than killing innocent people because they are the inhabitants of Nduga. Why the army wants to occupy this region, empty of its original inhabitants, has not been revealed.
Many thousands of people in Nduga have already fled because of the threat of being killed – but these four women and a young boy were ones who did not flee – and they were killed by the army. This is their home, this is where they live – it is the army which needs to leave, not the people who live here.
Indonesian President Jokowi is aware of problems caused by continuing army violence in Nduga. Together with the heads of many governmental departments, the governor of Papua, Lukas Enembe, publicly requested the excess army troops be withdrawn, but the request has had no effect. I myself met with his top minister, ex-army general Wiranto, in charge of co-ordinating political, legal and security affairs, and with ACM Hadi Tjahjanto, commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces. Despite repeated requests, nothing has changed.
Only one day after Jokowi himself announced that all foreign journalists would be given access to Papua, not just a few carefully-selected media representatives, the regional army commander himself in Papua contradicted the president. Beyond the control of Jakarta, the violent methods used by the army, whether described as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing or worse, must be stopped immediately.
With Indonesian sovereignty of Papua, there is a ‘responsibility to protect’ the Nduga population from the extreme human rights violations occurring there. According to the R2P global political commitment adopted by the United Nations and endorsed by Indonesia, action is urgently needed to address Jakarta’s inaction, reluctance or incapability of providing a safe place for civilians, including Papuan women and children in Nduga. Because Jakarta cannot stop the killing, I am asking for international assistance to protect the lives of people in Nduga. These four woman and the boy killed by the army were part of my family, and I am asking for international protection for all Papuan people who still live in Nduga – those who have not already fled in fear.
If we cannot live in Nduga without fear of being killed by the army, where can we go? In the past, refugees have fled from Papua Province across the border to Papua New Guinea but starting a new life in PNG is not the answer to the problem. It is the Indonesian army which is the problem.
What is needed is International intervention to stop the killing in Papua, to remove those sections of the army currently involved in the killing of innocent people in Nduga. Of course, Jakarta will disagree, as shown by repeated requests for President Jokowi to intervene. The tragedy here is well past the stage where mere promises or blatant denial by Jakarta will stop the killing. It must stop now. International intervention is required to stop the killing.
Director at Papua Language Institute (PLI)
The origin of Indonesian racism towards Papuans and its implication to a Free West Papua Movement
By Yamin Kogoya
ESCALATING violence and attacks on Papuan students saw thousands of young people march on the streets and set fire to the Parliament building in West Papua on 19th August 2019. This was in response to Papuan students being attacked in their dormitory in Surabaya last week after they had alleged bent a flagpole during the Indonesian Independence Day celebrations (on 17 August).
Surabaya police chief, senior commissioner Sandi Nugroho, said the attack on the Papuan student dormitory was carried out by Indonesian nationalist community groups who were angered by the treatment of their national flag.
In an effort to restore calm, the Papua Governor, Lukas Enembe called on all Indonesian citizens to respect their national value of “unity in diversity” (Bhineka Tunggal Ika), and for the security forces to act professionally and in accordance with Indonesian laws and to not let activist groups take the law in their own hands. He reiterated that Papuans studying in Indonesian cities and towns must be treated with dignity and respect and is how Papuans treat Indonesians studying in West Papua.
The timing of last weeks’ attacks, retaliations and protests could not be more significant for both the Papuans and Indonesians. On 16th August 2019, the leaders of Pacific Island nations passed several resolutions regarding the Papuan genocide at the Pacific Island Forums, while 17th August 2019 was the 74th anniversary of Indonesia’s Independence Day.
PAPUANS HAVE ENDURED YEARS OF RACISM AND VIOLENCE
Papuans are no stranger to Indonesia’s cruel and violent racism and which they have endured since the 1960s. Papuans have died, been marginalized, and had their rights denied because of racism.
Filep Karma, a West Papuan political activist experienced firsthand racism by Indonesians during his university years, and in 2014 said: “As If We Are Half Animal: Indonesia’s Racism in Papua Land”.
Fifty-six years later, and these cruel racial slurs are alive and thriving as Papuans continue to be called monkeys, insinuating that they are primitive. This insult cuts deep in the hearts of Papuans.
Just last week, Indonesian Human Rights Lawyer, Veronica Koman posted videos on her Twitter feed of Indonesian demonstrators holding up picture monkeys and chanted “kick out, kick out the transmigrants, kick out transmigrants now”.
While the world’s media is focusing on the violence involved in the demonstrations, they are ignoring what is at the heart of the demonstrations, that being racism. It is not acceptable to call Papuans monkeys, effectively denying them their fundamental intrinsic value of being human. And while President Joko Widodo called on his brothers and sisters in Papua and West Papua to forgive and forget, the racial harassment and discriminations against Papuan students has been ongoing.
Governor Enembe said “Papuans students throughout Indonesia always get called Monkey and are not safe”. During an interview on Indonesian TV ONE, he condemned the way Papuan students are treated in other parts of Indonesia. “It has been 74 years since Indonesia gained its independence from the Dutch and this country still treats my people inhumanly. If the situation doesn’t improve, I will bring my Papuan students back home”.
