Bonus Story Dialogue / Analysis

Before and After

“My tribe, like yours,” Joshua said, “had an endless supply of food. We have no word for ‘work’ in our language. There was no need for it. In a single day, our village could harvest and prepare enough food for two weeks.

“So, like your people, we have lots of free time to celebrate births, weddings and other happy events for many days. There was always more food and medicine than we needed. The world says we’re poor, but that’s only because they are blind.

“Our tree gardens used to span huge regions of the forest. Then the Indonesian government said no one was using the Land because we weren’t logging it or planting rice paddies. So now they’re giving it all to the military to log, or to the migrants to level for farming. Or selling what’s not rightfully theirs to the Japanese.”


Joshua talks with Vivi and Yohan by the fire

“We’ve seen them cut down the trees using huge machines, destroying everything in their path,” Vivi added. “They cut our Sago to make glue for plywood, and leave none of it for us to feed ourselves or our children.”

Yohan exclaimed, “This is plunder, and Indonesia’s TNI are pirates!”

“Yes, yes,” Joshua confirmed. “But let’s not forget the fact that no one actually owns the Land. Mother Earth is not property. We belong to the Land. We come from it, and without it, we are nothing. There could never be adequate compensation for the loss of our Land. Everything we need is here. Why would we want low-paying jobs and the market economy? The global economy has only brought us unhappiness. It would soon steal our souls like it has in so many other places around the world.

“I remember a story my old uncle often told us. He was there when the paratroopers landed late in 1961. The Indonesians were so brainwashed that they thought we would welcome them and thank them for liberating us from backwardness and poverty. They couldn’t see how wealthy we really were, because we didn’t use money or value the same things they did,” Joshua explained.

“We had guns from the Americans and the Dutch, so when the paratroopers landed, our warriors were quick to arrest them and hand them over to the Dutch. Our Papuan tribesmen treated the invaders with civility, and they were promptly sent home by the Dutch.

“But Indonesia attacked again within months. This time, with plenty of troops and high-tech weapons. This time to fully conquer us and take control of the Land.”


“How could our people have known in 1961,” Vivi said, “when we first claimed our freedom, raised our flag and declared our country’s name – that we would be invaded just weeks later, and our entire nation stolen from us within months?”

“It was a great betrayal by the Americans, the Australians and everybody else,” said Joshua. “Indonesia was counting on us becoming victims of the Cold War, just waiting for the Netherlands to give us our independence.”

“And to think we helped the Americans and Australians fight the Japanese during their World War!” said Yohan. “How did they thank our tribes for helping General MacArthur drive back the Japanese? They and all the other Allied nations armed the TNI, and provided Indonesia with diplomatic support.”

“Yes,” said Joshua. “The so-called ‘developed nations’ have always controlled the UN process, and they continue to ensure Indonesia remains the victor. Those nations enable the piracy and plunder of our Land in the name of development, which is really corporate imperialism.”

Vivi enquired, “After preparing us for democracy, how could the Dutch betray their sacred trust to protect us? And how could the United Nations look the other way in 1963, and again in 1969? It’s hard to believe.”

“It is hard to accept,” agreed Joshua. “Fifty years of shameful injustice, driven by colonialist greed, and perpetrated primarily by fellow Christians on the ‘poorest of the poor’.”

“Then why do the Muslims say we’re dirty and uncivilized?” Yohan asked. “With what their soldiers do to us… Where is their honour? Where is their compassion? Have they no dignity?”

Joshua sighed. ” Genocide, ethnocide, crimes against humanity – whatever you want to call it. None of it is it true to the spirit of Islam. It’s not their religion that’s the problem. They don’t understand the teachings of their own faith. We must forgive their ignorance.”

“And we need to remember that none of this was happening in West Papua before Indonesia arrived,” he continued. “Of the hundreds of our tribes, very few ever conceived of totally eliminating another… until the TNI demonstrated it with their high-tech weaponry and counter-insurgency techniques provided by the world’s richest nations. Remember that we are the ones who are civilized.”

