Good Morning, West Papua! Arrest, armed conflict and illegal mining

This morning I woke up with three rather disturbing news from Papua: the arrest of over 40 young people and students from Cendrawasih University at their dorms and lodging by the Indonesian Mobile Brigade Police, the armed conflict around Tembagapura area where the giant Freeport Mining operates, and the illegal mining using mercury in Korowai Area.

The arrest of 44 students and activist allegedly related to a rumour earlier in the week, which said there was a West Papuan independence event scheduled for Thursday (05/04/18). Chairman of KNPB Victor Yeimo told The Guardian, “My secretary general in KNPB he already met with the journalist and made a press conference yesterday … to clarify that there was nothing planned for tomorrow.” KNPB is the abbreviation of Komite Nasional Papua Barat or The National Committee for West Papua.


This is what The Guardian wrote:

While CNN Indonesia wrote:

Second news, the armed conflict in Tembagapura, is not a novelty for people in the area. Sadly the richest area in Papua is also the centre of violence between the Indonesian military and the Liberation Army of the Free Papua Movement or TPN/OPM. According to CNN Indonesia, the armed conflict happened on Easter Sunday (01/04/18) and Monday (02/04/18).

Report from a doctor in Tembagapura today (04/04/18) said that a joint forces of Indonesian Army’s Special Detachment 88 (Densus 88) and Police’s Mobile Brigade raided Opitawak village with the result of five civilian casualties. “Two women, two children and a man were shot dead. Hundreds of civilians were unaccounted for,” wrote the doctor in a social media group.

From the Indonesian military side, Private First Class Vicky Rumpasium, member of TNI`s Infantry Battalion (Yonif) 751/Raider died as a result of the shootout ( ). Casualties from the armed TPN/OPM are not yet announced.

ABC News wrote that over 100 villagers flee their homes after the attack ( ).



Korowai area of West Papua

The third news that is also not really new, is about illegal mining operation in Korowai area. Today’s report came from a pastor who serve the area. According to his report, in 2015 a number of local school children in Deiram and Danowage were paid IDR50,000 (about US$3.60 or GB£2.50) a day to work for the mining company.

“They were using heavy silvery water – about three litres of it weighed as heavy as the solar panel battery,” said one of the children to their teacher. This translate to about 48kg per three litre fluid, with the silvery colour indicating mercury.

The mercury then was used and reused until the end residue being discarded into the river. This is very concerning for the livelihood of the Korowai people downstream. A petition is being prepared to stop this operation.

Why am I writing this today? I feel that the western world, the English speaking world needs to know. West Papua is the Paradise on Earth where the people are being marginalised, oppressed and ignored for the sake of economy. The rich natural resources are their blessing and curse, and anyone with a good heart needs to voice the importance of peace, human rights and social justice in West Papua.

I will not say any more, but my heart bleeds for my Papuan brothers and sisters.

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Two Sides of a Story: reflection on UNCEN rally 8 March 2018

On Thursday (8/3/18) I was passing the gate of Cendrawasih University in Waena or Perumnas 3 area and saw a group of policemen with riot gears. My instinct as a journalist told me to stop and cover what happened. (

I filmed the demonstration and the speech by some student activists, and I asked some students about what happened. They told me that the Rector (Head) of Cendrawasih University signed an MoU with the Regional Police for Papua Province (Polda Papua) that would allow “the police to enter our campus.”

I asked the students, “Police entering campus to do what?” The students said, “That’s what we don’t know.” Another student said, “It won’t be long before they established a police post in campus and spy on us or meddle our activities and freedom of expression.”

Later on I learned what happened from a statement by the rector himself, Dr Apolo Safanpo, ”I was a way in a meeting in Jakarta [when the demonstration happened], but I will explain to all our students as soon as possible. The Memorandum of Understanding between UNCEN and Regional Police is about cooperation in education, research and service to the public – the three goals are called Tridharma Perguruan Tinggi (three services of universities).”

“A number activities will depend on the MoU. For example, members of the police force can study Law with special joint education class; Law students from UNCEN can undergo their internship with at the local police force.”

Dr Safanpo assured that, “There is no clause or point in the MoU that will limit the freedom expression or the academic independence of the students.”

The need for more transparency

Another side of this story is the general question of what would happen on campus with members of the police around? University students have seen and heard so many examples of the uniformed – members of the police or armed forces – not only limiting freedom of expressions but more sinisterly, conducting torture and other violations of human rights of grassroots indigenous Papuans.

“It is therefore unsurprising that students become suspicious that this MoU might be a start of state’s effort to isolate the campus so that it will not become centre for free aspirations from the grassroots,” said George Saa, Papuan scientist who is currently undertaking his PhD in the UK.

“I wonder if UNCEN as an academic institution did not think about informing their students before signing the MoU? It seemed rather obvious that there will be resistance from the students. The Rector needs to understand that this demonstration is only the tip of the iceberg. What they are wary about is how this can be a start for the state to control, to censor and to passify Papuan students and Papuan people in general,” added George Saa.

The moral of the story? I think the need for transparency is clear – when the leader of a reputable university signed an MoU with the police, there should be explanation to all students. After all, students are the main stakeholders of a university.

