Identity Politics in Papua

Unofficial Morning Star flag, used by supporte...
Image via Wikipedia

JUBI, 27 January 2012

In the days before the special autonomy law for Papua (OTSUS), identity politics in Papua was focussed primarily on culture. It was his awareness of the richness of Papuan culture that encouraged Arnold Ap to set up his Mambesak group in the 1970s. [Not to mention the fact that he paid with his life for his activities.]

Brother Budi Hernawan, a human rights activist, said that the identity politics movement  had made some progress and was in the process of further development. ‘In fact,’ he said, ‘there are certain impacts of the inconsistency of the central government’s attitude towards the identity politics movement among the Papuans.’

He said that Papuan identity politics  emerged alongside the Indonesian identity politics movement  in the 1940s. But the way of defining Papuans referred to their tendency to being slender in build, dark skinned and with fuzzy curly hair as part of the Melanesian race; this led to the stagnation of this process.  At the core of the issue is the interaction between cultural and social issues, according to Brother Budi.

Cressida Hayes writes, in the 2007 Stanford Encyclopaedia of  Philosophy, that identity politics  has a far broader definition  and the theory has a far broader definition with regard to injustices that are encountered by people in certain social groups.

Rather than their being organised on the basis of ideology or party affiliation, identity politics is related to the group’s identity and of its not being marginalised  as a group as well as the question of belonging to the group in a much broader sense.

Demographically speaking, Papuans are no longer dominant in the land of Papua.  This has been reinforced by the role of capital  and limitations within the political sphere. While procedures are set in place to ensure that the head of region is an indigenous Papuan, no affirmative action has been taken by any legislative body to protect the interests of the indigenous Papuan people.

Apart from this, he said, Jakarta always bases its policies on economics and politics.The result is that there has been no comprehensive or ‘calm’ definition. ‘The word “calm”  is used here in the sense that the Dewan Adat Papua should be able to draft a definition of Papua-ness without being accused of being separatist or accused of subversion.’

Back in the days of President Abdurrachman Wahid,  the space being given to identity politics was broadening. Gus Dur, as he was affectionately known, granted permission for the Morning Star flag to be flown, which is regarded by Papuans as a cultural symbol, while at the same time stipulating that it should be held ten centimetres lower that the Red-and-White flag. But this has never been backed up by any government regulation.

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