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You probably think that it’s too far to even have to care
We’ll take a look at where you live what if it happened there?
You have to know the urge to make a change lies within
And we can be the reason that they see the flag rise again
— Drake in “Wavin’ Flag”
The map of the Pacific is a legacy of colonialism. The names Pacific, Micronesia, Polynesia, Melanesia, and New Zealand, aren’t names given by the indigenous people of Oceania. These are the names we have and it’s a messy subject to detangle and reshape. While we’re navigating our way through post-colonialism, decolonisation, and indigenising ourselves and our world, there are still some of us that are still colonised. Some of us are still invisible on the map, invisible to the world.
“Western New Guinea is part of Indonesia consisting of the western half of the island of New Guinea and smaller islands to its west.”
Part of Indonesia.
West Papua isn’t on the map. There’s Papua New Guinea on the east side, and Indonesia on the west side of New Guinea. The name “New Guinea” is a name given by a Spanish explorer in the 16th century, who claimed the island as Spanish territory. In the 17th century, the Netherlands had power over the island (which the indigenous people had no say in, of course). During World War II, New Guinea became the background of the conflicts between the Japanese and Dutch forces in which the Dutch came out on top in its “possession” of West Papua. In the 1960s a United Nations Temporary Executive Authority gave West Papua to Indonesia who have been in administration since. Under their authority, raising the Morning Star, the West Papua flag, is against the law. As is singing the national anthem. As well as petitioning for independence.
Youngsolwara Poneke is a group of Victoria University students who banded together to join the Free West Papua movement. We want to highlight West Papua as a nation; one that is asking for, fighting for, dying for the right to be their own people. We believe in raising their voices on behalf of those who are silenced, in making visible those who are unseen.
Some governments will turn a blind eye because Indonesia is a beneficial trading partner. Some people will avert their gazes because they feel powerless to help. But we’re choosing not to look away.
In an image saturated world demanding our eyes, it can be difficult to decide what to pay attention to. This article isn’t to persuade you to stop caring about what you care about and fight for our cause. This is an invitation for those who want to be a part of the movement but don’t know how to begin. Most of us started from hearing about it from a friend which led to some Google searching.
Four years ago I became aware of the situation in West Papua. I was sitting in a tutorial and my tutor Rachel Yates made a passing comment on the conflict stricken nation which piqued my interest. I didn’t even know West Papua existed and her introducing it caused me to do more reading than I had done for the entire academic year. After learning about the hardships of the indigenous people of West Papua I was left feeling a combination of anger and sadness. This was the start of my passion and continued participation in the free West Papua movement.
Since then I have been an active member of Youngsolwara Poneke, the student driven activist group lead by Te Kura Moeka’a, which promotes the Free West Papua Campaign here at Victoria University. I’ve been a part of this group for the last three years. Before getting involved with the Free West Papua movement I would never have called myself an activist, probably because it used to be that to be an activist you had to be an academic and that’s just never how I have ever seen myself. Thinking about it now I guess I’m an activist, but I also feel like my involvement in this cause is simply standing up for what I believe to be right, which is more or less me just following my own morals.
Being a New Zealand born Fijian, I feel a strong connection to the Pacific Ocean, this connection stems from the sense of family being a Pacific Islander provides me. Taking part in flag raisings, marches, speaking at events, and participating in other forms of protests is a way for me to show my solidarity with our brothers and sisters in West Papua. Those who are unable to stand up for their own freedoms in their own land. This movement is something that now lives in me and that I will carry with me until freedom is returned to our brothers and sisters in West Papua.
I recall two years ago, sitting in room 103 down at 6 Kelburn Parade, as a postgraduate student in Pacific Studies. It was a safe place of comfort and familiarity. I was invited there by my friends Kura Moeka’a, Mānoa Teaiwa, and my senior lecturer and mentor Teresia Teaiwa, who had all recently returned from a conference in Papua New Guinea and organised a presentation to share their experiences.
I’ve only ever travelled to Australia and was particularly excited to hear about what they learnt, the food they ate (this is always an important part of travel), and what the surroundings and people were like. I was expecting an epic adventure tale. Instead, their stories astounded me, and not because of their grandeur.
This was the day I learnt about West Papua.
My shock and distress grew as they continued to inform us of the tragedies and corruption taking place in this nation not far from my own. I sat in this space, feeling great unease hearing about a place unfamiliar to me. I never thought that such disaster to my Melanesian cousins could be happening in New Zealand’s backyard. I felt sorrow, anger, and confusion—why was I only hearing about this now?