Military Democracy

“And now the world calls Indonesia a democracy!” scoffed Yohan.

“Make no mistake,” said Joshua. “It’s still the Generals who control Indonesia’s government. They are ‘democratically’ elected to Congress. They decide which parties can run in the elections.  They decide where free speech is allowed and what the national media is allowed to print. And it’s the Generals who ensure West Papuans are excluded from any basic democratic rights that may exist on the Indonesian archipelago.”

“Even the President is a General,” noted Vivi. “Though he sang Imagine to get elected and the world calls him progressive, though he won a bogus award in New York, SBY [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] seems just like the rest. He rules by cronyism and follows the military agenda, doing his duty to strengthen the TNI’s grasp on our resources, and hastening the death of our tribes.”

“Yes,” said Yohan. “SBY now says he’ll improve the situation with Special Autonomy Plus, but when it comes to West Papua, he never does what he says. Special Autonomy was promised to us in 2001. Few of us actually believe that after eleven years of nothing but an excuse for graft, West Papuans will suddenly be able to talk to the Indonesian government on equal terms? We have no negotiating power at all.”

“SBY has been promising open dialogue since he became President,” Yohan continued. “I know politics can be slow, but it’s just never going to happen. All of the money they say Jakarta sent for Special Autonomy trickled away [Transparency International] before it reached any of us on the ground. Now he tells the world that building more roads and more police stations in Papua is a sign they’re helping us to develop, while we all know it’s to facilitate logging and troop deployment. Their ‘development’ has always been the opposite of real progress.”

“I fear you’re right,” affirmed Joshua, “that they will never negotiate with us fairly. However, some Papuans would disagree with us. Remember when I told you all the faiths agreed on the notion of a Land of Peace? Well, they still do. A priest named Neles Tebay is leading a group of multi faith clergy called the Papuan Peace Network, who are very patiently calling for third-party mediation and trying to find a workable format for dialogue. This is a remarkable testament to our people and their gentle determination. But after a decade of trying, the Peace Network has had no success in getting Indonesia to the negotiating table.”

He continued, “Indonesia only values Special Autonomy as a tactic to deflect criticism from other countries, to make it look like there is progress and things are improving. It helps them avoid scrutiny, and actually works very well to gain international support.”

Yohan responded, “They plan to postpone real dialogue until all of us are dead or lost in assimilation. Even if the Papuan Peace Network is successful in starting a negotiation, Indonesia will drag it out endlessly, knowing that if they can stay in control for just a little longer, we won’t survive.”

“Whether it be by de facto recognition, a true referendum, or an equitable dialogue, ” Joshua said, “I firmly believe that whatever will lead us to freedom will be built on a foundation of passive resistance.”

“Agreed,” said Vivi.

“Maybe,” said Yohan. “But Indonesia would have to control its military. How likely is that when the military controls Indonesia?”

“Look, Yohan,” said Vivi. “we all know none of this is likely. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”

“How is it possible?” Yohan retorted. “The Generals are the Chairmen and CEOs of the TNI. The TNI is a well-armed machine with an unending need to fund its troops, generate revenue for its government, and fill the Generals’ foreign bank accounts with tens of billions of US dollars, just like it did for General Suharto, their mentor.”

“Wait,” said Joshua, “it isn’t that simple.”

“And then what?” Vivi asked. Yohan was silent, so Joshua took the opportunity to expound on his vision for the country’s future.

“Yes, it is,” insisted Yohan. “The troops must leave before anything here can change. The TNI, their special agents, their informers, their militia and police support… all of these people must leave. It’s the only way we’ll find justice.”

De Facto Recognition as the Best Solution

“Technically, the root cause of our sorrow is the UN’s tragedy of errors in the sixties. Only the UN can now put that right. But they would need to publicly admit their grave errors, and their Security Council would need to recognize our country as a distinct nation. This may sound unrealistic, but the UN would simply be honouring their own historical documents, which show that in truth, West Papua is currently a trust territory illegally occupied by Indonesia in violation of the UN Charter.”

