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Waruno Mahdi E-Mail: mahdi@FHI-Berlin.MPG.DE 


Continued from:

1. A Preliminary Appraisal 2. Rectifying History 3. From West New Guinea to West Irian 4. Is West Irian an Indonesian Colony? 5. Is West Irian Part Of Indonesia?

One circumstance that has been put forward is the notion, that West New Guinea only became part of Indonesia because it got included in Netherlands East Indies of which Indonesia is the successor state. Assuming that Netherlands East Indies was a colonialist construction, the inclusion of West New Guinea into Indonesia would then at least have to be considered as a consequence of colonialism.

In reality, however, West New Guinea became part of a cultural, economical, and political sphere, which I’ll tentatively call "Malayo-Indonesia," very long before it was included by the Dutch into the Netherlands East Indies. In fact, West New Guinea fell into Dutch hands not in consequence of a direct conquest or appropriation through some Dutch military or exploratory action in any part of that territory. It fell into Dutch jurisdiction as a result of the subjugation of the Sultanate of Tidore, which had previously held suzerainty over parts of West New Guinea. The first Dutch military post in the entire territory dates from the end of the 19th century, more than 200 years after a Dutch treaty with Tidore in 1660 documented the latter's jurisdiction over regions of New Guinea referred to as the Papua lands.

In other words, it was not as a result of direct colonial conquest leading to incorporation into Netherlands East Indies, that West New Guinea became part of Indonesia when the latter proclaimed its independence. In truth it was the other way round: West New Guinea got to be included into Netherlands East Indies -- hence also into Indonesia -- because relevant parts of the territory had already been involved in the Malayo-Indonesian culture sphere of ethnicities (by far not only through Tidorese activity), and had already been culturally separated from East New Guinea and the South Pacific very long before first European contact with any of the respective regions.

It should be stressed that the Tidorese and their neighbors, the Ternatans, respectively inhabiting the islands Tidore and Ternate to the west of Halmahera in North Maluku, have been solidly integrated in the traditional Malayo-Indonesian economic and cultural sphere since some two millennia. However, they are not Malayo-Polynesians. Both are linguistically as well as racially much closer to Papuans of New Guinea, than to Malays or Javanese (linguistically, they are even more "Papuan" than the Biaks or several other West New-Guinean ethnicities which are also Malayo-Polynesian).

The expansion of Tidorese rule to include relevant parts of West New Guinea represented a normal process of economically motivated territorial consolidation which accompanied transition to more productive economic relations and more sophisticated political structures as could be witnessed in proto-historic times all over the world. But in contrast with the analogical westward expansion of Ternatan influence to include North Sulawesi, the eastward Tidorese expansion did not even involve incorporating racially disparate populations. The ethnic diversity involved in the Tidorese expansion thus actually resembled e.g. that of Brits, Picts, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, etc. in the makings of Britain. By contrast the Ternatan westward expansion involved a greater degree of diversity -- the Minahassans of North Sulawesi are among the lightest skinned peoples of Indonesia (considerably lighter than Javanese and Malays), their language is generally associated with the Philippinic group of Malayo-Polynesian languages.

Together, the combined Tidorese-Ternatan-centered process that promoted the beginnings of social stratification in formerly egalitarian communities in the north of West New Guinea and of Sulawesi covered a large swath of Central and East Indonesia extending from the Sangir-Talaud Islands and Minahassa (before and in the north of Sulawesi) till Cendrawasih (former Geelvink) Bay and the Sarmi Coast (both in the north of West New Guinea).

It is remarkable, that the driving force behind this historic development, which connected West New Guinea with other parts of Indonesia, were peoples with Papuan/Melanesian racial features, and not mongoloid Indonesians such as e.g. Javanese or Malays. The war fleet of Ternate once even effectively delayed Spanish southward advancement towards Mindanao and the Sulu Islands.

One remaining trace of the Tidorese-Ternatan joint expansion is, that the word for king in Tidorese and Ternatan, "kolano has been taken up in many languages of the area in the meaning of king or chief, e.g. Sangir "kulano Tondano "kolano," Biak "koranu," Sarmi "korano."

But all that was by far not the only historical development, which tied West New Guinea with the rest of Indonesia well before first European contact.