Racism is a weapon deploy by the colonial power to break down the Papuan human spirit. This is the same weapon Indonesia is using that was used on them by the Europeans, and who killed millions of the first nation people around the world over 500 years.
IS IT A CASE OF MONKEY-SEE-MONKEY-DO FOR INDONESIA?
As the Jakarta Post reported “racism” is at the heart of the Surabaya -West Papua conflict, and highlighted Indonesia’s own experience of racism under the Dutch colonial rule.
It appears that after 74 years of independence from the Dutch, and despite Indonesia’s national ideology of “Pancasila” and “Bhineka Tunggal Ika” (Five constitutional Pillars and Unity in Diversity”, it is still suffering from the decades of racial abuse under Dutch rule.
Indonesian treatment of Papuans is like a revenge towards unexamined grievances they suffered. Papuans’ genocide at the hands of Indonesia in West Papua and unprecedented destruction of their ancestral homeland originated in the minds of racist Europeans. But they are projecting their anger onto the wrong people. They should direct their anger onto the Dutch and Western Governments.
The Dutch used guns and the Bible to tame the Indigenous Indonesian over 300 years. They broke their human spirit and imagination through racial discrimination. They were dehumanized and used as a lethal weapon against all other non-Dutch Europeans.
The Dutch implemented a class system whereby the Indonesians were third class citizens, well beneath the first-class Europeans, and the second-class Chinese and Arabs.
And so, the cycle continues, with Indonesia trying to dehumanize and break the Papuan spirit so they can rebuild them to identity with Indonesian colonial ideas.
Indonesia wants to love Papuans and accept them as part of Indonesia. However, they can’t because, just like their former European colonialists, Indonesia has wrong and distorted information about Papuans.
As articulated by sociologist Thomas Scheff in the Jakarta Post on Friday, May 31, 2013:
“there is no love between Papuans and Indonesians. It is infatuation. Genuine love requires detailed knowledge of the other”.
Another tragic learned behaviour from the Dutch is Indonesia taking the role of “definer”. Essentially, Indonesia sees itself as the tape measure that other people and cultures have to measure up to or ‘be defined’.
Papuans are subjected to racism everywhere they go, from university dormitories, the marketplace and on the streets. The Papuan values, feelings, emotions and psychology are under constant attack by the colonial racist system. This is the institutionalized racism to poison the soul of Papuans.
PAPUA HAS BEEN THE RACISM FOOTBALL THAT’S BEEN KICKED AROUND FOR YEARS
West Papua has been treated as a commodity for years, being passed around and sacrificed as world leaders saw fit. The USA, Australia, Dutch and Indonesia decided its fate during the negotiations in the 1960s. It was sacrificed for world peace on UN’s alter in 1963 and handed over to Indonesia in an attempt to halt the spread of communism in Indonesia (by way of providing an army). Remarkably, West Papuans was never considered nor were they invited to participate in this meeting
US president Kennedy referred to West Papuans as “The 700,000 living in the stone age…a few thousand square miles of cannibals land.” Papuans was used to secure the interest of Western governments and the Soviet Bloc. They had no value and rights. The result of these negotiations cost millions of Papuan lives.
Western policy makers were more concerned with teaching Papuans how to eat with knife and fork rather than their rights for political independence.
Unfortunately for Papuans, their relationship with Europeans has always been tainted by racism. The Western governments, Chinese, Indonesian and industrialised countries always assume that natural state of being Papuan is not desirable which is why they always attempt to dehumanise the Papuans.
According to Dr. Tarcisius kabutaulaka, associate professor at the Centre for Pacific Islands Studies at the Univeristy of Hawaii, European’s have always placed Melanesian people at the bottom of human hierarchy because of their darker skin colours and cultural traits that led to them being viewed as primitive. They bare the internal stigma of “Oceanic Negroes”. The crimes Melanesian committed to be boxed at the bottom of Europeans category was simply the fact. 
IS THIS THE PATH TO INDEPENDENCE
The intriguing aspect about this recent demonstration is how seriously Papuan students and young people are taking the issue of ‘racism’. They are using the ongoing racism to voice their deep aspiration for independence from Indonesia.
Recently, Indonesia has been focusing on building diplomatic relationships with the Pacific island countries but, how can a genuine relationship be built and sustained when one party approaches the other with a paternalistic colonial mental outlook? This was evident during the 2019 Pacific Exposition in Auckland whereby the Indonesian government did not disclose the real issues faced by Papuans. What Indonesia did display was misconstrued image of the Papuan.
If Indonesia continues to see Papuans through the lens of racism (monkey), why would they treat any other black race in the Oceania with love and respect. To build a sense of brotherhood among all men across all our cultural and religious prejudices, we need a new interconnectedness worldview, not racially fragmented one.
if President Jokowi was sincere about calling Papuans “brothers and sisters” then it is time for Indonesian to treat Papuans with dignity and respect, including the overwhelming desire by Papuans for “Independence”. Otherwise these words are meaningless.
