By Dale Hess, Victoria Regional Meeting.
On 6 – 8 May 2011, 17 Friends, West Papuans and social change and peace educators (and one dog) gathered at the Silver Wattle Quaker Centre for a peace-building conference to discover ways that we might address the most protracted violent conflict in the Pacific, the situation in West Papua.
This meeting was an outgrowth of our Friend Jason McLeod’s experience, when as a 19-year-old travelling in PNG he became deathly ill with cerebral malaria. His life was saved because of the generosity of the Melanesian people.
After recovering, he crossed the border into West Papua where he learned first-hand of the suffering of the West Papuan people, which was in sharp contrast to the magnificent beauty of the country and the kindness of those he met.
In 2002, Jason returned to West Papua as a Donald Groom Fellow and gradually developed the idea of creating educational resources to build peace in West Papua.
This work, known as the Pacific Project, has been financially and spiritually supported over the years by Quakers in Australia through the AYM Peace & Social Justice Fund, and Victoria and Queensland Regional Meetings.
West Papua is located on the Western half of the island of New Guinea. West
Papua has been occupied by the Indonesian military since 1963.
Background to the conflict
Since the Indonesian government took control of West Papua in 1963 conflict has been characterised by stark power asymmetry between the Indonesian government and the indigenous people of West Papua.
The underlying root causes of conflict and violence in West Papua are structural, Multiple, complex and varied. There is a desperate need for transformation to peacefully resolve horizontal conflict (promote reconciliation and trauma healing between groups) and vertical conflict to achieve economic, environmental and social justice in West Papua.
The Pacific Project
The goal of the Pacific Project is by 2015 to facilitate the establishment of a self-sustaining network of West Papuan educators and trainers.
Embedded into the training process is a process of collecting stories of nonviolent action and resilience. These stories inform the training process and will be used in ways that both help develop networks inside West Papua and build cohesion throughout Indonesia and abroad.
West Papua Peace-Building Gathering at Silver Wattle
The six Papuans who attended the gathering represented two of the major coalitions within Papua and provided a balance of both men and women, and elders and students. The rhythm of Silver Wattle was very important to the success of the weekend, starting with worship after breakfast and ending with epilogue at night. The Papuans are deeply religious. Although they had not experienced silent worship before, they found it to be meaningful, especially the epilogues which included singing.
During our time together the various aspects of the Project were presented, and the successes and challenges were discussed. We played games and the experiential training methods were demonstrated. We planned for development of the project over the next twelve months with a careful eye on its sustainability and fund-raising.
Aside from standing up for justice in Papua an important dimension in which Quakers can participate is providing the spiritual and emotional support for Papuans in the Diaspora and those who are involved in the Project.
It was inspiring to be with the Papuans and to hear their stories, reinforced by seeing the documentary film, Strange Birds in Paradise. The Papuans left lasting memories of their commitment to the welfare of their community, and of our laughter and singing together.
We were strengthened in our commitment to accompany Papuans in their efforts to nonviolently transform their community. The Project team will now seek ways of continuing the planning process with those inside Papua.
Invasion and intimidation of PNG’s ceitzins along the common border has been taking for the last 40 years and the only action our Government have taken is to send a diplomatic note to complain about these incursions. What can PNG do as a small army ill equiped to handle such matters?.The people along the west coast of Vanimo, especially people of Wutung the village on PNG side of the border have always lived in fear of been raided, kidnapped, murdered and harassed by the Indonesia’s military of Asian origin.I am a third generation decendent of a woman from Skow a Melanesian villages just on the other side of the Tami River a few kms from Wutung. I come from Lido village next to Vanimo town and grew up during the early 60s to 70s living with fear that our town and villages would be raided by the Javanese army and our people mistreated like our Melanesian relatives on the other side of the border.While I don’t think Indonesian will try a West Papua or Leste Timores type of invasion of PNG at this time, the Indonesian military will continue to invade our country and intimidate our people along the border as long as there is no strong Government presence and develoment of the border region from Western to Sandaun Provinces.Then there are other forms of invasions that intimidates’ the border people an will have term effects on PNG. The social, economic and political influences brought on by the opening of the border to local traders at Wutung/Batas means lot more than just strenghtening of relations between our people’. While the economic benefits to the border people are good for them in certain ways, PNG ceitzins in these five west coast villages are not only mingling with our people on the other side of the border, they are speaking Bahasa Indonesia, cooking and eating Indonesian food and buy the cheaper goods and services that Indonesians provide via Jayapura and Batas. PNG shoppers travel from as far as Wewak, Madang and Hagen to shop at Jayapura.There have been cases of illegal trading of petrol and kerosen, allegations of arms. porn and drug smuggling and growning business of prostitution by PNG ceitzins visiting Jayapura. There are no proper policies and measures in place for monitoring and control of disease and pests invasion. Many of our local plants, flowers and crops have been destroyed or replaced with Indonesian variaties. There is no awareness on dangers of the loss of our crops and biodiversity through introduction of pests and plant diseases from Java, Bali and other Indonesian provinces to Wes Papua and through to PNG via Jayapura.In other words, invasion of PNG is not only a military issue but a bigger national concern that is going a little out of control.