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Wake up, PNG, and cast aside frustration & bitterness

Neocolonialism & the forgotten struggle of West Papua


WHEN INDONESIA (under colonialism, Dutch East India) gained independence (declared August 1945, formally recognized December 1949 by the Dutch) under Ahmed Sukarno it tried to follow a path of independence in the bloc of free states.

But the military was very strong and deeply linked to the West, especially the US.

Sukarno, who had tried to balance the military and the strong communist party, failed in the end after a terrible conflict (500,000 people, many landless communist sympathisers, butchered).

General Suharto, the man of the US, seized power over the archipelago. He and his military clique turned the many islands into a plunder ground for Western and Japanese interests using Javanese dominance for their purposes, including the western part of New Guinea.

When the Spaniards and other Westerners came across the island of New Guinea, its dark skinned inhabitants with frizzy hair reminded them of Africa´s Guinea Coast (which was already the hunting ground for slavers) which inspired them to name the island New Guinea.

Going further east they met similar people up to the Fiji islands and in course of time named them Melanesians because of the dark pigmentation.

The Melanesians became object of rude anti-black racism and many times were subjected to slavery called forced labour.

Contrary to the hostile degradation of its inhabitants by white people, New Guinea is a remarkable place in cultural history.

For example, its agricultural history with intensive gardening techniques dates back 7-10,000 years, thus putting its inhabitants among the pioneers of mankind´s agricultural history.

Indonesia gained independence soon after World War II but western New Guinea remained under Dutch control to the distaste of the Indonesian ruling class.

The issue of independence raised some complicated questions. A basic contradiction lay in the colonial borders which separated same ethnicities and lumped others together. The aspirations of the Javanese-dominated Indonesian political class (under pressure of overpopulation) confronted a special situation.

Firstly West New Guinea had been longer under Dutch control and was de facto already not “part of Indonesia”; secondly, it was a very different world. It was not only inhabited by very different people but by people upon whom the Javanese looked down upon with racist arrogance.

Such considerations didn’t bother either the Indonesian government or the Dutch or the white dominated UN and by no means the US government.

Indonesia tried to solve their “problem” by military force and, under the strong influence of the US, the UN made Holland hand over administration to Indonesia (which they did in March 1963.

But the treaty also included a procedure by which Papua should decide whether it wanted to stay with Indonesia. The “Act of Free Choice” in 1969 was nothing but typical colonial theatre.

The Indonesia military selected 1,025 men to vote in an event in July-August 1969 about the future of their people which was being performed by “hand raising”, blocking any public discussion on the matter.

It doesn’t take much to imagine the mixture of bribing and terrorising a military organisation has to apply to reach the wanted. The UN backed this fake procedure in resolution 2504 (XXIV) without any qualification as towhether it fulfilled the demands described in United Nations General Assembly resolutions.

To call this theatre play an act of “self determination” requires a high grade of cynicism.

By and large the resistance and armed struggle began as campaigns by tribal warriors, who just wanted to get rid of the strange occupants pushing them around.

Over time it got more organized and gained more support from exiled Papuans and sympathisers in Papua New Guinea and other Melanesians.

Important in this process was the plunder of Papuan resources by international companies, by which Indonesia tries to pay their own debts to world finance (a general problem of “Third World countries).

The brutality of the Indonesian army accordingly to moderate assumptions has cost the lives of more than 100,000 Papuans.

Largely because of its resources, West  Papua is a tempting prey for imperialism. As long as the US is relatively sure of Indonesia it’ll do a lot to enable Indonesia to retain its grip.

The people of Papua must know that even Europe, being still in the status of a vassal to the US Empire, would be a very shaky ally in their aspirations.

Public pressure and a strong support by leftist parties as well as solidarity from Third World Countries, especially from African countries, would be a desired help, but is still lacking.

Understanding in Melanesia is growing, Vanuatu gave a good signal recently.

To be “freed” by the West à la Libya is not an option, the country doesn’t need more bombs dropped.

It will be a hard and protracted struggle to be won with the patience freedom hero Filep Karma showed, who was thrown into prison by Indonesians after having raised West Papua´s flag in 2004.

Andreas Schlüter was born 1947 in Hamburg. Beginning his social science studies at Hamburg University in 1968, he was absorbed and integrated into the African community of Hamburg. He worked in adult education for many years. After moving to Berlin in 1997, he acquired leukaemia which he overcame. The consequences of the sickness and its therapies as well as a heart attack took him out of regular work but gave him time to write


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Andreas Schlüter / Berlin

It is a big tragedy that the Melanesian People are threatened with extinction by neocolonialism (and ongoing Indonesian colonialism in favour of the West´s greed for resources).

More attention from the side of Africa and the African dDiaspora is needed. I try my little part within the networks I´m participating in to contribute a little to that necessary process.

Thanks for publishing from that article!

Michael Dom

A PNG schoolmate and I had dinner with an Australian colleague last night. Among other things we discussed what we'd be doing in project work that would benefit ordinary village people in PNG.

One comment our Aussie friend made struck me, and I paraphrase what he said that 'most Australians don't know or even care about the struggles going in PNG, they know about Kokoda, but that's about it.

'Only people like myself who have been there appreciate what's happening and what we can do to help. Trying to convince government can be very frustrating.'

He strongly urged my colleague and I to remember our objective to return to PNG with knowledge that can help to improve things.

He said we should keep the needs of our country foremost when developing our proposals, so that we cater to PNG needs.

Michael Dom

Thank you Andreas for the insight into the history of the other half of our island home.

On PNG's side of the border perhaps we're too busy bickering and bitching amongst ourselves to even notice the kind of role we have to play in this region.

If we don't get our collective act together and become the economic powerhouse and political leader for the South Pacific, who will do it?

Johnny Blades

Actually Vanuatu has supplied the strong voice calling for West Papuan self determination for many years.

But, contrary to what the article says, Vanuatu has actually recently stepped back from its support of West Papua because of the Sato Kilman-led government's cosying up to Indonesia.

It's something that ni-Vanuatu are not happy about but this government has repeatedly shown itself to be a law unto itself.

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