The oldest connections associate the northwest of New Guinea with North Maluku racially and linguistically. The Non-Malayo-Polynesian North Halamhera peoples (including Tidorese, Ternatans, Tobelos, Galelas, a.o.) are most closely related with a Papuan language phylum in the Birdshead (Kepala Burung, Vogelkop) Peninsula.

Approximately 4000 years before present, Malayo-Polynesian seafaring peoples wedged in between. Their descendents now speak a group of mutually closely related Malayo-Polynesian languages in and around South Halmahera (e.g. Buli, Biga) and in the Cendrawasih (former Geelvink) Bay, e.g. Biak, Numfor, Mafor, Windesi, a.o.

Those are the two oldest links between West Irian and other parts of Indonesia, but they do not serve to contrast the western half of New Guinea with the eastern half, because, Malayo-Polynesians also moved further into Oceania. However, in the Bismarck Islands (in the north of present PNG), Malayo-Polynesians and Papuans between 3800 and 3600 years ago developed a culture, known as the Lapita culture, which then spread further into much of the South Pacific. It was never represented in West New Guinea (or Maluku), and can thus be seen as the oldest significant culture contrast between East and West.

This was followed by three developments involving West New Guinea, and contrasting it with East New Guinea and the South Pacific.

The first resulted from the introduction of grain agriculture (as distinguished from the cultivation of tubers as staple) into East Indonesia. The first grain crop was foxtail millet (in Indonesian "jawawut," in Numfor "pokem") from Mainland China via Taiwan, the Philippines, and Sulawesi. It is evidenced archaeologically in Timor in a layer of a bit later than 3000 years ago. This was followed by rice (Biak, Numfor, Windesi "fas") some time after 2500 years ago (earliest finds in the Malayan Peninsula and Sulawesi are from c. 2500 years ago). Both crops were eventually introduced to the Cendrawasih Bay area in the north of West Irian, perhaps already before 1000 years ago. There is, by contrast, no evidence of grain cultivation in East New Guinea or in the South Pacific before first European contact.

The second development was the distribution of the "ship-of-ancestor- spirits" (also known as "ship-of-the-dead," "spirit-ship") cult, and of bronze kettledrums (also referred to as Dongson drums, moko drums) on which they were depicted, from Indochina eastwards through the length of Indonesia from around 2500 till around 1800 or less years ago. The easternmost peoples to prominently reflect that "ship-of-ancestor-spirits" cult in their religious beliefs and rituals are the Asmat in the south of West Irian. And so, not only the north, but also the south of West New Guinea exhibits ancient culture ties with the rest of Indonesia. This religious cult is not represented anywhere in East New Guinea or the South Pacific.

The third development, probably the most significant of the three, was the beginning of the spice trade, which brought East Indonesia into the worldwide trade network since approximately 2200 years ago. This is indicated by first appearance in India and China of the clove, which originally grew exclusively in the islands of Bacan, Makian, Mutir, Ternate, and Tidore (all in North Maluku), and by first appearance of onyx beads from the western coast of India in Halmahera.

The importance of this development is that it signifies the beginning of that which one could call "Malayo-Indonesia," that is a ring of ethnic communities tied by a network of trade and navigation that traversed the entire archipelago. The language spoken by the sailors navigating at least the western and central routes seems since the very beginning to have been Malay (in the East perhaps since a bit later, around 1300 years ago). However, judging from Chinese sources of the 3rd till 9th centuries A.D., these Malay-speaking sailors were apparently not nuclear (actual) Malays, but Negrito "Sea People" (Orang Laut, perhaps also ancestors of Sama and Bajau). Although similar in skin coloration and hair texture, Negritos are however racially distinct from Papuans and Melanesians. It is nevertheless remarkable, that at the beginning of the Malayo-Indonesian tradition too, the decisive actors were not mongoloid Indonesians (i.e. not Javanese or Malays) either.

As a consequence of the use of Malay by the sailors, local dialects of Malay gradually formed spontaneously in the various ports of call. At arrival of Europeans 500 years ago, a form of Malay was already established as contact language as Far East as North Maluku. These colloquial or contact Malay dialects thus developed to a substantial extent without direct involvement of the actual Malays themselves, becoming a shared or common linguistic feature of the Malayo-Indonesian community quite detached from the nuclear Malay ethnicity. Therefore, being a Malay-speaker did not mean being a nuclear/actual Malay.