On the other hand, students and young people need to learn to listen and observe before taking action. I guess it is easier said than done, especially since I am now more than twice their age. Still, I believe everyone can learn to listen and gather information first before taking action that would affect many people. Closing the campus for the whole day – not to mention more than one full day – is after all affecting those who wanted to study. So maybe dialogue is the key. And again, listen! After all, humans have two ears and one mouth for a reason.


Jayapura, 11 March 2018-03-11

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Trouble in Paradise: Papua-Indonesia Conflict in a Glance (An Incomplete Literature Review)

* This literature review was written in 2016 and was sent to a publisher as a journal article, but was returned due to the ‘incomplete literature review’ disclaimer and the unconventional research method which incorporate journalistic work within academic research.

Trouble in Paradise-Lit Review-AdelineCooke

By: Adeline Cooke

(University of Central Lancashire)

HonaiWamena.pngThis literature review started with the hypothesis that there is a thick line dividing researchers on the Papua-Indonesia conflict. One side is the Indonesian researchers with their loyalty to Indonesia’s dogma of unity who would fanatically defend Indonesia’s claim of Papua. On the other side of the line is the Western or Eurocentric researchers and Papuan people abroad who insists that Papua should be independent from Indonesia.

Through reading of the available literature on Papua, the researcher found that the division is not as black and white initially thought. Though the hypothesis was good to start with, the Papua-Indonesia conflict is much more complex than what the researcher hypothesised at the start of the literature search. In this literature review, the researcher endeavours to explore the complexity of the Papua-Indonesia conflict starting with the three different versions of history, followed by the role of the Melanesian nations, and the actors in Papua-Indonesia conflict. The review will conclude in a number of recommendations for conflict resolution and an idea that link to the researcher’s main area: using participatory video to include the opinions, wishes and feelings of indigenous women of Papua in the decision-making process.

In this review, the researcher is using her journalism method of searching for information sources. While aware of the conventional academic way of literature search using the university database and library catalogue, this preliminary research is based on reading material gathered from researcher’s last trip to Papua and Indonesia, general search engines, as well as discussions and interviews with sources within the Papuan community, human right activists and Indonesian students in the UK. The researcher is aware that a more systematic and thorough literature search will need to be conducted in the near future to comply with academic standards for postgraduate research, however the researcher feels that journalism as a method would need to be included here as it is part of her own ‘native’ background.


Part one: History in three versions

Papua is the western side of the bird-shaped island about 250km north of Australia. The east part of the island is the independent country of Papua New Guinea. The western side as noted by Tebay (2005), “has been variously known as Irian Jaya (the Indonesian term), West Papua or simply Papua.” In this review the researcher will use the term Papua as not to collude with Indonesian old regime’s term of Irian and to avoid confusion with West Papua (Papua Barat) which is one of the two provinces in the region. The term Papua is also the name that is most commonly used by the Papuan people that the researcher met so far.

With an area of 421,981 km2 Papua is almost twice the size of Great Britain. According to the Indonesian census in 2000, the population of Papua is approximately 2.6 million with 66% indigenous Papuans according to 2000 census (Sugandi, 2008, p.3-4).

Though some people believe that history is always written by the winner, for Papua and Indonesia there are multiple versions of history. Here, the researcher identified three versions. First, the Indonesian version where the NKRI (Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia or The Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia) should stay as one, from Sabang in North Aceh to Merauke in South East Papua. Second, the Free Papuan (Papua Merdeka) version; and the third is what human right activists and recent scholars mostly use. While the first two are conflicting with each other, the last version seemed to make sense in the era of neoliberalism tendencies of replacing political judgement with economic evaluation (Davies, 2014).

NKRI: The Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia

Indonesian people who grew up under the ‘New Order’ or Soeharto regime was fed with this version of history through compulsory history books. Growing up in Jakarta, the researcher was also forced to memorise this version of history. The Indonesian version is the story of heroism fuelled by the dogma of unity in diversity or Bhinneka Tunggal Ika. Here, after bravely throwing the Dutch from the archipelago with only sharpened bamboo (bambu runcing), the Indonesian heroes saved Papua from Dutch slavery and cruel exploitation. Heroes like Commodore Yos Sudarso in his KRI Macan Tutul  (Indonesian naval ship called “Leopard”) fell martyr to the Dutch attack in the sea around Papua. At the end the brave Indonesians won and Papua was liberated from the Dutch.

The Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia to the UN (2001) echoed what was written in Indonesian history books, “Irian Jaya [Indonesian name for Papua] is and has always been an integral part of Indonesia since the period of Sriwijaya and Majapahit Kingdom in the 12th century.” Without further reference, the researcher’s school books in 1980s also described how Papuan people – who have always been part of Indonesia – were so happy to be back into the loving arms of the motherland, Indonesia. They are so happy to be part of Indonesia that in 1969, 100% of Papuan representatives chose to remain within Indonesia during the Act of Free Choice.

