“We walked deep into the forests of Papua, armed and in full gear, when a group of tribal warriors approached us,” recounts an Indonesian soldier who was deployed to Papua.
The warriors surrounded the soldiers, who were dumbfounded at the sight of the indigenous Papuans, who despite the frosty weather were clad only in koteka (penis sheaths), and armed with homemade weapons.
Most of the soldiers had seen nothing like it and had little experience in dealing with such a situation. The obliviousness of the men can be said to reflect the broader relationship between Indonesia and its most remote region, Papua.
The issue of Papuan independence has been a point of ongoing discussion that concerns both the domestic and international community.
Many elements have been raised concerning the subject, especially underlying racism that contributes to negligence in the easternmost region of Indonesia. While racism is considered a massive factor for international bystanders, Indonesians would argue otherwise.
A representative of the Indonesian government who underwent a one-year mission to Wamena disclosed the realities of the government’s presence in Papua, stressing that “there is an unenthusiastic attitude toward appointment in the region”.
“Many consider it to be a placement for those marginalized, and as a result the region that needs the most attention receives little to none due to the sheer indifference of Jakarta’s chosen representatives,” he said.
Most of Papua is scarcely urbanized and a majority of the people live as hunter-gatherers. Tribes living deep in the forests often are seen to be an obstacle for government representatives and developers alike.
The army representative interviewed chose to remain anonymous but willingly revealed his mission, stating that they were deployed to “change the opinions of the Papuans about the Indonesian nation as a whole” and were especially encouraged to “monitor activities of pro-independence groups”.
Indonesia’s history with Papua did not start on the right foot according to international onlookers. The Netherlands’ withdrawal from the Indonesian archipelago after World War II did not extend to Papua, which remained under Dutch jurisdiction until 1962, when then president Sukarno decided to annex Papua into the nation.
International opinion saw the move as highly controversial, with many historians arguing that Soekarno’s passion for Papua brought one of the biggest challenges to his regime.
As with the majority of Indonesia today, corruption has become a major player in the regional administration. Papua has become a hotbed of corruption as many outsiders have taken advantage of Papua’s inexperienced leaders – using money to win them over to their cause.
The province of West Papua has seen the most enthusiasm for independence. Some explain this as a naive conception that freedom will offer Papuans a fast route to better living conditions.
However, Papua’s abundance in natural resources may be its biggest disadvantage as some observers feel that big businesses would use Papua’s inexperience to further exploit the region.
Papua’s relationship with Indonesia is infused with naivety on the behalf of the former and negligence on the side of the latter.
There is certainly more to Papua’s cry for independence than racial or socioeconomic concerns, as a majority of the Papuans are denied their rights as citizens of Indonesia.
Thursday, September 8, 2011