01.04.2015 Community

The Tragedy of West Papua

Jeremy Ball alerts us to a tragedy occurring in the land of one of our closest neighbours

We live on the largest island in the world, and just a short boat ride from our northern shores lies the world's second largest island, Papua. Papua is divided down the centre north to south by a line on political maps. To the east lies Papua New Guinea, formerly under Australian administration and before that British and German. To the west of the line lies West Papua or Irian Jaya as Indonesia calls it.

The land of Papua has incredible natural diversity and is a wonder in this world of wonders, with rich indigenous culture, hidden volcanic hinterlands and lush tropical forests under which lie vast mineral resources. Yet on this island that should be paradise, a terrible genocide that began when Indonesia gained her independence in the 1960s continues to this day.

In centuries gone by as European powers diced up the globe like a Monopoly board, the Netherlands claimed the chain of islands we now know as Indonesia and siphoned off natural resources from the land. When World War II broke out, the Dutch quickly retreated to avoid conflict with the powerful Japanese, offering little or no support to the local people, yet returning once the conflict had ended to try and reestablish their economic dominance. Rightly so, the people of the land gathered together and ousted the invading foreign power. The five year struggle resulted in the charismatic revolutionary leader Sukarno becoming Indonesia's first president.

Sadly, it seems a signature of emancipated societies over the past century at least that those who reclaim their sovereignty seek to extend that sovereignty over lands and people that are not their own. Just like Mao did to Tibet, Sukarno sought to include the mineral-rich and sparsely populated land of Papua in his new nation, the Western half at least. A galvanising tune for the fight against the Dutch (and now sung with fervour by every person in Indonesia) included the line that they would gain independence for everywhere from Sabang (in the far North West of modern Indonesia) to Merauke in the far West of West Papua. At its foundation as a nation, Indonesia, became the world's fifth most populous country - and its people had drummed into their collective psyche that West Papua was their sovereign territory.

The Dutch had been repelled from Indonesia but hung on to West Papua as a matter of pride. In fact, they were planning to grant Papua independence in 1961. But as this was about to happen, the Indonesians flexed their muscles and began an invasion of West Papua, led by a young general Suharto, who would become Indonesia's next president. Still president at the time, Sukarno made overtures to the Russians inviting their then leader to a meeting in Bali. The threat of Russia and communism gaining a foothold in Melanesia forced then US President Kennedy to intervene and he convinced the Dutch to hand over West Papua to the Indonesians, much to the distress of the Papuan people. In came the Indonesian military to brutally gain control of the country and swallow it up into their nation.

When General Suharto, with his totalitarian style of leadership, took over the presidency of Indonesia from Sukarno, life in West Papua worsened; to Indonesian Muslims, the naked tribal Papuans were considered second class beings at best, incarnate devils at worst. The Indonesian army brutalised the Papuans - any resistance met death, they were constantly spied upon and people with leadership qualities who were considered potential insurgents were regularly beaten and worse.

Despite the odds, many tribal Papuans resisted the Indonesian army, fighting guerrilla-style. Briefly, in 2000, shortly after Suharto's 31 year reign as Indonesian President had ended, West Papua was granted independence. A congress was held and the noble Papuan leader Chief Theys Eluay was unanimously installed as president of West Papua. Eluay, a peace loving man in the mould of Gandhi, Aun Sui Kyi and other great humane leaders, sought out peaceful dialogue with the Indonesian government. Yet, in 2001, after he was invited by the Indonesian Army to an Indonesian national celebration, his car was ambushed on the way home and he was strangled to death. Most Papuans considered this an Indonesian political assassination. After his death, Indonesia once again sought full control of West Papua. Years later, several Indonesian soldiers were convicted of Theys Eluay's murder.

For the full story I highly recommend you watch the excellent documentary Land of the Morning Star in full on www.youtube.com which concisely unfolds the full story of West Papua.

Whilst the murder of Theys Eluay was the most prominent assassination of a Papuan leader, there are many other examples and lists that would fill war monuments of tribal Papuans killed for resisting. Resistance does not just mean fighting but can be as little as continuing to live in your tribal ways or raising the West Papuan flag known as the Morning Star.

To this day the genocide in West Papua at the hands of the Indonesian Government continues. In 2014, five surfers travelled to West Papua to make a surf documentary; instead their film www.isolated.tv uncovered the genocide in this beautiful land. It is estimated that 500,000 people have been killed by the Indonesian military, a huge number when the total population is 3.5 million.

With mining in Papua bringing huge financial resources to Indonesia it is not going to give the Papuans independence without one hell of a fight. Instead, officials continue to push the people off their ancestral homes to turn ancient mountains into huge polluted pits. Countless massacres have occurred at the hands of the Indonesian military, ordered by the government to move the people off the land before the mining companies come in to turn once pristine nature into upward lines on a stock market graph. Whole tribes have been brutally murdered - old people, women, children, and warriors with spears against machine guns.

In 2014, when the brutality of the killing of Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs was uncovered, a huge furore erupted and I was surprised and proud at how Australians and even our government reacted, immediately ceasing the export with diplomatic discussions ensuing. (I think now though it's almost back to how it was, hopefully with far less cruelty.) However, for over 30 years, humans in West Papua have been treated worse than these cattle and our nation has kept quiet.

In 2008, as a nation we apologised to the indigenous people of Australia for the atrocities that our forefathers committed in the founding of this nation yet we sit by while other do the same. The greatest apology is not in words but in actions to set right your own wrongs and to prevent similar crimes happening elsewhere.

I strongly encourage you all to contact your local MPs and beseech them to let Indonesia know we as their friends and neighbours will not tolerate this behaviour. Just as we responded with the cattle exports, let us direct the full weight of our attention on this and make positive change happen now.

For more information see http://freewestpapua.org/ and http://freewestpapua.org/

And please contact your local MP. Let us not stand by while murder happens on our doorstep.

Jeremy Ball

At 26, following a “shamanic intervention”, Jeremy closed his business and left London to visit sacred sites and elders, later creating Transformational Tours and SacredFire.

When not roaming mother earth, you will find Jeremy at home in Byron Bay's hinterland, playing with his children and planning the next adventure. jeremy@transformationaltours.com.au