Angry Papuan leaders demand Jared Diamond apologises

4 Feb 2013
TAPOL and Survival International

Leaders across West Papua have demanded controversial author Jared Diamond apologizes for describing them in his new book as warlike, and strengthening the idea that indigenous people are ‘backwards’.

The West Papuan leaders attack Diamond’s central arguments that ’most small-scale societies (…) become trapped in cycles of violence and warfare’ and that ‘New Guineans appreciated the benefits of the state-guaranteed peace that they had been unable to achieve for themselves without state government.’

Mr Diamond makes no mention of the brutality and oppression suffered by the people of West Papua at the hands of the Indonesian occupation since 1963, which has led to the killing of at least 100,000 Papuan tribal people at the hands of the Indonesian military.

Benny Wenda, a Papuan tribal leader, said to Survival, ‘What he (Jared Diamond) has written about my people is misleading (…) he is not writing about what the Indonesian military are doing (…) I saw my people being murdered by Indonesian soldiers and my own Auntie was raped in front of my eyes. Indonesia told the world that this was ’tribal war’ – they tried to pretend that it was us that was violent and not them – this book is doing the same. He should apologize.’

Markus Haluk, a senior member of the Papuan Customary Council, added, ‘The total of Dani victims from the Indonesian atrocities over the 50 year period is far greater than those from tribal war of the Dani people over hundreds of thousands of years.’

Matius Murib, Director of the Baptist Voice of Papua, condemned Diamond’s assertion that tribal peoples live in a ‘world until yesterday’. He said, ‘This book spreads prejudices about Papuan people (…) that indigenous Papuans still display a way of life from hundreds of years ago. This is not true and strengthens the idea that indigenous people are ’backwards’, ‘live in the past’ or are ‘stone age.’

Reverend Socratez Yoman, Head of the West Papuan Baptist Church, has also demanded an apology from Mr Diamond to the Papuan people.

Dominikus Surabut, currently jailed for treason for peacefully declaring West Papuan independence, described the relationship of indigenous West Papuans and the Indonesian state as political apartheid. In a statement smuggled out of his jail cell, he said, ‘This is the very nature and character of colonial occupation of indigenous peoples, where they are treated as second class citizens whose oppression is justified by painting them as backwards, archaic, warring tribes – just as suggested by Jared Diamond in his book about tribal people.’

TAPOL and Survival International received the messages of outrage following condemnation of the book by Survival last week. The book has since been the subject of heated debate during Mr Diamond’s visit to the UK.



Comment from Papuan leaders

Markus Haluk, senior member of the Papuan Customary Council

War in the Balim people’s view is life. We cannot speak of war as only being about victims without talking about the identity of Dani, Balim and Papuan people. In traditional warfare there are clear rules, upheld by ethical and moral values, whereas modern war is far more sinister. We can see this from the experiences of the first and second world wars in various countries, as well as today’s war on terror.

War for a Balim person is not a way of expressing underdevelopment and poverty but shows the authenticity of the genuine Balim man, known as ap kain, ap kok (leader, hero), whereas those who are scared to be involved in wars are seen as despicable cowards (ap keputek).

War itself is not done every day, every week or every month regardless of whether there has been a problem. This is because there are various causes for war in Balim culture; the theft of a baby or other possessions, rape of a child or somebody’s wife, land disputes and murder. These can be sorted into two categories; Uma wim (domestic or internal village war) and Seli Wim (war between villages or with an enemy).

Uma Wim can be settled because it is seen as an internal conflict so after the conflict, it is settled through the payments. But Seli Wim is difficult to settle because it takes place between groups who have been enemies since the beginnings of Balim/Dani society. This kind of war happens only very occasionally, perhaps 1 – 3 times a year, whereas Uma Wim can happen at any time and there are very few victims. So I don’t know what kind of war the writer is talking about? Uma Wim or Seli Wim? Because they both need to be understood differently.

Despite the war that is a part of Balim culture, Balim people are capable of survival until today. They have not been wiped out or become extinct. This is different in the context of Papuan people, particularly Balim people who today are heading for extinction, caused by the Indonesian military atrocities which have lasted for 50 years since the annexation on 1 May 1963 until 1 May 2013. The total of Dani victims from the Indonesian atrocities over the 50 year period is far greater then those from tribal war of the Dani people over hundreds of thousands of years.

During the Indonesian occupation of Papua, there have been various military operations. As far as we know there have been as many as 12 military operations in Papua. These military operations have resulted in hundreds of thousands of Papuans being killed, tortured, shot dead, buried alive in the ground, jailed, kidnapped, disappeared and all manor of other human rights violations. The result is that the ethnic Melanesian West Papuan race is currently heading for extinction.