Although activity of Malay-speakers were already reported in West New Guinea before establishment of Dutch posts there, a local dialect of Malay apparently only gained prominence as a result of immediate Dutch administration in the 20th century (no local contact Malay dialect existed in East New Guinea or the South Pacific). But the circumstance that colloquial forms of Malay finally also became widespread in West New Guinea was perhaps one of the factors that motivated West Papuans to feel sufficiently part of Indonesia to join the struggle for Indonesian independence in the 1940s, and to even keep it up in the 1950s, in the face of stiff repressions, in isolation after the rest of the country was already enjoying independence.

Other effects of the inclusion of West New Guinea into the Malay-Indonesian culture sphere nevertheless already became apparent long before first European contact.

One important effect is the introduction of metals (copper/bronze, iron, silver, gold) and of metallurgy (bronze, iron). It should be stressed, that some West Papuan communities were acquainted with metal not just as a ready product introduced from outside, but produced and processed it themselves. No knowledge of metal, much less of metallurgy, is reported for East New Guinea before first European contact. In other words, at European contact, East New Guinea and the South Pacific were still in the Stone Age, while West New Guinea was like other parts of Indonesia already in the Iron Age.

For West New Guinea, closer studies into the concrete technology, the accompanying rituals, and corresponding vocabulary indicate, that metallurgy was apparently introduced through contact with peoples of Central Maluku. This is significant in two respects: firstly, that it seems not to have been a result of the Timorese expansion, but probably preceded it; secondly, that it was certainly not the result of any sort of "civilization-bringing" activities of Malays or Javanese.

Another important effect is participation in metal-money mediated trade. Chinese sources confirm that the metal used as money in Malayo-Indonesia was silver (in the West Indonesia occasionally also tin). Originally, leaf silver was simply cut to size to meet a payment. The word used for money silver was initially "salaka," a loan from India. A bit over 1700 years ago, Funan situated in present day Cambodia gained supremacy over the perimeter of the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, causing Malay-speaking navigation to China to take a roundabout route via the Strait of Makassar and the Philippines. At the same time, "salaka" as word for money silver seems to have been replaced in Malay by "perak" (also probably pronounced "pirak") taken from Khmer (the language of Funan).

Consequently the word for silver or money in many languages of the Philippines reflects the newer Malay word "perak/pirak". However, in East Indonesia which had been already involved in the spice trade since much earlier, the word for silver more often reflects the old word "salaka," confirming that introduction of metal-money mediated trade here predates the period of Funan supremacy. It is therefore quite remarkable, that the words for silver in languages of the Cendrawasih Bay region reflect "salaka," for example: Biak "sarah," Numfor "sarah," Mafor "sarak," Windesi "serak."

However, as local contact-forms of Malay only developed here very late, it seems probable that the words were not obtained directly from Malay-speakers, but perhaps from some Central Maluku language, which had acquired the word from Malay at an earlier time (cf. Haruku "salaka," Masarete "eslaka," Bonfia "sela'a," etc.). So, introduction of metal-money mediated trade in West New Guinea perhaps took place at about the same time as that of metallurgy, which had also been acquired through contact with Central Maluku. Albeit, the word could theoretically also have been obtained later from Tidorese which had also acquired "salaka" for silver.

In East New Guinea before European contact we do not find any form of free money-mediated trade, and of course also no metal money. There were certain forms of money made of stone or shell, but they were not used in free trade, but only in certain ritual forms of exchange with traditionally determined participants, roles, and objects. In the Kiriwina (Trobriand) Islands it was called the "Kula," in the Gulf of Papua it was the "Hiri." So, on this point too, West New Guinea resembled the rest of Indonesia, rather than East New Guinea.

It is of course quite within the nature of such ethno-geographic complexes, in which a great number of countries and ethnicities are brought together by economic ties as in the Malayo-Indonesian community, that there would be continuous efforts to also unite the whole, or considerable portions of it, politically under a single power center. The earliest Malay empire of Yawadwipa probably only involved the westernmost part of Malayo-Indonesia. The Malay empire of Sri Wijaya which rose to power a bit over 1300 years ago apparently extended its hegemony as far east as Sulawesi, perhaps even till parts of Maluku, and northwards to include parts of the Philippines, at some time also Cambodia.

