Papuans’ fight for independence | The Economist
8 years ago
Armed with bows and arrows, the Dani people of Papua are engaged in a protracted struggle with Indonesia
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Cries of freedom and independence for the people of Papua, in a guerrilla camp in western New Guinea, a remote corner of Indonesia. This camp in in the Baliem Valley in the central highlands more than 3,500km east of Jakarta and hours from the nearest road.
The Dani tribe, one of the many distinct people’s of Papua have little connection to the nation state of Indonesia or its culture. They first encountered white men only in 1938 when this land was part of a dutch colony.
Today these tribesmen are readying themselves to fight against the Indonesian state for a land they call west Papua. This rebel group is an armed wing of the Rebelfree Papua Movement which has been fighting a low-intensity war for more than forty years to break away from Indonesia.
Dani weapons harken back to the stone age. They’re traditional in the extreme, spears, bows and arrows fashioned from local wood, cane, and bone without a single metal fitting.
These Papuans have a fearsome reputation as a fighting people but it seems incredible that anyone in the world would fight a modern army with only fistfuls of bamboo arrows.
During the Cold War the people of west Papua were promised a choice in a UN brokered to determine whether they wanted to integrate with Indonesia. But most Papuan’s say that the eventual vote was illegitimate.
Instead roughly 1000 Papuan leaders were forced at gun point to vote for integration with Indonesia. This vote has been contested ever since.
Despite their engagement with modern political conflicts, the Papuans retain their traditional ways. In honour of a visitor a feast is held. The women are dressed in grass skirts. Some of them have smeared clay on their faces as a sign of mourning. The women mourn, they say, for the many Papuans killed in their struggle for independence.
A pig is to be roasted for the celebration. Wood must be split for the fire. Then the slaughter. With an arrow shot into it’s heart this small pig is killed in what seems like a split second. Pigs play an important part in this culture. The feast represents a real sacrifice.
The village expects to sacrifice more of its own men to the cause of independence for Papua. Even as Indonesia has evolved into a democracy, Papuan’s have given up on peaceful means of protest.
These men, fighters for the west Papua revolutionary army hope to provoke the sort of bloody confrontation that would push Papua onto the international agenda.
So far, the government has refused to talk to the fractious rebels. Unless it changes its mind they may get their way.
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