This was the day I saw West Papua.
After reflecting on what I had learnt about the human rights issues in West Papua, I began to look at my own life and country and I realised just how privileged I was. Since then I, those presenting at 6 Kelburn Parade, and others who sat in that presentation with me created Youngsolwara Poneke. We have researched West Papua’s history, participated and led peaceful demonstrations, we have marched to the Indonesian Embassy, stood outside Parliament holding tightly to West Papua’s Nation flag, the Morning Star. Most importantly we stand in solidarity for a free West Papua. We fight for West Papuans who face the ultimate circumstance when they fight for themselves, and we use our voices when they are too fearful to speak.
I see West Papua, I stand for West Papua.
It’s really hard to care beyond yourself. In economics, you assume that individuals make rational decisions and act in self-interest. So by that assumption charity, activism, and good Samaritanism are economic anomalies. I struggle with my passion for West Papua. It’s an endless drive that I need to fire and remind myself of.
Because if I don’t, why then should others?
Why should one care for the silencing, by slow genocide, of an indigenous people? Why should one care about the women and children dying every day? For the mutilation suffered by an oppressed people for flying their indigenous flag?
As a Fijian-Samoan, I am privileged to live in New Zealand. I am privileged that my people are peaceful in their country. I am privileged because I sleep safely in bed without persecution or fear. I am privileged to have my rights guaranteed in the country I reside in and in the countries I affiliate with.
I had the opportunity earlier this year to support the lawyers for Tom Hemopo, who brought the claim in the Waitangi Tribunal against Corrections for the high recidivism rates of Māori in the Criminal Justice system. Sitting there and typing up what different witnesses said, I was struck by how great this was. Not the situation of why we’re here, but that there is a forum for indigenous people in New Zealand to enforce their rights. Here before me, was an indigenous people getting their day in court. Something many indigenous peoples wouldn’t even dare to dream of. It then struck me, when would West Papua get their day in court? When could West Papua enforce their rights against the injustice and oppression? So many nations have turned their back to West Papua, but nations aren’t governments—they are people.
So what can one do though? My own, first step was gaining knowledge about West Papua and now it is to spread that knowledge. So… will you take that step with me?
Some people have a voice of reason when it comes to internalising and analysing problems before making decisions. I, however, have the voice of Nana, especially when it comes to activism and West Papua.
My grandmother is a proud Samoan matriarch and always expects the best of her family. There are many valuable conversations (well, lectures) I have with her. An important value of Samoan culture is tautua—service to others, especially your family. Nana will always remind me, “i le fale… it starts with you at home.” A conversation that is burned in my memory was about the contributions (or lack thereof, as she pointed out) I make towards our family. When I was tagged in photos of the annual raising of the Morning Star flag at parliament, Nana mentioned the photos in this particular conversation, “how are you going to go out and protest when you don’t know how to do this?” While Nana’s calling me out can feel harsh, it always keeps me grounded, and I ask myself important questions like am I doing things for the right reason?
Being the master of overthinking, this dialogue led to exploring the tensions that come with activism and decolonisation in an intensely globalised world. I write this piece for West Papua on my MacBook which is the product exploited cheap labour and materials, so most of the profit goes back to wealthy countries and multi-national corporates and I get to own this symbol of social status.
Thinking about the injustices and oppressions that are happening in the world is tiring especially because of money being valued over the environment and human life. However, it is in acting, whether small or big, that make injustices heard and seen and creates resistance against exploitations like the genocide in West Papua.
I believe in giving the same alofa I do to my family and home as I would in being part of the campaign to free West Papua. Being connected to other Pacific Islands and being a part of Oceania is to stand up for others who cannot do it by themselves. A great mind of Oceania, Epeli Hau’ofa, states, “if we do not exist for others, then we could in fact be dispensable.” However, I do slip up from time to time, as does the idea of activism. My Nana sees me (on Facebook) and keeps in me in check which allows me to continue to see you with more clarity, West Papua. Papua Ninalik Ariyak!
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We don’t have the single right solution, we don’t know the most effective ways to induce change. We don’t know how to make the powerful listen. But we do know we have our voices and we have each other. We are our greatest resource. Our resilience, our hope, our solidarity. We want our people to be a free people, to raise their Morning Star flag without fear of arrest. We see you West Papua, we hear you, we’ll stand with you. Merdeka!