Indonesia has always considered the Papuan flag raising on 1 December 1961 as an act of treason against the NKRI (the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia). Some believe that this is the Dutch strategy to separate Papua from Indonesia so that they can continue to occupy Papua and benefit from its rich natural resources (Gere, 2015; Paharizal & Yuwono, 2016).

Gere (2015) noted that the Dutch refused to leave Papua against the Round Table agreement 1949 in Den Haag. Then in 1961 – during the Cold War – Indonesia ‘liberated’ Papua from the Dutch using help from Soviet made aircrafts in Operation Trikora (in Indonesian it is short for Tri Komando Rakyat or the three command of the people). This made the US worried about Indonesia-Soviet relation, thus the New York Agreement was initiated by the US on 15 August 1962.

Like in other parts of Indonesia, there were always ungrateful people who wanted to separate from the motherland (PUSPEN TNI, 2012). Just like the communist in 1965, they all failed to topple the sovereignty of the NKRI. Soeharto’s government who called themselves The New Order labelled The Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) as “thugs and terrorists who tried to turn the innocent Papuan people against their own motherland”.

This version however failed to mention the details of the 1969 Act of Free Choice (Indonesian: Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat or Pepera) where only one person representing 800 people of Papua could vote on their behalf. The representatives were chosen randomly by the Indonesian military personnel and allegedly voted under gunpoint. What both Indonesian and Papua Merdeka versions agreed is that the USA had a role in supporting Indonesia due to the cold war.

The Indonesian version of history claimed to be based on the “international law principle of uti possidetis juris to ascertain the political status of Papua within Indonesia” (Gere, 2015, p.xi). The Latin phrase means “as you possess under the law”. According to Cornell University Law School, it “is a principle of customary international law that serves to preserve the boundaries of colonies emerging as States.”

Just as Indonesian school history books from the 1970-1990s, Gere leaves no room for debate. Uti possidetis juris is now questioned internationally as a post-colonial discourse, for example in the case of Burkina Faso/Mali border or the case of ex-Soviet Union countries. Matsuno (2011, p.179-181) questioned the doctrine. For Matsuno, if it is a legally binding or globally accepted international law, the Papuan Act of Free Choice 1969 should not even been considered as Papua would have automatically become part of Indonesia.  

Papua Merdeka

Merdeka is an Indonesian word means ‘freedom’ or ‘independence’. It was the cry that Indonesians used when fighting for independence from the Dutch. The same word is now used by some Papuan people to gain independence from Indonesia (see also Kirksey, 2012). The Papuan organisation that is campaigning for independent Papua called themselves ‘Papua Merdeka’ – meaning ‘independent Papua’ or ‘free Papua’.

A documentary by the British producer Dominic Brown and The Papua Merdeka organisation (2012) shows the complete contrast to the Indonesian version of history. Backed by Dutch historian Drooglever (2011) – also by Down (2016), Monbiot (1989), Webb-Gannon (2015), Anderson (2015) and most Australian and European researchers – this version told a story of a newly formed country of Indonesia invading the land of Papua. As Down (2016) described, “Melanesian Papua has been colonised by ex-colonised non-European Indonesia.”

Drooglever (in King, Elmslie & Webb-Gannon, 2011, p.11) wrote that the Dutch “refused to hand over Papua to Indonesia in 1949 due to Papuan population as a whole was not developed up to the point where it could determine affairs for itself.” The Dutch government according to Drooglever, began to prepare Papua for independence in the 1950s by allowing Papuan people to establish political parties. This is the start of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) – although the OPM was not officially established until 1965. On 1 December 1961 the Papuans’ flag, the Morning Star, was raised alongside the Dutch flag in Jayapura, Papua’s capital (Tebay, 2005, p.4).

The Dutch handed over Papua to the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) in 1963. This was in line with the New York Agreement in August 1962. The UNTEA then transferred Papua to Indonesia as a temporary measure while preparing for the referendum for the Papuan people to decide.

Tebay (2005, p.3) is of the opinion that, “Papua was occupied by Indonesia in May 1963. Since that time Indonesia has denied indigenous Papuans a genuine opportunity for self-determination.”

This version shows that as soon as Indonesia had their hands on Papua, they never loosened their grip. The Act of Free Choice 1969 was conducted with only about 1,000 representatives of the Papuan people and under gun-point (Monbiot, 1989; Papua Merdeka & Brown, 2012).

The word ‘colonisation’ was used by Ondawame to describe Indonesia’s claim over Papua (2011, p.236). Kjell Anderson (2015) also use the term colonialism to refer to Indonesia in Papua. He further stated that, “through neo-colonial policies of the Indonesian state, indigenous people in Papua have had their identity, autonomy and physical security undermined.”

Indonesia’s neo-colonialism in Papua, Kjell Anderson argues, “Appears to be genocidal, in that it aims at the disappearance of the Papuan group.” Anderson explains what most people understand as genocide is ‘hot genocide’ that is motivated by hate such as the Nazi Germany action against the Jews in World War II. What happened in Papua, Anderson continued, “is a ‘cold genocide’ that is rooted in the victim’s supposed inferiority.” Similar tone was expressed by King, Elmslie and Webb-Gannon (2010, p.8 &358-384) that Indonesia is committing ‘slow motion genocide’ through the unconstrained Indonesian settler arrivals in Papua – the move started by the Soeharto regime called transmigrasi (transmigration).

