He ain’t heavy, he’s a brother from Papua

A very touchy story from Jakarta Post

This is a must for all Papuan to read it. This an objective writing from personal experience that the government in Jakarta and Papua should read also. We are ordinary people are torn apart only for nothing but power struggle.

Wed, 01/14/2009 3:42 PM | Opinion

A long time ago in the late 1930s, when my mother was about nine years old, she suddenly acquired a younger brother called Martin.

Or should I say uncle? Martin was the adoptive son of Anah, my mum’s grandaunt who was married to Mandias, a jolly, warm and kind Adventist minister. Opa (grandpa) Mandias, as my mum called him, was half-Manadonese, half-Dutch, short and pale-skinned, while Nini (grandma) Anah was tall and dark, so they were a pretty oddball couple.

Though technically her uncle, Martin was about four years younger than she, a hyperactive and naughty little boy, grabbing everything he saw and, as he got older, playing tricks on other kids, including my mum.

And he was Papuan. Nini Anah and Opa Mandias didn’t have any children of their own, so wherever Mandias was posted to a ministry — Ambon, Manado, Papua — they’d adopt a child. When they moved back to Bandung (home for mum and Nini Anah), they brought Martin with them. With his dark skin and tight curls, he was a strange sight for the locals, most of whom had never seen a Papuan before.

Initially my mum was put off by Martin’s naughtiness, but over the years they became very close. They often stayed over at the each other’s houses like brother and sister. Then in 1952 my mum married my father, a diplomat, who was immediately posted abroad, and she lost touch with Martin, who went off to a boarding school in Jakarta. Somehow, that was that.

Almost 30 years later, my mother was sitting in a doctor’s packed waiting room. To ease her boredom, she started chatting with a handsome Papuan man sitting near her. He asked where she was from. “Bandung,” she said. “Oh, I had an adoptive aunt in Bandung. Her name was Ibu (mother) Karnaen.” Mymother!

Mum almost fell over in shock.is that you? It’s me, Nantje!” (her nickname). They virtually pounced on each other, tears in their eyes, paying no attention to the amazed stares of the waiting patients who had just seen two apparent strangers — a dark, fuzzy-haired Papuan man and a fair-skinned Sundanese woman — suddenly jump up and hug each other.

As the two had regained their composure, my mum smiled at them and said,was my brother in Bandung”, which must have left them even more confused.

Martin’s relationship with my mother and her family, with the Bandung community in which he grew up and later with the wider Indonesian society was simple, problem-free and . integrated.

Sadly the same thing cannot be said for the relationship between West Papua and Indonesia.

Since 1965 the Free Papua Movement, a separatist organization, has conducted West Papua flag-raising ceremonies (illegal under Indonesian law), and militant actions to secure their independence — making them way naughtier than Martin ever was.

But are they really? People from West Papua have maintained a distinctive culture for centuries, but since Indonesian independence in 1945 its people have been bounced around like a beach ball by Dutch and Indonesian administrations.

The Dutch called the place Netherlands New Guinea and when Indonesianthem in 1962, President Sukarno gave the Indonesian portion of the island of Papua the name Irian Jaya, meaning “victorious Irian”.

“Irian” supposedly stood for Ikut Republik Indonesia anti Nederland (follow the Republic of Indonesia, anti-Netherlands), as if they were a lifeless symbolic trophy, just another of Sukarno’s nationalistic showcase megaprojects.

For Indonesia, incorporating Irian into the Republic was the completion of nationhood; for the Papuans, it was their nation’s destruction. Unlike Martin, they weren’t fed, educated, lovingly brought up or accepted. Instead the exploitative and repressive treatment they received turned many into guerilla insurgents. Is that so surprising?

Papua is Indonesia’s largest province and also one of its richest. Far enough from the seat of power in Java to be neglected, it has not been far enough to avoid exploitation. Sure, the Dutch were bad, but under Soeharto, Indonesia colluded in destruction, exploitation, human rights abuses and outright acts of systematic genocide and cultricide. And the United States supported all this while the United Nations, which rubber-stamped the annexation, just wished the Papua problem would go away.

And let’s not forget the mining companies. They inherited oil mines, a hugely profitable copper mine, and the biggest gold mine in the world, but their legacy in Papua is environmental devastation and the destruction of sites of cultural, economic and spiritual significance for the people who live there, leaving much of the population in dire poverty and deprivation.

But surely things must be different now under reformasi, especially since West Papua received its special autonomy status? Sadly this is not the case: separatist sentiment is still strong, indicating things stillgoing so well. Or is it simply the trauma of the past?

Both. Over the Christmas and New Year period, police violence, “accidental” deaths andkillings” (that New Order euphemism) were reported in Timika, Wamena, Sorong and Manokwari, just as it used to happen under the New Order.

Hoisting the Papuan Morning Star flag? Don’t even think about it! As recently as Jan. 8 this year, 11 Papuans were found guilty of subversion for conducting demonstrations. The verdict? Three-and-a-half years in prison. Severe? “Necessary,” the judges said, “because they posed a threat to Indonesia’s integrity.” Oh? And military brutality doesn’t? And the corruption and mismanagement endemic throughout Indonesia doesn’t?

After “losing” East Timor and settling with Aceh, Papua is Indonesia’s only remaining serious separatist problem. So what to do? Warfare hasn’t worked.

Locking people up isn’t working. The farcical Act of Free Choicethe referendum held in 1969 under UN auspices that made Papuans Indonesianwas fraught with manipulation, intimidation and hypocrisy. So perhapsnow time for another try? Let them make their own mistakes like Timor Leste?

Trouble is, it’s not that simple. West Papua is already beleaguered with problems. It also suffers the endemic flaws of its dysfunctional neighbor PNG, including tribal conflict, environmental disaster, deep-seated corruption and even deeper social division.

My mother’s perception of the adult Martin she met at the doctor’s waiting room was that he had become the kind and gentle man he was brought up to be, not the naughty little boy he was when she first met him. But, given the treatment Papua has endured for so long, it will probably remain ourboy” for a long time to come — and that is surely entirely our own fault.

The writer is the author of Sex, Power and Nation.

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