According to the government statistics of Papua province, in 2010 the total of indigenous Papuans was 48% of the populations, and non-Papuans were 52%. So in terms of the existence of the government of the Republic of Indonesia in the land of Papua, have they secured and maintained the peace of Papuans or on the contrary wiped native Papuan land owners off the face of their own land?

I hope that the writer of the book, Mr Jared Diamond does not become part of the campaign team to extend the arm and mouth of the Indonesian government in their effort to reduce international attention for human rights issues, in particular during the session of the UPR in may 2012 and the pressure of the international community about human rights problems in West Papua lately. This is because his writings clearly show an extremely subjective attitude for a piece of academic work.  

Dominikus Surabut, political prisoner

One of the most real examples of racism is the political apartheid of South Africa, where state policy prioritised white people in the oppression of black people. This is also what is happening to black West Papuans beneath the Indonesian government and its allies (America and Europe), whereby Indonesia oppresses tribal societies in Papua and treats them as cannibals, in order to gain control of territory and natural resources. This is nothing new, but is the very nature and character of colonial occupation of indigenous peoples, where they are treated as second class citizens whose oppression is justified by painting them as backwards, archaic, warring tribes – as suggested by Jared Diamond in his book about tribal people.

Reverend Socratez Yoman, Head of the West Papuan Baptist Church

What surprises us is that in this era of increasing human civilization, the indigenous Papuan population are actually being occupied and colonized by the Indonesian government. The Indonesian government are quite happy to destroy the indigenous Papuan population using a variety of myths and stigmas, which of course suits the taste of the invaders. To give some examples of these myths and stigmas: “Indigenous Papuans are wild terrorists, a security disturbance, primitive, cannibals, backwards, the poorest, the most stupid, the most alien, not yet able, not yet capable, drunkards, Papuan should not resist the government because the government represents God… Papuans are treasonous, separatists and members of the OPM (Free Papua Movement).

All the myths and stigmas of the Indonesian colonists are accepted without hearing the criticisms of judgement of the indigenous Papuan population.

The Indonesian government has seen resounding success in forcing indigenous Papuans themselves to accept the system of values and ideology of the Indonesian (Malay) colonists by destroying their cultural values, which are the real treasures which the Papuans possess. The knowledge which is inculcated, the methods and books, all of it comes from outside Papua, from Java. This has burst the dam of the culture of indigenous Papuans. The forcing of Indonesian ideology and nationalism has totally destroyed the hopes of indigenous life.

The poverty of the indigenous Papuan population is not the inheritance of our Papuan ancestors. Because history proves that before Indonesia came to occupy and colonise indigenous Papuans, indigenous Papuans were right people, not dependent on anybody, with their own history, orderly lives ruled by an orderly culture, who had never been ruled by other people. The indigenous Papuan population are people who are independent and sovereign over life, with clear hereditary ownership over land and forests. Indigenous Papuans were here in the land of Papua before the name Indonesia was even born. The poverty of the indigenous Papuans is a product of the system fo government and economic occupation purposely carried out by Indonesia in systematic and long-term way, in the name of pseudo-national development.

The word ‘Lani’ means a people who are independent, people with a broad autonomy, people who are free, you are not ruled by anybody. They are people who live with great awareness that they are alive, they have language, they have history, they have land, mountains, rivers, clear settlements, they have a clear line of descent, they have the ability to rule and organise anything, they have never moved from place to place, they have always lived in a neat and orderly way, in a peaceful atmosphere, they abhor violence and war, and they have  everything. (Yoman: Kita Meminum Air Dari Sumur Sendiri (We drink water from the well of self: 2010:hal. 92).

The Indonesian government and western authors are confused in their judgement of Papuans, and particularly the Lani tribe. As an example, “tribal war in Timika” which has been going on recently. Papuans, in particular Lani people do not have a culture of war. But it is true that there are ‘tribal wars’ or ‘conflict’ in Timika, which has been deliberately created, guided and nurtured by Jakarta elites. The goals are 1) to destroy the unity of the Lani, Amungme and Komoro people so that they do not unite against Freeport. They have to be made to live in enmity; 2) so that the community of landowners get overwhelmed and put all their energies into waging war against one another and do not work, take care of their families and children for the future; 3) so that the indigenous population move to places far from Timika, out of fear; 4) land revenue is obtained for financial authorities in the name of national security…. Etc

So, in my opinion, the book written by …. Titled …. Cannot be separated from the efforts of Indonesia to destroy and wipe out the Papuan people. This book also has failed to research in depth the cultural values of the Lani people. The author makes a superficial assessment which is not based on analysis of real in-depth research. This writing is very far from the cultural values of the Lani people. I hope that the author will openly apologise to we the Papuan people, in particular for the fatal errors in his book. The author is conveying information which destroys the good name of one of the tribes on this earth… I hope that the author will think and act with a humanitarian conscience, because we the Lani tribe are also human beings who love peace, the peace of God and Jesus Christ lives among us in the Lani tribe.