While western and Euro-centric authors focus on the gunpoint voting and Indonesia’s human right violations in Papua, many of them failed to mention the world politics of the 1960s. Also not many analysed why and how the Dutch insisted on staying in Papua post 1949 Round Table.

The nationalist, the greedy and the coward

Literature on Papua that was written after the fall of Soeharto or post-1998 shows a more comprehensive and complex historical background (Maniagasi, 2001; Ginting, 2016; Hernawan, 2016; Paharizal & Yuwono, 2016; Tebay, 2005; King, Elmslie, & Webb-Gannon, 2011).

Many nationalist Indonesians still strongly believe the first version of history. The researcher received a number of strong comments on her social media page when discussing Papua and how the Papuan people’s own voice need to be heard. Two comments from old friends of the researcher said, “There should never be any question. Papua has always been, is and will always be part of NKRI!” This is what Benedict Anderson (2016) analysed as imagined communities – the concept of nation-states and nationalism that becomes a powerful ideology which can even be used as a tool of oppression against those who dare to differ.

Professor Benedict Anderson himself had some experience of this, when he was turned away by Indonesian immigration officers on his arrival at Jakarta airport in the 1980s. He was on the blacklist of the Indonesian government for speaking out against the regime (Hill, 1984). The researcher also remembers how in the early 1990s, students in the University of Indonesia and Driyarkara School of Philosophy smuggled manuscripts by Benedict Anderson as an alternative reading to what was taught at classes.

It is widely accepted today that the Act of Free Choice was not to the standard of modern electoral or referendum procedure. As Tebay (2005, p.7) described, “From about 800,000 Papuan population at that time, the Indonesian authority picked 1,026 people as representatives with 931 people selected without the presence of UN observers.” Tebay stands with the Papua Merdeka about, “Papua was occupied by Indonesia in May 1963.”

On the economy side, Paharizal & Yuwono (2016) and Pease (1996) exposed the untold history behind the US mining company Freeport McMoran’s operation in Papua. The mining operation in Papua started with a report by Jean Jacques Dozy, a Dutch geologist, in 1936. The ‘Dozy document’ was found 23 years later by engineer Jan Van Gruisen who worked for the Dutch mining company Oost-Borneo Maatschappij. Looking for an international partner, the Dutch mining company signed contracts with a near-bankrupt company based in Louisiana, Freeport Sulphur. The joined venture become Zuid Pacific Koper Maatschappij (South Pacific Copper Company). They conducted an exploration in Papua’s Carstensz mountain range in 1961 and found copper, nickel, silver and gold.

Even before minerals were found, the Dutch had been exploiting oil from Papua. The Nederlandshce Nieuw-Guinea Petroleum Maatschappij (NNGPM or Dutch Petroleum Company) was the highest tax-payer in the Netherland in 1955.

Before their operation in Papua, Freeport Sulphur was struggling because their nickel mining operation in Cuba had ceased due to Castro’s nationalisation of Cuba’s assets in 1959. The Papuan mine then became their main source of profit (Paharizal & Yuwono, 2016, p.40).

Business interest is the main reason, analysed Paharizal and Yuwono (2016) that Papua was not handed over to Indonesia when the Dutch finally accepted Indonesian independence in 1949. In the meantime, the Cold War brought concerns from the USA that Indonesia inclined towards Soviet Union. Operation Trikora showed how Indonesia received Soviet help in military armaments. As Gere (2015) pointed out, the USA initiated the New York Agreement in 1962 motivated by its concern on the Indonesia-Soviet relation. By this time the Dutch gave up its share in the mining business and left the US company Freeport to operate in Papua on its own (Paharizal & Yuwono, 2016).

There are also some analyses (Pease, 1996; Paharizal & Yuwono, 2016) that exposed CIA involvement in securing Freeport businesses in Papua and in the Indonesian power transition from Soekarno to Soeharto in 1965. Citing a book by a former CIA officer Joseph Burkholder Smith, Pease (1996) shows how “the CIA took it upon themselves to make, not just to enact, policy in Indonesia.” Pease also mentioned the CIA’s alleged “psychological warfare tricks to discredit Soekarno.”

Historical fact later noted that on 1 October 1965, Soekarno was replaced by Soeharto. The reason for this has two versions – the attempted coup by the Indonesian Communist Party, or the scenario designed by CIA to support Soeharto’s regime driven by both Cold War politics as well as Freeport’s business interests.

While the USA and Indonesia were entangled in politics and business, the UN, who placed their observer in Papua to supervise a peaceful transition, had no influence. As Drooglever (2011) pointed out, the UN diplomat stationed in Papua spoke no Indonesian and no Papuan dialect, hence depending highly on Indonesian ‘translators and minders’. Worrying about their own career amid the complication of languages and culture, UNTEA’s Representative Ortiz Sanz in Jayapura and American diplomats in the US Embassy in Jakarta did not report the full story to their headquarters (Paharizal & Yuwono, 2016). Tebay (2005, p.8) and Drooglever (2011, p.19-20) pointed out that there were a number of military operations against Papuan activists and civilians who voiced their opinion towards independence not long before the Act of Free Choice 1969, however there was no report from the US diplomat or Ortiz Sanz about them.

