New Internationalist

Dividing Opinions

Issue 344

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West Papua / PEOPLE

Dividing opinions
For decades, the Indonesian Government has had a deliberate policy
of diluting the strength of the West Papuan population. Promises of work and land
have enticed many migrants from overcrowded parts of Indonesia to West Papua:
estimates range from 350,000 to 850,000. As a consequence, there are two very
different peoples in the country - and West Papuans are its second-class citizens.

Until now West Papuans and the Javanese have lived together peacefully.
When the balance tips towards West Papuan rule, the power and position of
the Javanese will fall. Just how far it will fall is uncertain. If it falls too far, the
Javanese will leave - with skills and knowledge that West Papua could use for
government. Some West Papuan leaders say that the Javanese should go. Others
say that they should stay and participate equally in their emerging nation. Behind
this divide, some crucial questions have yet to be answered. Will the Javanese be
given a place in government? Will they even be given a vote if a
referendum for independence takes place?

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We came across the sea from Asia when Papua and Australia were joined. That was more than 50,000 years ago. Our mothers are Papuan. Their mothers are Papuan. Our land is Papuan. We are Papuans.

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We have migrated here for the last 40 years from all over Indonesia - many of us come from Java, so we are called the Javanese. We came in good faith, looking for a better life. This is our home now.


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We put up our hands in class and answer the questions correctly. But we don't get high marks like the Javanese do.

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We are the people of commerce, the doctors, the lawyers and the teachers. Look at the universities. We are the ones who get places there.


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The Javanese at the markets - they get the shops and the stalls. To sell our sweet potatoes, chillies and vegetables we must put them on rugs out on the pavements.

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We have the money. We hold down the government jobs. We do all the work in this country. They are simple people: descendents from tribes, farmers and fisherfolk. What will they do if we leave?


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We get sick eating at the Javanese warungs (food stalls). They are trying to poison us. We do not trust them. But our children won't eat sweet potato no more. They want Indonesian food. All the time - rice, rice, rice.

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Indonesia has liberated them from the Dutch. The Indonesian flag - the red and white - flies over this province now. Our allegiance is to Indonesia.


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Christian values are threaded through the beliefs that many of us hold.

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Most of us are Muslim.


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