During the following period up to around 700 years ago, hegemony in the region gradually moved to Central Java, ending in the emergence of the Central Javanese Empire of Majapahit. At the peak of its power, it held suzerainty over a region more or less coinciding with the territories of Malaysia and Indonesia in the west and center (in the north perhaps including some southern parts of the Philippines), and extending to the east to include North Maluku and the Onin area around Fakfak on the west coast of West New Guinea.

The notation of Onin (spelled "Wwanin," cf. also the spelling "Ambwan" for Ambon) in the 14th-century Old Javanese Nagarakrtagama is the first reference to any part of New Guinea in any historio-graphic source. Although it was obviously not the first part of West New Guinea for which involvement in the Malayo-Indonesian community can be inferred, it provides further indication that that involvement was not restricted to the north coast.

On the other hand, there is one persistent notion connected with inclusion of Onin among the vassal territories of Majapahit which needs to be corrected. It is the assumption that it serves as proof that West New Guinea belongs to Indonesia. If that were true, then Malaysia, Brunei, East Timor, and parts of the Philippines would "belong" to Indonesia as well, whereas the greater part of West Irian actually would not. The absurdity of the former line of argumentation is actually clear when one tries to decide, whether Malaysia and part of Indonesia "belong" to Cambodia (considering the situation under Funan), or whether Cambodia "belongs" to Indonesia (referring to the situation under Sri Wijaya). In reality, Indonesia is neither the successor state of Sri Wijaya nor that of Majapahit. It is that of Netherlands East Indies. But it is the third major Malayo-Indonesian archipelagean state formation, after Majapahit and Netherlands East Indies, to have included a western part of New Guinea in its territory (the fourth if one includes the Sultanate of Tidore; I am not informed about whether the Makassarese Sultanate of Gowa had spread its activity as far east as New Guinea).

One important feature of the Majapahit period was the development of cities as emerging centers of a mercantile and craftsmenly middle class. The mercantile centers throughout Malayo-Indonesia converted to Islam, and finally strove to free themselves from the overlordship of Hindu Majapahit. This led around 500 years ago to the defeat of Majapahit by the Sultanate of Demak.

The expected logical continuation of this process would actually have been another political unification of Malayo-Indonesia, this time under an Islamic central power. But the decisive victory of the Islamic party over Hindu Majapahit coincided with the loss of Malayo-Indonesian monopoly on the spice trade that had been based on the closely kept secret of the navigation route to Maluku. This had been the economic basis of the wealth and power of the Islamic polities. With entrance of the Portuguese, and subsequently also of other European into the spice trade, the Islamic revolution came to a halt. Demak fell, and feudal relations of the Majapahit period were restored in Mataram.

This left Malayo-Indonesia in a dualistic Islamic/non-Islamic state. Practically, only Java was almost entirely Islamicized (the Tenggerese and Baduis are non-Islamic). Most of the Bataks in Sumatra, Dayaks in Kalimantan, Torajas in Sulawesi, etc., remained not Islamicized. The further to the east, the smaller the share of Islamic ethnicities. Nevertheless, West New Guinea was also included in that whole process. Thus, for example, the Kowiai in West Irian are Muslims. As far as I am informed, there are no indigenous Muslim ethnic groups in East New Guinea or the South Pacific. That is to say, they have no experience with the kind of problems so typical for all of Indonesia, and with which the organizers of the West Papua Congress had coped so masterfully, i.e. cooperation between Muslims and Christians, and with other religious communities.

Instead of a reunification under Islamic Demak, Malayo-Indonesia began to undergo renewed political unification by the Christian Netherlands instead, but with some restrictions. Already before that, the Northern and Central Philippines had been extracted by Spain, and later, Mindanao and the Sulu Islands also came under Spanish rule. What was left of Malayo-Indonesia was then finally divided between Great Britain and the Netherlands by the Treaty of London. All this is the main reason why I use the term Malayo- Indonesia for the previous periods. The processes of those times not only concerned what is now Indonesia, but also Malaysia and at least part of the Philippines.

The subsequent development in the subdivisions of Malayo-Indonesia were characterized on one hand by the fact, that they proceeded under totally different conditions of colonial rule by the Dutch, British, and Spaniards (later replaced by the Americans). On the other hand, the development of the urban middle class and economic relations based on commodity exchange and production with hired labor have a vital role in the formation of modern national identities. The borders that separated territories of the three different colonial powers therefore much more effectively delimited national formations from each other, than all former divisions. For it was during this latter period, that those social and economic relations underwent a particularly intensive development.

