Date: Tue, 04.01.00 17:26 +0100 
To: The Jakarta Post Editorial Staff <>
Subject: Re: [JP 02-Jan-00] President changes Irian Jaya's name to Papua

Dear JP Editorial Staff,

I am very happy to see the new government under President Gus Dur and VP Mbak Mega hitting a conciliatory note in dealing with separatist and sectarian sentiments in Aceh, West Irian and Maluku. One can therefore also congratulate the President for his efforts to meet the people in Jayapura half way.

But the President's meeting with tribal and community leaders in Jayapura also reveals some weak points still extant in the government's position, which probably derive from insufficient or incomplete information by a civil and military apparatus that still retains many elements of the former regime.

The President's apology to the people of West Irian for past human rights abuses is correct, but perhaps comes from the wrong person. While taking over responsibility for the Indonesian state, it would have been important to make clear to the Irianese, that those abuses originated from a regime against which the present leadership too had been in opposition, and that efforts would be made to punish the abusers. Even more important would perhaps be an appeal to the Irianese, to help the present government in overcoming the grave consequences of the policies of the former regime, and bringing the past abusers to justice. One should call on the population there to join the rest of the nation in making a new start.

Beside indicating that it is the President's duty to maintain Indonesia's territorial integrity and to resist any efforts at creating a state within a state in West Irian, it is important to note that it is the President's duty to care for the welfare of all the citizens, and to guarantee their civil rights and to safeguard them against the gravest economic hardships they would be sure to suffer if the West Irianese were to be forced to separate from Indonesia.

Both attitudes would tend to place the Irianese population and the government in one boat, in contrast to abusers of the past, rather than unfairly placing the government in the same boat with former abusers vis-a-vis the population of West Irian. As long as the separatist movement is in opposition to the present government, it is only playing into the hands of elements of the old regime, its former abusers, that are undermining the restoration of peace and economic welfare. Any aspirations for separate independence should be channeled through legitimate democratic procedure. This will only be possible when democracy is fully restored also in the military and civil administration. This would at the same time help assure, that those aspirations were actually aimed against lack of democracy under the former regime, rather than against membership in the Indonesian national community.

The proposed changing of the name of the province from Irian Jaya to Papua will in my opinion not bring the positive effects as the President hopes. Much more effective would perhaps have been the acceptance of the Morning Star flag as official flag of the province. That would effectively uncharge the provocative potential of flag-raising demonstrations, and reveal government solidarity with intrinsic sentiments of the population more concretely than the name change.

Furthermore, that name change is quite problematic. Replacement of the name Papua by Irian in the 1950s had been motivated by an explicit appeal of Frans Kasiepo, representative of the autochthonous population, at the 1946 Malino conference. In the proceedings of the conference one reads:

  "De heer Kasiepo zeide, dat .....
De band van het landschap Tidore met Nieuw-Guinea dient te worden verbroken. De naam Papoea moet worden afgeschaft, omdat dit woord in het Tidoreesch 'slaaf' beteekent. Het volk wenscht het land 'Nieuw-Guinea' te noemen en het volk 'Irian'."
(Mr. Kasiepo said, that .....
The bonds tying the territories of Tidore and New Guinea to each other should be cut. the name Papua must be abolished, because this word in Tidorese means 'slave'. The people want the country to be named 'New Guinea', and the people 'Irian'.)

[source: S.L. van der Wal (ed.), "Offici‘le bescheiden betreffende de Nederlands-Indonesische betrekkingen 1945-1950", deel 5, 16 Juli - 28 Oct. 1946, see there: 'Kort verslag van de vergadering van de Malino- conferentie op 18 juli 1946']

The word 'Papua' originated as Portuguese rendering of 'pepuah' formerly meaning frizzy or curly haired in the Malay dialect of North Maluku. The latter is for instance attested in a letter of the Sultan of Ternate to the Dutch Governor General of 11 Sept. 1733, accompanying a present to him, being:

  "...empat orang budak2, tiga orang laki-laki seorang perempuan, tiga orang rambutnya betul seorang pepuah..."
(... four slaves, three male and one female, three with straight hair and one 'papuah'...)

[source: Anne T. Gallop, "The legacy of the Malay letter", London: British Library for the National Archives of Malaysia (1994), see there pp. 82-83]

The name 'Irian', on the other hand, is the name given by the people of Biak to the New Guinea mainland. According to a version that I have not yet been able to verify, it means 'shimmering land'. It is in any case attested in Biak folklore, particularly in the Manarmakeri stories, e.g.:

  "Father Kayan Sanawi stand up, you are holy. You eclipse the sunlight on Mount Yamnaibori, the mountain of the maiden of Biak, in order that we may put everything on board and leave for Irian the mainland. For my eyes have beheld Sampari the morning star rising, which did not stay in Jumamba in the east."

[source: Freerk Ch. Kamma, 1972, Koreri: Messianic movements in the Biak-Numfor Culture Area, translated by M.J. van de Vathorst-Smit. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, see there p. 27]

'Irian' is also reported to have been used once as name for New Guinea in a report by the Portuguese governor of the Moluccas dated 1536 (later reports, from 1545 onwards, apparently used the name 'Nuvea Guinea' instead).

An important reason, why the name 'Irian' got discredited in large parts of the population, beside it having been that used by an abusive apparatus, was apparently the false assertion that it had been an acronym for 'Ikut Republik Indonesia Anti Nederland' (join the Republic of Indonesia anti the Netherlands). This fake etymology had been taught during 'New Order' rule in various schools to the population, for reasons which are totally beyond my understanding.

But one day, the population will learn about the true history of the two names 'Irian' and 'Papua', and will have problems identifying itself with the latter. That is why, I'm afraid, that being conciliatory on the matter of the name will in the long run prove more problematic than in the matter of the flag. Furthermore, 'Papua' already is the name of a territory making up a part of Papua-New Guinea, and adopting it for an Indonesian province could lead to needless diplomatic complications with our neighbour.

As for the name 'Irian Jaya' as a whole, one might perhaps consider a return to the original name of the province, and that was 'Irian Barat' (West Irian). It would make the people there feel less like having been 'conquered', a feeling that was implanted in them by the past abuses. It might also prove helpful to rename Jayapura to Port Numbay or simply Numbai. In general, one should make an effort to implement wherever possible original indigenous geographical names, so that the people will feel like owners of their own country again.

But ultimately, of course, what is in a name. This is only a soothening salve. Just like in Aceh, one will probably only manage to reconciliate the population by bringing those responsible for past abuse to justice. Those were shocking violations of the Constitution officially in force throughout the period, and there is no basis or excuse for letting the responsible off the hook.

In West Irian, the chances of striking a cooperative tone with the OPM seems more realistic than with GAM in Aceh. On should recall, that Seth Rumkorem's father, Lukas Rumkorem, had been an active fighter for Indonesian independence. Seth Rumkorem himself had been an officer in the TNI, until he left the army to join the OPM upon seeing how the military treated the population under the New Order regime. He may have firsthand information that may be helpful in bringing former abusers to justice. One should also consider rehabilitating such a remarkable Irianese personality like Arnold Ap and reopen investigations into the circumstances of his murder. Let's not forget, that all those victims of human rights abuse are or were fellow Indonesian citizens having full right to protection under the Constitution.

I hope, some of the above suggestions will prove helpful in coming to an understanding with the various popular movements in West Irian.


Waruno Mahdi

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