When the Act of Free Choice took place, the chosen Papuan representatives were, ”taken out to a highly guarded boarding house for several weeks before the polling day, totally isolated from the rest of the community, under pressure and intimidation from the Indonesian military… They were warned of the risk if they decided to separate from Indonesia” (Tebay, 2005, p.7).

Being escorted from one airstrip to a polling station, to another airstrip and another polling station to observe the Act of Free Choice, UN Representative Ortiz Sanz later declared in his report to the UNI that “an act of free choice has taken place” (Tebay, 2005, p.7). This sealed the fate of the Papuan people as part of Indonesia.


Part two: The Melanesian influence

While Papua was internationally accepted as part of Indonesia, its Eastern neighbour Papua New Guinea had their independence from Australia declared and recognised in 1975. Within the 1970s, other Melanesian countries gained independence. The Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) was formed after an informal meeting of the head of governments of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and representative of Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) of New Caledonia) in 1986. The MSG as an intergovernmental organisation representing Melanesian nations and their interests was officially founded in 2007.

In recent years, the MSG has been playing a big role in supporting Papua’s right for self-determination, and highlighting human right issues in Papua to the international community. Hernawan (2016, p.48) explained how “The 2013 MSG Summit was the first forum of its kind to officially invite Papuan representatives. They addressed the summit as official guests, equal to Indonesia and Timor Leste, which both have observer status.”

Since 2015, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) was given the observer status in the MSG, while at the same time Indonesia was given the status of associate member. The Free West Papua saw this as an opportunity to get recognition for self-determination, in line with the core principles of the MSG that highlighted all Melanesians’ “inalienable right to self-determination”. Along with the benefits of the trade links between the Melanesian nations, the MSG is seen as “the beginning of West Papua’s future and bringing home to the Melanesian family” (Free West Papua, 2016).

Macleod, Moiwebd and Pilbrow (2016, p.17) sees full membership of The MSG as “a road map to peace”. They further recommend that the Pacific nations should take the initiative to lead the international movement in protecting the Papuans and intervening in the Papua-Indonesia conflict (p.31).

Most literature categorise Papuan people as part of the Melanesian ethnic group (Tebay, 2005, p.11; Macleod, Moiweb & Pilbrow, 2016; Down, 2016; Elmslie, Webb-Gannon & King, 2011), hence being a member of The MSG is seen as a key to the solution for Papua-Indonesia conflict. However a new theory is being developed that highland Papuan people are not Melanesian at all. A linguist and PhD Candidate from Oxford University’s St Catherine’s College, Willem Burung revealed his theory to the researcher about the different roots of the highland and coastal Papuan people. According to the lecturer and researcher from Papua University (Univesitas Papua), the coastal Papuan people are Melanesian, sharing similar characteristics with people from the Moluccas, East Timor, Nusa Tenggara, and most of the Pacific nations who are members of The MSG. However the highland Papuan people, away from the coast, do not share many similarities – in language, culture, and physical features – with most Melanesian people.

Indonesian anthropologist Koentjaraningrat (1994, p.111) explained the physical anthropology of the Papuan people, “Among Papuans itself there are physical differences. In brief there is a tendency that the further from the coast, the shorter their physical appearances. There are also difference in the shape of their skulls: Papuans from the coastal area in general have a more oval / long skull while the Papuans from further inland tend to have wider skulls.”

In Willem Burung’s theory, if most Papuan people who are highlanders are not Melanesian, their claim to join the MSG is rather weak, and to separate from Indonesia based on cultural difference is somewhat not a valid argument.


Part Three: The Leviathan and the audience

An anthropological approach is used by Kirksey (2012) and Rutherford (2003 & 2012) to understand and analyse the complexity of the Papua-Indonesia conflict. Koentjaraningrat (1994) stood as an anthropologist in his description of the plurality of the Papuan Society. However, the latter is an old-school anthropological study written from the standpoint of The NKRI during Soeharto’s New Order.

Both Kirksey and Rutherford use local stories and mythologies to explain in detail some Papuan cultures. Their studies are good snapshots of the indigenous Papuans. Both Kirksey and Rutherford went to Biak, an island on the north of the bird’s neck coast of Papua. The culture in Biak is that of a coastal and island people where fisherman tradition and cargo cult have a big influence in people’s way of thinking and everyday lives. In Willem Burung’s categories, the Biak people are Melanesians.


The Leviathan

In her 2012 compilation of articles on the anthropology of sovereignty, Danilyn Rutherford offered an anthropological look into the Papuan struggle for independence. Through Laughing at leviathan: Sovereignty and Audience in West Papua (2012), Rutherford shows the complexity of Papua’s reality. The argument is that sovereignty, be it Indonesian or Papuan, still rely on its [very complex] audience. Hence the power of the Leviathan – who is actually a fragmented body – is actually depending on its audience, its subjects. “Sovereignty in practice entails interdependency and based on audience. The audience is sovereignty’s basis and its bane,” stated Rutherford (ibid, p.1-2).