“Then what about many of our people who, since the beginning, have been asking for a true referendum to redress the injustice of the 1969 Act of Free Choice?”asked Vivi. “Would they support this?”

“I’m sure they would,” replied Yohan. “If there ever was a referendum, they would all vote for nationhood anyway. I’m guessing that most West Papuans aren’t even aware of this option. I never knew about it. If they knew, I’m sure they’d ask for UN recognition instead of a referendum.”

“Perhaps,” said Joshua. “But if the consciences of the ruling countries ever allow the UN to take action, it may well be in the form of a referendum, so perhaps many our people are asking for what they think has the best chance of success. Maybe it’s because we’ve always asked for a true referendum, I don’t know. But I do know that more than one percent of our people will be allowed to vote this time!

“That raises another issue. Now that we know about the Recognition option,” he explained, “we shouldn’t be too hasty in asking for a Referendum, or the blood of our own people may be on our hands. Indonesia can smell independence and they’ve been spooked by the 98% voter turnout they saw in Timor-Leste [East Timor]. They know us, and they know that we, like the Timorese, cannot be intimidated, even having seen their well-planned retaliation after the Timorese chose independence. It lasted over a year, and no one could stop them.

“Unless the UN forces can hold them back, Indonesia will send in more troops and militia to maintain their stronghold on our Land, and it will be a bloodbath even worse than Timor Leste, which was so much smaller and more accessible than Papua.

“If the UN refuses to accept that we are a nation now, then they’ll need to be authorized, funded and equipped by the major powers to protect us before and after our first UN-supervised referendum.”

“And the entire event,” added Vivi, “the time leading up to the vote, and the time after, would need to be freely filmed by video journalists from around the world.”

“Yes, and the vote must be native West Papuans only,” said Yohan. “The settlers can’t be given a vote until after the referendum.”

“You’re right,” said Joshua. “There would be no point including the settlers now that they outnumber us in the cities. The referendum needs to achieve what the Act of Free Choice should have been – a free and fair vote for all Papuans, and Papuans only. It’s the only way to restore justice for everyone – including the good Indonesians who now share our Land, the ones who are willing to stay in a free West Papua, and help us preserve it.”

“I guess most of the Comers [migrant settlers] just want the same thing we do,” said Vivi. “A safe and healthy place to call home.”

“Sure. If they’re amenable, then they’re welcome to stay,” said Yohan. “But not their armed forces and police.”

“Yes,” agreed Joshua. “We can’t be granted independence and then left to defend ourselves from the TNI without a strong presence of international armed forces. We’ll also need time to form a stable government and a unified police force, and to build our own array of allies for national defence.”

Vivi thought on that, then said, “I can’t imagine the UN sending armed peace-keeping forces strong enough to oversee the vote and supervise its aftermath. If they just send in unarmed regular police like they did in Timor Leste, we’re doomed. Can the world’s most powerful nations ever be convinced to challenge the TNI?”

“Whatever happens, it will be difficult, complex and bloody.” Joshua warned us. “In Timor Leste, the Generals were systematically vicious in taking revenge. For years to come, our independence will be abhorrent to them. In addition to violence, they’ll try many subtle means and cunning strategies to take back control of the Land.”

“Yes, Indonesia will need to be kept in check by a powerful and determined force,” he concluded. “Even then, there will still be violence. So whatever scenario unfolds, Indonesia must also be forced to allow the Red Cross and Red Crescent back into the country to treat the wounded, the dying and the internal refugees.”

“But where are the foreign dignitaries and humanitarian delegations who should be observing the situation now?” asked Yohan. “How can we ever gain the UN’s attention? How could we ever influence the Americans to reverse their position? They are the key, and yet Obama plans to increase American support to the TNI.”

“Australia is on the UN Security Council. Maybe the Aussies will help us convince them,” Vivi suggested.

