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Constructing Papuan nationalism : history, ethnicity, and adaptation

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Publication Date: January 2004

Publisher(s): East-West Center Washington

Author(s): Richard Chauvel

Series: East-West Center (Washington, D.C.). Policy studies ; 14

Topic: Government (Intergovernmental relations)
Politics (Nationalism)

Type: Report

Abstract:

Papuan nationalism is stronger today than it was in 1961, when the Morning Star flag was first raised. Its evolution as a political force is a crucial factor in any analysis of relations between the Indonesian government and Papuan society. This study shows that Papuan nationalism today has been shaped by four primary factors. First, many Papuans share a historical grievance about the manner in which their homeland was integrated into Indonesia. Second, the Papuan elite feels a rivalry with the Indonesian officials who have dominated their country's administration both in the early Dutch period and since the Indonesian takeover of 1963. It is the Papuan participants in this political and bureaucratic competition who have also been the principal formulators and articulators of Papuan nationalism. Third, the territory's economic and administrative development, together with Papuans' continued sense of difference from Indonesians, has fostered a sense of pan-Papuan identity whose popular roots are much broader today than they were during the first efflorescence of nationalism in the early 1960s. Fourth, the demographic transformation of society in Papua, with its great influx of Indonesian settlers, has engendered a widespread feeling that Papuans have been dispossessed and marginalized. The most extreme, though by no means uncommon, expression of this conviction is the assertion that Papuans face extinction in their own land. Papuan nationalists of the post-Suharto reformasi era have structured much of their demand for independence as an argument about the history of Papua's integration into Indonesia. In particular, it is an argument about the decolonization of the Netherlands Indies, the struggle between Indonesia and the Netherlands over the sovereignty of Papua, and Papua's subsequent integration into Indonesia. The failure of decolonization to produce a Papuan nation state has fostered and shaped the development of Papuan nationalism, due to resentment about the process that led to this result. Papuan nationalists resented that in the decolonization dispute between Indonesia and the Netherlands they were the objects of the struggle rather than participants in it, and this resentment was a catalyst for the Papuans' own demand for a nation state. Paradoxically, though decolonization failed to produce a Papuan state, it has provided a language and a set of principles, particularly the principles of self-determination and human rights, with which Papuans argue their case today. 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 and Serui, 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. The study goes on to examine the Indonesian government's 2003 decision to divide Papua into three provinces. The jockeying for position that this policy unleashed suggests that regional and tribal interests remain politically salient. Yet some of the localities that have been most intensely involved in this struggle—Biak, for instance—have also been some of the strongest advocates of Papuan independence. It appears that the intra-Papuan rivalries are being expressed in a context in which pan-Papuan identity is far more salient, and reaching many more Papuans, than it ever did before. The study also explores the apparent paradox between the rigidity of the Papuan nationalists' straightforward demand for independence, a demand accentuated by the sharp ethnic distinctions made with Indonesians, and the ability of Papuan nationalists to adapt to changing political circumstances. Given that adaptability, the study closes by posing the question as to whether Indonesian government policy could be altered to accommodate Papuan interests and values, and to encourage Papuans to accept a political future within the Indonesian state. The Special Autonomy Law of 2001 seemed to offer this possibility. Papuans participated in the formulation of the law, and it incorporated some Papuan nationalist values and ideas. The law's potential has not been put to the test, however, as Jakarta has been reluctant to implement it. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's election as President has created another moment for Jakarta to grasp the historic opportunity created by the Special Autonomy Law. Some of the new President's statements suggest that he has a preference for political rather than military solutions, and for accommodation rather than repression.