Through her ethnography work, Rutherford (ibid, p.248) comes to the conclusion that “Dutch officials, Indonesian politicians, UN envoys, US legislators, Papuan nationalists; they all should be able to imagine others whose gaze disturbs familiar hierarchies, being reduced to ‘bare life’ who could in fact be ‘lords of life’, audiences who may have claim to sovereignty after all.”

The implication reflects what other authors recommended: that the Indonesian government as well as the Papuan leaders need to have a more thorough dialogue. They need to encourage participation from Papuan people on the grassroots level and listen more to the voice of the people (Ginting, 2016; Hernawan, 2016; King, Elmslie & Webb-Gannon, 2010; Ruhyanto, 2016; Tebay, 2005). It is therefore pointless to claim sovereignty over Papua without understanding the audience, which is the people, their aspiration, their culture and their belief systems.

The audience

As Rutherford indicated, understanding the Leviathan requires understanding the audience. Kirksey (Kirksey, 2011 & 2012) provides a standpoint to understand the Papuan people, especially those on the island of Biak. From his ethnography study in Jayapura and Biak, Kirksey (2012) found that most Papuan people he met are hoping for a messiah. The old folklore about the smelly old man, Manamakari, who turns out to be the saviour of the village mixed with Christianity show how the Papuan people are waiting for someone to deliver them from poverty, from life’s misery and – for some – from Indonesia. Through his ethnography work in Papua, Kirksey saw that the messiah might be more than one person. Kirksey’s messianic multiple means a future with “multiple messianic political options which could work” (2011, p. 278-294).

During his stay in Biak, Kirksey witnessed the tail end of the 1998 Biak demonstration where people saw Filep Karma, a humble civil servant who raised the Moring Star flag, as their messiah. Another example is the Zakheus movement within the Ekagi people, which started as an education for indigenous people against polygamy, but with its symbolism and rituals, the movement became a new set of beliefs – a syncretic of indigenous beliefs and Christianity (Giay, 1995).

While in Kirksey’s (2012) example the ‘messiah’ came from within the Papuan people, in the scenario of messianic multiple, leaders might come from within or without. In July 2016, the researcher had a discussion with a Papuan Protestant pastor who serves in the Sentani area. The pastor feels that current social political situation in Papua – with the difference and sectarianism between the tribes of Papua itself – means that an independence Papua lead by a native Papuan is almost impossible, at least not in the near future. The pastor saw that for the moment, the most visible future for independent Papua – if it is going to get independence at all – is to have a leader from outside Papua with a broader vision and a more balanced point of view but having greater care for the people.

Bobby Anderson (2015) and the pastor in Sentani identified problems of horizontal conflict between clans and the fragmented independent movements. Both the pastor in Sentani and Willem Burung are of the opinion that the many factions of Free West Papua organisation and different pro-independence organisations are dividing Papuan people. Chauvel (2011) called this ‘politics of pork’, where the extra finance from Indonesia’s special autonomy strategy does not reach Papuan people on the grassroots level, instead it enriched the civil servants and local authority leaders, their clans and their families.

The hope for foreigners as saviours could explain how Papuan people “fish for foreigners” using their welcome dance and music, Yospan, in Biak airport (Kirksey, 2012). The song and dance was to welcome and to ‘lure’ international visitors on transit in Biak airport in the 1970s-1980s. Rutherford analyse this as ‘foreign fetishism’. The best example is the word amber in Biak native dialect meaning a foreigner, but also a prominent person. Local people who gained high status would become amber (Rutherford, 2003, p.xviii).

The wait for outsiders to make a difference was clearly felt when the researcher visited Wamena and the surrounding villages in July 2016. The guide at that time was keen in showing how poor the villagers are and how primitive their lives are, untouched by development from Jakarta. The guide indicated how they are still waiting for the government in Jakarta to build their villages to become modern towns with modern technologies like the rest of the world.

Similar with other Melanesian cultures, within Papua there are versions of the cargo cult. Cargo cult saw ports and runways as pathways to the unknown world of wealth, while ships and aeroplanes are the carriers of the magical instruments such as lamps, radio, television which “could not be manmade” (Giay, 1995).

The pastor from Sentani said that the hope for the grassroots Papuan people – or the audience in relation to the Leviathan (Rutherford, 2012) – is education and information. There is also a possibility that when the concept of the foreign became known, the fetishism will end as information marks the end of mysticism (Rutherford, 2003, p.135-136).

Kirksey (2012) analyse entanglement and interdependence as strength and weakness, as both opportunity and threat. People like Ester Nawipa (ibid, p.2-7) who used her status as the mistress of the army commander to save villagers’ lives shows opportunity in entanglement – the unlikely collaboration between the parties in this Papua-Indonesia conflict. In the case of Theys Eluay, local leaders who took advantage of his closeness to the Indonesian government while also supporting Papua independence, his entanglement marked the violent end of his life. Rutherford’s host Sister Sally the nurse (2003, p.234) was not a great supporter of Indonesia, but was very proud to show how her cousin got a job with the local government and made a good living.


