Papuan Voices: The Papuan Serving of Culture, Video and Change

Wempie talks to KBR 68H about Papuan Voices
Wempie talks to KBR 68H about Papuan Voices (Photo credit:



The BAKAR BATU Papuan Voices Launch in Goethe-Institute, Jakarta on October 13, 2012 provided an eye-view of the struggle and inspiration in West Papua, brought to you by Papuan video activists from Jayapura and Merauke.



dancers2As the Merauke dancers waltzed into the Goethe-Haus theatre, the people who turned up for the Bakar Batu Papuan Voices Launchknew they were in for an evening of West Papuan culture which was filled with more than just the usual sad stories, but more so with hope and inspiration.Master of ceremony and Papuan Voices filmmaker Cyntia Warwewelcomed the audience, giving a bit of a philosophical explanation of the event.“Bakar Batu (literally translates to earth oven in Indonesian) or ‘barapen’ is an event where Papuans gather for a special occasion,” said Cyntia. “And this is a special event indeed, we’ve cooked up nine videos proudly, and we want to serve them to you, our friends.”

The theatre was packed. The Sisir Bambu acoustic group followed the dancers. Lead singer Sem Awom sang his work and also Mambesak songs to celebrate the cultural struggle of Papua.

“Years ago, there was a guy named Arnold Ap who worked very hard to keep the Papuan culture alive through the group Mambesak,” Sem said. “Unfortunately, his great work was deemed separatist by the then regime, and in the end he was arrested and killed.”

The award-winning filmmaker Wenda Tokomonowir kicked off the film screening  with the acclaimed “Surat Cinta Kepada Sang Prada’ (Love Letter to the Soldier). There were a total of 11 films screened. It was an emotional roller coaster as the films showed the tough lives many Papuans have to face, but encouraging as the same peoples are also not back down and fighting hard for survival. A video called ‘Salam Bilogai’ about a traditional Bilogai click handshake lit up the theatre with laughter as the audience demonstrated the handshakes with one another.

Papuan Voices co-producer, Wensi Fatubun, said that even though the project that ran since 2011 was a video initiative, both EngageMedia and Church group JPIC MSC have encouraged the participants in Jayapura and Merauke to design and use the videos for change.

“Papuan Voices is a cultural struggle,” said Wensi. “We want people to see Papua through the eyes of the Papuans themselves.”

Winning accolades was not the intention, but we are grateful of that. But to change and inspire is a lot more important.”

Web Launch

The evening was also about the unveiling of the dedicated Papuan Voices website – This particular site compiles the nine Papuan Voices videos, along with various background information about the places and issues raised in the videos, a study guide that teachers/educators can use to trigger discussions, a screening guide and a take action page that provides information on groups to join and resources to read more about West Papua.

At the end of the screening, the audience were led outside to eat the sago and betel nut made by the indigenous market traders in the video ‘Awin Meke’.


One audience said: “Thanks for letting me take a peek to the window of lives in West Papua for the first time. I hope folks in the TNI (the Indonesian Armed Forces) and the Government can have the opportunity to take a look at the videos also.”

The Papuan Voices Compilation DVD can be purchased here.





A Papuan who writes prolifically to promote the identity of his people

Bintang Papua
5 October 2012 Papuan leader  keen to affirm the identity  of his people

The Rev. Socrates S. Yoman is well known for his prolific writings about his people’s struggle. He was recently interviewed by Bintang Papua at his home.

The problem of West Papua has for a long time stagnated,  spreading fear among the Papuan people who are confronted by a brutal governmental system that lacks any sense  of humanity. This is why the Rev. Yoman spends most of his time writing books that are often very controversial. Some of his books have been banned in Indonesia.  He said that the Papuan leader who has inspired him for years is Arnold Ap, the anthropologist who was murdered in 1984 by Kopasanda (now called Kopassus). He was well known for the Mambesak songs  he composed.

The songs were all about promoting the identity of the Papuan  people and were intended to foster the spirit of the Papuan people. His songs called on the Papuan people to use their own language  and to revive their own culture. Although Ap was murdered many years ago, he is still an inspiration  for his people.

‘As for me, I am not able to sing  but God has given me another talent, the ability to write for which I thank the Almighty.’

The support from his wife and children  and all those who are part of the Alliance of Baptist Churches in Papua has been a source of inspiration for him, encouraging him to produce a number of books, some of which are now well known in other countries.

His intention has always been to call on his people to be true to their own identity in face of the attempts by Indonesia to bury it.

While other clerics give sermons from the pulpit, he has decided  to write books to spread his message. ‘Whether or not people can accept them is of less importance to me because my intention above all else is to persuade my people that they have an identity of their own.’

‘I also try to tell my people that they are the legitimate owners of the land. My message to  those Indonesians who have now settled in Papua is that you have been mis-informed by your government. about the Papuan people. ‘

He said that some of his books are now in the library of the US Congress. ‘They wrote to me two years ago and asked me to send them some of my books.’ His latest book is now being edited in preparation for printing and is being sought by people here in Indonesia as well as in other countries.

The Dutch author, Pieter Grooglever, has said: ‘People should read the books by Rev. Yoman. ‘His is a voice full of sadness which no  one should ignore.’

The title of his latest book is The Voice of a Shepherd who Opposes the Crimes against Humanity in the Land of  Papua. He has also received an offer  of money to pay for the book to be translated into English.

And moreover, he has already written two other books that are likely to be published quite soon.

[Translated by TAPOL]


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.

Voice of West Papua reaches Poland

The voice of West Papua’s struggle for freedom reached Gdynia in the Baltic region of northern Poland this weekend, as Globaltica Festival hosted the first ever performance of West Papuan music in the country.
Led by West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda, the Lani Singers played a one hour set of freedom songs on Sunday evening. The Lani Singers were joined by Oridek Ap, son of the legendary West Papuan musician Arnold Ap who was executed in cold blood by the Indonesian military in 1985.

Photo 1: Oridek Ap (left) and Benny Wenda (right) performing

A crowd of nearly 1,000 people gathered at the ampitheatre stage on the beach for what was an emotionally charged performance, with some audience members moved to tears as Benny Wenda told them of the situation in West Papua and the terrible suffering of his people under Indonesian occupation. It is a situation that many Poles could relate to given the country’s history. There were jubilant scenes at the end as the crowd cheered until the group returned on stage to play an encore – a classic OPM song that had everyone clapping and shouting ‘Merdeka’ (freedom) at the end.

Photo 2: Benny Wenda speaking to the audience

Photo 3: Benny Wenda

Photo 4: Lani Singers

Photo 5: Billboards across the city advertising the festival

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