Despite the Indonesian effort to truncate the growing support for an independent West Papua, the Pacific island leaders did pass a few resolutions in during last week PIF’s meeting in Tuvalu.
What do these resolutions really mean to Papuans? Whether it was a mere Orwellian exercise concocting the final communique -a pure fiasco or it is one of the steps that will enable the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) to enter UN General Assembly, one thing is clear that support for the West Papuans plight is growing.
This support from Pacific island communities will likely grow in the future if Indonesia continues to mistreat their fellow Papuans.
Calling Papuans a monkey can and will ignite the fire of resistance (as seen by thousands of Papuans protesting and setting fire to parliament house). The issue of racism is serious and failure to recognise this will end up costing Indonesia the very thing they are trying to hold on to.
As Evi Mariani warned Jakarta in her paper published yesterday by the Jakarta Post:
“Racism in the love story in Bumi Manusia is the prequel to Indonesia’s budding nationalism against the occupation of the Dutch before our independence in 1945. Surely, we would not want the racism befalling Papuans to pave the way for their struggle for independence from “Indonesian occupation” on their land”.
The outspoken Free West Papua advocate, the governor of PNG Oro Province, Gary Juffa has warned through his official Facebook page that:
“In case any of you have any misconception about your future fate at the hands of expanding Indonesian influence…here is a grim remainder…if they call our brothers and sisters monkeys…on their own land…that is exactly what they are calling us now”
The leaders of “Blue Pacific” cannot be naïve like a rabbit by inviting the wolves from Jakarta, Beijing and Canberra to discuss about what they are going to have for dinner. Dangerous and yet virtues rabbit is better than harmless and virtue less creature that lives only to be eaten by predators.
It is West Papua’s deepest hope that the Pacific Island leaders will not sacrifice West Papua by accepting a worldly materialistic offer by Jakarta, Beijing and Canberra. How remarkable it would be in this modern world for the racially abused and subjugated people are able to stand firm against the might and reject the gold in favour of their own souls. That would be the retelling of an old story written anew. (*)
Author is Australia-based anthropologist
Who actually benefits from the Trans Papua Highway?
Papua, Jubi – Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) researcher Cahyo Pamungkas says that the Trans Papua Highway has yet to bring any benefits to the Papuan people.
“The benefits for indigenous people can’t be seen yet. So people ask who exactly is the road for? Because the there is still illegal logging in the central highlands, the highlands are being destroyed, it’s easier for outsiders to exploit natural resources”, said Pamungkas at a press conference on the conflict in Nduga regency at the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) offices in Jakarta on Thursday July 18.
Pamungkas explained that instead of benefiting ordinary Papuans, the Trans Papua Highway threatens their economic wellbeing.
“Pig livestock from Toraja comes into Wamena. So the Wamena’s people’s pigs don’t sell. This threatens their economy. It is increasingly easy for outsiders to come to Wamena, so Wamena people see the road as a threat to their future”, explained Pamungkas.
Pamungkas said that the Trans Papua Highway project only connects regencies or cities and the benefits of this are not felt by the Papuan people. Meanwhile roads between villages and districts which are in fact what is actually needed are not being built.
“Yet roads like this (between villages and districts) are very important, for example simply to sell vegetables produced by farmers in markets”, said Pamungkas.
According to Pamungkas, the Trans Papua Highway actually facilitates the exploitation of natural resources which can be seen from large number of trees being felled and gold mining.
“Moreover when LIPI researched development on this road, we found many logging camps for logging in the direction of the Papua Lorentz National Park, which should a protected area”, explained Pamungkas.
Pamungkas is of the view that the government should immediately hold a dialogue with Papuan social leaders with the assistance of appropriate mediators.
“Because the most important thing at the moment is liberating the Papuan people from the memory of suffering which has built up over time. Particularly the acts of violence by security forces which has resulted in trauma for the residents of Nduga regency, Papua province”, he explained.
Local people’s rights
Expressing a similar view to Pamungkas, Amnesty International Indonesia researcher Aviva Nababan believes that the Trans Papua Highway does not provide any clear benefits. He also questions the government’s planning process for the road.
“Looking at it again from the process. Did the government design its function by thinking about the rights of the people the road impacts on? Did they really follow the principles of involving local communities? If not, this needs to be fixed. We think it shouldn’t be seen from the perspective of western Indonesia. There’s a road, lovely. There’s a road, great”, said Nababan at Jakarta LBH on Friday July 19.
Nababan warned that Indonesia has a commitment to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) meaning that it must involve local communities in all development planning.
He also asked the government to respect the rights of indigenous Papuans. Because according to Amensty’s research, there have been alleged human rights (HAM) violations which have made Nduga residence traumatised and afraid of the security forces.
“When there are problems of HAM violations related to law enforcement in Papua, the tendency is that the cases are rarely investigated. Let alone followed up, or satisfactory accountability”, he explained. (*)
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