Growth of Papuan Nationalism, 1961-2004

Honolulu-based East-West Center has issued a policy study that is of particular interest to me, for its focus both on Papua and on the construction of national identity.

Pan-Papuan identity is much more widespread and the commitment to a Papuan nation much stronger in 2004 than it was in 1963, when Indonesia thought it was liberating the Papuans from the yoke of Dutch colonialism. Rather than feeling liberated from colonial rule, Papuans have felt subjugated, marginalized from the processes of economic development, and threatened by the mass influx of Indonesian settlers. They have also developed a sense of common Papuan ethnicity in opposition to Indonesian dominance of the local economy and administration, an identity that, ironically, has spread in part as a result of the increasing reach of Indonesian administration. These pan-Papuan views have become the cultural and ethnic currency of a common Papuan struggle against Indonesian rule. Yet the sharp ethnic distinctions Papuans make between themselves and Indonesians reflect the various and complex relationships Papuans have had with the latter.

Despite the sharp distinctions they draw between themselves and Indonesians, the Papuans are themselves diverse. Papuan society is a mosaic of over three hundred small, local, and often isolated ethno-linguistic groups, whose contacts with each other and with non-Papuans has varied significantly. The evolution of Papuan nationalism has therefore gone hand in hand with the creation of a pan-Papuan identity. The first generation to begin thinking of themselves as Papuans were the graduates of the mission schools and colleges established by the Dutch to train officials, police, and teachers after the Pacific War. The study examines two regions to illustrate something of Papua’s ethnic and religious diversity as well as the different ways in which regions have interacted with the world outside Papua. These two regions, Fakfak [on the lower beak of the Bird’s Head] and Serui [on Yapen Island], had displayed some of the strongest pro-Indonesian sentiment prior to 1961. Today, the choice between Papuan and Indonesian identity is a hotly contested issue in Fakfak, while Serui has become anti-Indonesian. The analysis in these case studies sheds additional light on the ways Papuans have negotiated their ways through choices of identity and political orientation.

SOURCE: Constructing Papuan Nationalism: History, Ethnicity, and Adaptation, by Richard Chauvel.

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