by Jason Mcleod
February 21, 2013
Diamond’s observations, made in his recent book The World until Yesterday, that West Papuans are ‘warlike’ and that the state and development are forces for good need to be chucked in the academic dustbin. They don’t stack up against the evidence and in the case of West Papua help perpetuate ideas that are used to justify the ongoing Indonesian occupation.
Take his claim that Indigenous Papuans like those from the Dani nation are warlike, locked in perpetual combat with their neighbours, and bereft of role models, structures or processes that help pull them out of cycles of violent retribution. In reality Dani leaders like Benny Wenda, Sofyan Yoman, Dominikus Surabut, and Fanny Kogoya are at the forefront of a nationwide nonviolent rebellion against Indonesian occupation. This is not a recent phenomenon. Papuans from Biak, for instance, were engaging in acts of peaceful defiance as early as 1910, twenty years before Gandhi launched his salt satyagraha against British rule. They defied bans against traditional singing and dancing, organised collective tax resistance and initiated labour strikes in protest of Dutch colonialism. Alliances like KNPB, the West Papua National Committee also continue determined nonviolent resistance even as the Indonesian military tries to wipe them out, killing 22 KNPB activists in 2012 alone.
As for not cooperating across tribal boundaries, people like Dominikus Surabut, currently imprisoned by the Indonesian state for peacefully declaring independence from Indonesia, are part of a Pan-Papuan tribal confederacy, the Dewan Adat Papua (DAP) and the Federal Republic of West Papua. If you visit the DAP leader and FRWP president elect, Forkorus’s Yaboisembut’s home on the coast, you will see a Dani gate gracing the front entrance. While Papuans from different highland and island tribes will greet you and make you feel welcome you won’t be able to meet Mr Yaboisembut because like Mr Surabut he is also in jail for leading a nonviolent insurrection.
But you won’t find any of this in The World until Yesterday. Diamond fails to mention the occupation and fails to mention the fact that the West Papuan struggle for freedom is the largest nonviolent movement in the Pacific. We are not just talking about a handful of activists, but tens of thousands of Papuans who have gone on strike, occupied parliament, set up parallel government structures and are using the latest digital technology to demolish the Indonesian government’s refusal to give the international media free reign to report on what is happening.
Diamond’s other suggestion that the twin forces of industrialization and states are helping bringing development and peace to societies once isolated and trapped in a perpetual cycle of inter-tribal war has been labeled by Survival International, an indigenous human rights organisation, as “dangerous nonsense”. In West Papua large scale development like the giant Freeport/Rio Tinto gold and copper mine has displaced the local landowners the Amungme and Kamoro. Far from bringing development the company’s theft of land and resources has impoverished them. Freeport’s policy of paying the Indonesian military and police to provide security has led to a mounting death toll that numbers in at least the hundreds. Demands for independent forensic human rights investigations are repeatedly ignored by the Indonesian government and Freeport. Despite this Papuans from groups like Tongoi Papua, an independent Papuan labour union of Freeport mine workers who in 2006 won a 100% wage increase though collective nonviolent action, are working together, across tribal boundaries, to press for the freedom to organise and greater rights.
As for the Indonesian government bringing peace to West Papua; that is laughable. The Indonesian government has occupied West Papua since 1963. They maintain their rule through brutal force, ably assisted I might add, by foreign governments like Australia, the U.S and others. Rev. Sofyan Yoman from the Baptist Church, and other Papuans, call it “slow-motion genocide”. But again, don’t expect to read that in Diamond’s book.
Diamond’s observations about our collective past are often insightful but in the case of West Papua his ossified ideas about warlike Papuans and his praise of the state and development are at best, highly contested.
They also assist the Indonesian occupation.
Dr J MacLeod, University of Queensland
- Angry Papuan leaders demand Jared Diamond apologizes (survivalinternational.org)
- Growing international solidarity for West Papua freedom campaigns (westpapuamedia.info)
- West Papua Advocacy Team Urges Unrestricted Visit by UN Special Rapporteur (westpapuamedia.info)
- Police fail to provoke violence as demo in Manokwari ignores protest ban (westpapuamedia.info)
- Herman Wainggai: Open letter to the President of Indonesia on eve of demos in Papua (westpapuamedia.info)
- Response to Call to Apply Indonesia’s Anti-Terrorism Law in West Papua (westpapuamedia.info)
- West Papuan campaigner tells of life of struggle against Indonesian rule (pacific.scoop.co.nz)
- Victor Yeimo: 22 Members of KNPB killed in 2012 (westpapuamedia.info)