United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations
23rd Session, Geneva, 18-22 July 2005
My dear Brothers and Sisters,
I bring warm greetings to everyone gathered together in Geneva for the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations from all my people back home in West Papua … from my own people, the Lani of the Central Highlands of West Papua, and from the people of all 252 tribes which together make up my country — WEST PAPUA.
It is very good to be here at this important meeting of indigenous peoples from every continent of our Earth. Just being here sends a very important message to the whole world. We indigenous peoples are still here! Despite centuries of suffering at the hands of colonialists which still continues to this day, we are still alive!
We are here today because we will never give up our pride in our own identities, in our languages, in our traditional knowledge or in our cultures. We are here because we have made a solemn promise to our ancestors and to all the generations who will follow us. It is a simple promise: We will survive!
All of the indigenous peoples represented at this meeting have different stories to tell … of suffering and survival. As many of you will already know, my own people, the Lani, and all Papuans in both the highland and coastal regions of West Papua are currently in a struggle for our very survival. Since Indonesia invaded our land in 1963, successive regimes in Jakarta, from Sukarno and Suharto to Megawati and Yudhoyono, have pursued a policy of “ethnic cleansing” … shooting, starving, raping, torturing and imprisoning hundreds of thousands of indigenous Papuans. Indonesia wants to eradicate the Melanesian people from the Land of Papua so that our land and rich natural resources will be in Indonesian hands. By bringing in over a million settlers, Indonesia wants to wipe out all traces of Melanesian identity from West Papua. What Indonesia is seeking to do to my people is attempted genocide.
The theme of this 23rd Session of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations is traditional knowledge. I now want to let you know how we Papuans are using our own traditional knowledge in our struggle for survival and eventual freedom from Indonesian colonial rule.
Like all colonialists, Indonesia has tried to destroy the very essence of who we are as Melanesian Papuans. Until 2001 it was a criminal offence for us to even call ourselves “Papuans”. We were forced to call ourselves Indonesians from Irian Jaya Province”. If we used the word “Papuan” we were branded as a “rebel” or “separatist” and very likely imprisoned or killed. Now we can at least call ourselves “Papuans”, but emphasising our Melanesian identity (as opposed to simply being “Indonesian”) in front of the Indonesian military, police or intelligence is still to put our lives in danger.
In schools our languages and culture are ignored. Only Indonesian (especially Javanese) history and culture are taught. In our every day life from childhood onwards, we Papuans are subjected to every form of racism, from discrimination in education and jobs to verbal and physical abuse. Indonesian settlers make it clear that we are “stupid savages” and “animals” and that we should be grateful that Indonesia has taken on the task of “civilising us”!
So how can we Papuans survive 42 years of Indonesian colonial occupation with our identity and our pride in being Papuan in tact? The answer is that our traditional knowledge of whom we are as Papuans is stronger than any propaganda that Indonesia can throw at us.
From before I can remember, I have known that I am Lani and that since our ancestors’ time, my People have been living at one with our Land. Our Elders tell us stories of our ancestors, of the names of every mountain, tree and river. Through story telling and traditional songs, I know that the Lani people has a proud history and culture. I know that before the Europeans (and then the Indonesians) arrived our culture has always been to care for each other, to bring up our children well and to look after and respect our elders. I know that my people do not need to be taught by outsiders how to live in our communities. We do not need to learn about democracy as our Papuan culture has always been to reach decisions by consensus. In Papuan culture, the leader’s job is to look after his or her people, not to abuse them and become rich.
We Papuans have something for more valuable than all the gold and copper which American and British corporations steal from our mountains. We have the knowledge that we are not Masters of Nature but part of Nature. We know that the Earth is our Mother because she gives us everything we need to live. When we tend our gardens, hunt or cut wood for houses, we do it with utmost respect for our Mother. We do not damage her or take more than we need. We do not need outsiders to come to our land to tell us how to care for her.
This is the knowledge passed down to me by my parents and Elders, which my wife and I are now passing on to our own children. I have met many people in Europe who have very sadly lost the knowledge of who they are. Their connection with the Earth, their Mother, has been broken. I am sorry to say that many Europeans are weaker because of this loss.
In spite of so many difficulties the Papuan people stay strong because we have the traditional knowledge of who we are and of the Land to which we belong. With this knowledge we can continue our struggle for freedom with the same strength as our ancestors. In our struggle, our traditional Papuan values of honesty and decision making by agreement will be stronger than the lies and violence of our enemy.
We know that we will be free because we know with all our heart that we are Papuans and that West Papua is our Land… given to our ancestors, to us and to our children and grandchildren.
20th July 2005
Chair of DeMMaK (The Koteka Tribal Assembly)
International Lobbyist in the UK for a Free West Papua
PO Box 1409 Oxford, OX4 1UN
Mobile: +44 (0) 7791629782
Email: bwenda (at) infopapua.org