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West Papua: A Grassroots Perspective on Micro-enterprise Development and Civic Participation

Drug store in Indonesia. (jogales/Flickr)

Drug store in Indonesia. (jogales/Flickr)

Patricia McEwan, Trickle Up Program, West Papua

General History

West Papua (Irian Jaya) is the twenty-sixth province in Indonesia and occupies the easternmost region of the archipelago. West Papua, then known as the West New Guinea, was colonized by the Dutch in the mid 1800s then coming under the Dutch East Indies administration in 1910. Whilst the remainder of Indonesia gained independence from the Dutch in 1949, West Papua continued to be under Dutch control.

During the post World War II era of de-colonization the Dutch were placed under increasing international pressure to give up West Papua. The Dutch therefore started to begin the process of making West Papua an independent state, including the preparing of locals as the new administrators and the production of a National anthem and the West Papuan flag, that was raised for the first time on 1 December 1961. However, the Indonesians believed that because West Papua was a Dutch colony it was rightfully theirs and therefore attacked West Papua in an attempt to secure it from the Dutch. In 1962 the Indonesians and Dutch signed the New York Agreement to end their dispute regarding West Papua. This agreement placed Indonesia in a caretaker role to assist the people of West Papua to proceed with self-determination and obtain independence. The role of this agreement was seen as a face-saving device for the Dutch, who had promised independence to the West Papuans but also a means of stabilizing the United States' position as a super-power in the region and protecting the economic interests of multinationals.

In the five years between 1962 and 1969, as a part of the Suharto New Order regime and in response to the high population growth in other regions of Indonesia, large numbers of Indonesians were shifted to West Papua. Also during this period there was a large military presence in West Papua, with the military being responsible for large numbers of human rights abuses including intimidation, rape and killings of local West Papuans. At a human rights tribunal in Papua New Guinea in 1981, the first governor of West Papua testified that 30,000 Papuans were murdered between 1963 and 1969 by the Indonesian military. In 1969, a United Nations-supervised referendum was held - "Act of Free Choice" - to determine whether the Papuans wished to stay with Indonesia or not. 1025 of the 700,000 local Papuans were handpicked [by the Indonesian government] to vote in this plebiscite which voted overwhelmingly to keep West Papua with Indonesia.

Since Indonesia's occupation of West Papua, the Papuans have been subjected to processes of "Indonesianization". This is a process of acculturating the Papua-Melanesian as the "uncivilized"community into the supposedly more "civilized" Indonesian community. This process has been carried out through the use of the education system, media, transmigration and economic development. The aim of this process is to strengthen national unity that then allows for greater exploitation of natural resources. The impact of this process has been the marginalization of both urban and rural Papuans from their own land, natural resources and economic development. This has resulted in the Papuans becoming second-class citizens in their land especially in regards to employment and economic status, and denigration of Papuan culture and psychological self-worth, leading to a high level of animosity towards the Indonesian government, Indonesians and multinationals.

This animosity is reflected in the high level of community support for the Papuan pro-independence movement. The pro-independence movement can be seen to have emerged out of two features of West Papua's socio-cultural history. Firstly, it has emerged out of millenarian myths and cargo cults that served as a form of resistance to the repression and oppression inflicted by Dutch, missionary, Japanese and Indonesian domination over the Papuans. These cults projected a "faith in a better world, free from oppression," that were transformed into secular political movements. Secondly, the pro-independence movement is a direct continuation of the striving for self-determination that began during the Dutch colonial period. The pro-independence movement is made up of a number of key groups which sometimes overlap in their visions, but at the same time are some what fractionalized.