Part four: Flipping the lens

The majority of the Western world still see Papua as the exotic tribal people, even cannibals, as Bruce Parry’s documentary Tribe (2005) pictured the Kombai people who live in the foothills of the Jayawijaya mountain range. The exotic cannibals are also the image shown in a current affair Australian TV programme in 2006 telling the story of 6-year-old Wawa from Korowai who was facing cannibalisation by his tribe because of witchcraft (Webb-Gannon, 2015).

George Monbiot’s book, Poisoned Arrow (1989), showed how the indigenous Papuan people fighting for their existence with bows and arrows. While Start told his experience as a British research student taken hostage by the OPM (Free West Papua Organisation) and later rescued by the Indonesian army in The Open Cage (1998).

Although the outside world – the Jakartans and the Europeans – gaze with fascination at the Papuan people as the exotic tribesmen, no voices of the Papuan people was heard. This reminded the researcher of gazing, as a child, at a live cassowary bird from Papua in a neighbour’s backyard. The cassowary was kept as an exotic pet, a display of wealth back in the 1970s with no thought of its welfare or endangered status.

Journal papers and reports recommend dialogue between the Papuan people and decision makers in Jakarta (Hernawan2016; Ruhyanto,2016; Rutherford, 2012; Sugandi,2009; Suranto, 2008; Webb-Gannon, 2015; Tebay, 2005). Rutherford (2012) even analysed that the audience of the Leviathan are the ones in control. The question is, how to get the voices of the grassroots Papuan people across to decision makers in Jakarta? The researcher aimed to test this by using participatory video.

While many Papuan people are used to seeing cameras pointed at them – and some would ask for money to pose for tourists – no one ever sees the world outside from their point of view. The researcher sees participatory video as one opportunity to flip the lens. By flipping the lens, the gaze in this research would be through the lens of the indigenous Papuan women who had experience the Papua-Indonesia conflict first hand – or through their family members – looking at the outside world and theorise about peacebuilding. The camera in this participatory video will be a perspective and a tool to exercise power – power to expose, to gaze and to analyse. The researcher sees some power relation between the filmmaker (camera holder) and the spectators and intends to test this in order to get the voices of Papuan women be heard.



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Changi and Jetstar depriving passengers of drinking water

This open letter was sent by email to Changi Airport Authority, Jetstar airline’s media department, BBC Asia correspondent, and editor of Jetstar inflight magazine.

Dear Changi Airport Authority and Jetstar airline,

I used to think that Changi is one of the best airports in the world, and I did not say this lightly as an aviation journalist.

That is until today. I was flying Jetstar to Bali DPS with my husband. Like in many other international airports, we had to empty our water bottle to get through security. While I saw water fountains inside other gates, on gate D48 (Terminal 1), there is no water fountain.

I asked staff at the gate about drinking water, especially since I had to take medication on certain times. Ground staff at gate D48 assured me that we will be able to get water for free onboard from the cabin crew.

That was misleading. At Jetstar they charge Sin$4 per 600ml of water. We had no more Singapore dollar left, and the point is water is part of life’s essential like oxygen. I had to ask for a little cup of water to take my medication, and within the 2.5hours flight we only drank about 200ml water.

We are very disappointed both with Changi and Jetstar. Our other flight on Jetstar was from Bali and we were able to refill our bottle before boarding.

I am concern that profit had make companies ignore human rights and wellbeing. Also as our planet is choking with plastic, the lack of water fountain to refill our bottles means people are forced to buy water in plastic bottles or plastic cups that is contributing to the polution our Earth is suffering.

I hope that Changi as well as Jetstar will seriously looking into this issue.


Adeline Cooke


Reply from Changi Airport:

Dear Ms Adeline Cooke

Thank you for taking time to give us your valuable feedback regarding no water dispenser inside Common Gate D48 in Terminal 1. We appreciate your time and effort to help us to improve.

We apologise for the negative experience while you are at the airport. We thank you for your patience and understanding and we would like to assure you that when we receive feedback such as yours, we take it very seriously because it allows us to evaluate the standards of service provided at Changi Airport.

We would like to share that we are currently renovating our toilets inside the Common Gates and the water dispenser has been reinstated back to operational use.

We value your feedback and hope you have a more positive experience the next time when you are at Changi Airport. We wish you a nice day.

Yours sincerely

Jeffrey Wong


Facilities Management/Terminal 1

Airport Operations

Changi Airport Group (Singapore) Pte Ltd


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Supporting good cause while shopping online

Friends, I would really appreciate if you can support my project by doing your regular online shopping through this website. Just click and follow the link….

Participatory Video for Peace in Papua

We are doing a participatory video project with indigenous women in Papua, Indonesia, for peacebuilding. The project is about finding ways of including the voices of Papuan women in peacebuilding process using film. The participants will learn how to produce, direct, film and edit a documentary film about their experiences, opinions, wishes and feelings on the Papua-Indonesia conflict and how to achieve peace.