Joshua replied with a tired yet patient look. “There are many good Australians helping us, as are people in other countries. And now there’s International Parliamentarians for West Papua and International Lawyers for West Papua and the Lush campaigns, and many other reasons for hope.

“But the Australian government will not champion our cause at the UN. Even when the average Australian sees proof of barbarism and state-sponsored terrorism on national TV, Australian voters are less and less willing to take us as refugees. Many Australians are our strongest allies, but their government remains one of the most committed supporters of Densus 88, and as always, makes apologies for Indonesia.”

“It has always been easy for the Generals to get foreign money and protection. All they have to do is call us Communists, Separatists and now Terrorists.” Joshua explained.

“And so, Indonesia continues to be empowered by loans and grants and diplomatic support from virtually all of the wealthy nations. Their politicians make deals to sell the TNI high-tech weapons and provide them with intelligence training. The US, UK, Germany, Australia, Japan, Korea, China… the TNI is kept alive by the world’s greed, while most of the citizens in those countries know nothing about us.

“Their governments pretend it’s not happening or not that bad – like they did in Timor Leste until the final year, and in Aceh before the tsunami hit Banda and the TNI had no choice but to let foreigners in. Not even the major earthquakes off our coast have cracked open the Indonesian veil of secrecy over West Papua.”

Who are the Terrorists?

“Then we’re on our own,” concluded Yohan. “What’s the point in protesting? More soldiers step onto our shores every day. We fight, or we die.”

“Is Yohan right, Joshua? Is there no hope at all for our prayers?” Vivi asked.

“I can’t say,” said Joshua. “That’s God’s will. But we can choose to have faith and believe that somehow, perhaps in ways we can’t imagine, if we continue to walk together, pray and plead for peace together, we will survive this endless occupation.”

Vivi began to look worried. “I can’t help but wonder if Papua is too much for Indonesia and its corporate masters to lose. An Australian friend told Rachel how he met a group of Kopassus officers on their way to West Papua from Timor Leste when the Timorese, after 25 years, finally drove the TNI out.

“He asked them why they carried machine guns, and if the guns were for hunting cassowary. They laughed and told him no, the guns were for shooting West Papuan men along the PNG border.”

“He also asked them about the referendum in Timor Leste, and their response was this: East Timor – no oil, no gold, no good. West Papua – plenty oil, plenty gold, plenty good!”

Joshua put his hand on Vivi’s shoulder. “Have courage, Vivi,” he said. “and know that God is on our side.”

All were silent. Then Joshua spoke again, “If you come to Jayapura for the December First demonstration, you’ll see how we are unified under God. If you come, just look around you. Look at the remarkable variety of West Papuans, all singing one national anthem and waving one flag, all of us knowing the flag can bring seven years in jail. We are determined to speak with one voice.”

“After all these years, our people persist. Our resolve is unbroken,” he continued. “We know some of our sisters will be raped, the bravest of our leaders beaten, tortured and assassinated. Our leaders’ children will be kidnapped and abused to silence their parents. Our pastors will be intimidated and named on hit lists by a regime that has convinced the world we are terrorists.”

“Terrorists!” Vivi exclaimed. “For organizing peaceful protests on our own land land of our ancestors that they themselves terrorize! They assassinate our leaders, our professionals, our artists, our intellectuals and our best students.”

“As they’ve always done,” added Joshua. “There was a time when hunting us was like a sport to them. They still take souvenirs like body parts, photos, and even videos of their own brutality. They know they can get away with it, and will probably even be rewarded by their superior officers in the TNI.”

“The missionaries would build landing strips so airplanes could fly into the valley, and our people were happy to help. Once, while doing a traditional dance to pound down an airstrip, Indonesian soldiers thought the Papuans were doing a war dance and fired on them with machine guns.”

Vivi noted, “How ironic that Indonesia gave our tribes the means to organize by declaring all of our languages illegal and by forcing us to learn a common language.”

“Even if it is Bahasa Indonesia!” quipped Yohan, and they all laughed.