Stretching from 6.1750° S, 106.8283° E, Indonesia is an archipelagic state blessed with a wealth of diversity in ethnicity, religion, and culture. Covering an area of 7.9 million square kilometres from Sabang to Merauke, from Miangas Island to Rote Island, Indonesian culture is not only diverse, but infused with noble values such as togetherness and mutual cooperation. The culture and traditions of Papua are no exception.
The Bakar Batu tradition by the Dani tribe of Wamena, for instance, is an event usually held to welcome the birth of children, weddings, celebrations, deaths, and to mark the end of wars. The event symbolizes mutual cooperation, where the men search for firewood and build fires, while the women grill sweet potatoes on the fire. From this humble Baliem tradition, there is a lesson of harmony and togetherness.
This is why the opening of an office by the ULMWP in Papua under the pretext of a religious and cultural ceremony on Monday, 15 February 2016 is deeply regrettable. The reopening of the Office of the Council of Papuan Tradition meant to be a gathering in bringing people together has been spun into one that aimed to disrupt unity.
The fact that the opening of their office was disguised as a religious and cultural ceremony calls into question the depth of support that the group claims to have among the Papuan people. The ULMWP claims to represent Melanesians in Papua, but is more accurately described as a group consisting of Melanesian Diaspora with very limited grassroots support within Papua.
Furthermore, to claim that Melanesians can only be found in Papua is dangerously misleading. Indonesia is home to 11 million Melanesians distributed among five provinces (Papua, West Papua, East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, and North Maluku). In recognition of this fact, the Indonesian government has done much to strengthen ties between Melanesian communities across Indonesia and cultivate Melanesian culture. Through the Melanesian Festival, for instance, Melanesians in Indonesia can unite to enrich Indonesian culture, instead of dividing it.
Diversity is a fact of life for Indonesians since the country was built by hundreds of ethnic groups from Sabang to Merauke. Uniting to free themselves from the yoke of colonialism, they succeeded in establishing the independent state of Indonesia from former Dutch colonies.
Papua is rightly a part of Indonesia since it was a Dutch colony like other parts of Indonesia. This is supported by the international law principle of Uti Possidetis Juris whereby newly formed sovereign states should have the same borders that their preceding dependent area had before their independence. The struggle to restore Papua with the rest of Indonesia was a long process which took years of tireless diplomacy, culminating in the Act of Free Choice in 1969 under the auspices of the United Nations where Papuans overwhelmingly chose to reunite with Indonesia.
To quote President Sukarno in his book “Di Bawah Bendera Revolusi” (Under the Flag of Revolution), “Nationalism is not limited by tribe, language, religion, geography, or social strata…” (Sukarno, “Di Bawah Bendera Revolusi. vol. 1, 1964. Page 76).
Indonesia is built on the principle of unity in diversity, which respects differences, that is meant to enrich, not divide. Indonesians have a long history of fighting to preserve their independence and territorial sovereignty. All Indonesians, not only in Wamena, continue to be vigilant of sectarian and separatist groups exploiting ethnic and religious identities as mere political commodities in irresponsible fashion. (RB/PAN)