Join easyfundraising and you can collect free donations for us every time you buy something online. It won’t cost you a penny extra so please help us to raise funds.

Collect free donations every time you shop the easyfundraising way.

Thank you… 🙏🏾

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A week of Participatory Video: a week of solidarity, serious learning, planning and reflection

I finally attended the Participatory Video Facilitation Training in Oxford, September 2017, conducted by InsightShare. The Participatory Video Facilitation Course gave me so many useful practical skills to facilitate a PV project ( I have to say the whole week was full of personal learning, inspiring story sharing, solidarity and friendship. It was nice to have such a positive energy the whole week! I hope that my participants in Papua – who have become sisters and good friends of mine – will also be able to feel this emotional support and positive energy.


Participatory Video Facilitation Course by InsightShare in Oxford, September 2017

The practical skills from the course are essential for my project. I like the games and exercises to facilitate learning technical skills, which will be easier to remember. I will use the peer support and group empathetic listening as the core and beginning for the participants to tell their stories.

Since meeting InsightShare’s co-founder Nick Lunch November 2016 (, I have recruited 10 women in two cities of Papua. All of them had their men somehow affected by the social political conflict, with one woman had been directly affected herself. Of all these participants, we will form three groups to produce three short films, with those in one city attending the training together.

During the Participatory Video (PV) Facilitation Training I had another brief discussion with Nick Lunch about using ‘a proper camera’ to get good quality film footage. I have been debating this from all sides – practicality, affordability, sustainability of the skills, also the safety of the participants when filming in public places.

On one hand, I agree with the need to learn using video camera and the quality it would guarantee. On the other hand, I also want to test the project using available technology as most participants have smartphones with cameras.

For using smartphones or tablets, I shall adapt the technical skills with how to film good quality footage using the available equipment – smartphones or tablets as camera, simple microphone and an affordable tripod. I will even consider utilising selfie stick that is very popular in Papua/Indonesia/Asia.

Using mobile phone will also be the ‘safer’ option in Papua – and other places on Earth where military authorities could be rather paranoid. As mentioned in the training, the presence of a video camera and a tripod is like an alien landing in a small remote village. It will attract curiosity and could make those being filmed uncomfortable as a tripod makes subjects more aware of their existence in front of a camera.

So after some discussion with my supervisor Prof Erik Knudsen and with my director of photography / expert cameraman / husband Andy, I decided to use smartphones and tablets / iPads. Since I still have not been successful in applying for external filming funding, I will have to ask friend, families, colleagues, friends of friends and anyone who is kind enough to donate their unused smartphones or tablets or iPads that have camera for this project.

Smartphones and Tablets Appeal

Smartphone and Tablets appeal for Papua

Another way to resolve the dilemma between quality and accessibility is to use both smartphones and a good audio recording system – by this I meant that we can use a good enough microphone connected to a second smartphone or tablet to record the audio simultaneously. In this way, we will still achieve good quality picture and audio using accessible equipment and technology. After all, there are gorgeous beaches, villages, nature and people awaiting the lenses of these women filmmakers!

Another challenge that I might face is that I will be facilitating alone. Maybe I can ask someone from a local organisation who does photography training to assist. I will have to look into this before going to the field again.


an example of PV project design


this PV project design

I will use the project design that I learned from the course, but I will read more about activities and games that will be suitable for this project. One thing for sure is that I will use the ‘name game’ as an introduction to filming. I will also combine the use of PV for therapeutic conflict resolution and for advocacy. The first techniques is to tell participants individual stories, and the second is to pass their message of how to resolve the conflict to the decision makers and wider public.


“River of Life”, an activity to tell one’s life story

So far, these are the things I learned and reflected upon from the one week training in Oxford. InsightShare, thank you so much for the opportunity…!!!


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On Staying Sane

How to stay sane while doing your postgraduate research study? The topic might sound unsexy, or sounds like those university newsletter no student ever read…. Still, I want to share a little bit here on the topic.

Some friends might know, that while doing my PhD, I am also working many nights a week as a mental health support worker. I do this for two reasons: to afford to live and to put meanings in life by doing something worth. I talk to people in desperate situations, sometimes trying hard to stop someone taking their own live, sometimes discussing the meanings of life and why good people suffer, and somtimes talking to stressed out students. 

Listening to other people’s problems comes very natural to me. I was my mother’s counsellor since the age of nine (no qualification needed, just recruited). I had my breakdowns, I had moments when I thought I’d better off dead. But I survived so far. I am used to people suddenly change the subject or walk out on me when I desperately needed someone to talk. And I survived so far.

These are what I share to clients at work about how to survive: sometimes to keep sane, you need a touch of craziness. Accept who you are, your limitations and strength. Discern things that are within your control and things that are out of your control. Let go of those that are beyond your control.

Talk to animals and plants. Find cuteness that make you say, “Aaawww…” Watch cartoons and find positive messages in Disney films. Feed squirrels in the park. Chat with your neighbours. Chat with the homeless on the street. Find simple things that make you smile. Smile, no matter what.

So, these are my end of Bank Holiday message: be happy, be crazy, accept life. I am thankful to be alive, I hope you are too….

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