Hence, distinctions in national identities between modern urbanized Malays of Indonesia and modern urbanized Malays of Malaysia are much more significant, than differences between the former and e.g. modern urbanized Javanese, Banjarese, Buginese, or Ambonese. By contrast, such distinctions among egalitarian ethnic communities on alternating sides of e.g. the border between Indonesian West Kalimantan and Malaysian Sarawak may remain quite negligible, until they get absorbed into the respective national commodity-economies.

So too, at the border between West Irian and PNG, there may be quite significant distinctions between urban Papuans, e.g. in Numbai or Manokwari and urban Papuas in Port Moresby. But, for egalitarian communities in the hinterland the national border has little significance. It is however the urban population, particularly the urban middle class, which plays a determining role in the formation of national identity.

If we now inspect more closely the border between Indonesia and PNG on one side, and the border between Indonesia and Malaysia on the other, then at a first glance, the border to Malaysia may seem more "nationally delimiting" than the border to PNG. This is because contrastive Dutch and British administrative conditions in the west existed since at least a century earlier than in the east, and urbanization in Malaysia and West Indonesia was more advanced than in New Guinea. At a second glance, however, one will have to admit, that it is actually the other way round. For, the border to Malaysia was a totally novel boundary introduced as a result of the Treaty of London, cutting off Johore from the Sultanate of Riau, and cutting off peninsular vassal territories of the Sumatran kingdom of Minangkabau from the liege lord they secretly continued to revere out of religious tradition even for many years after the Treaty came into force.

In New Guinea, by contrast, the arbitrarily drawn colonial border line happened to separate that part of the island, which had already long been included in the Malayo-Indonesian community, from the other part that still remained completely outside that community. This was because Dutch access to the island was mediated along existing Malayo-Indonesian lines of communication. The contrast between West and East New Guinea was thus not exclusively a product of colonialism, as was the contrast between Malaysia and West Indonesia. Here, colonialism merely consolidated already existing delimitations. Only in the interior, still inhabited by egalitarian groups, are the national borders in New Guinea and in Kalimantan still quite arbitrarily imposed imaginary lines. This is probably also true e.g. for the borders of Brazil to its neighbors in the upper Amazon region.

In summary, it is important to realize, that as a consequence of the historical inclusion of West New Guinea within Malayo-Indonesia, and its having been part of Netherlands East Indies and of Indonesia, a sudden separation would lead to all kinds of "unexpected" problems.

The most obvious of these would be the problem of language. This was already demonstrated at the West Papua Congress itself in projections of a future separate West Papuan state. Delegates were apparently at a loss, trying to decide on a national language, and named three: English, Dutch, and Tok Pisin. The problem is, that the only language of interethnic communication in West Irian is Malay: Bahasa Indonesia in education and formal discourse, and Irian Malay in colloquial communication. Hoping to change this per legislative decision is quite illusionary, as has recently been demonstrated in East Timor.

There, just 24 years of Indonesian administration led to a really tragic linguistic schism between the younger Indonesian-speaking generation of intellectuals and the elder Portuguese speaking one. In West Irian, even if one leaves aside the century-old Irian Malay tradition and whatever School Malay might have been taught under Dutch administration, Indonesian administration alone now covers a period of 37 years.

Just as serious would be problems arising if one would try to unite West New Guinea with PNG instead of with Indonesia. West Papuans probably do not realize that the very sympathetic and cordial solidification, which they experience from peoples of PNG and the South Pacific in their present predicament, do not actually serve as demonstration of some sort of common ethno-cultural basic national identity. It should be remembered, that similar emotional warmth existed between peoples of Southeast Asia in the 1940s and 1950s. This kind of solidarity between various nationalities with some conspicuous but skin-deep common features remains stabile as long as concrete national borders tacitly safeguard disparate fundamental interests of each nation from interference by the respective other.

Should one unite West New Guinea with PNG, deeply rooted culture features of e.g. West Papuan ethnicities of the north coast with centuries of mercantile tradition would clash quite sharply with established cultural inclinations of East Papuans. In West and Central Europe, efforts towards a united Europe still are in the stage of cautious projections of a future federation, although intensive mutual economic infiltration in a common market has been preparing the grounds for almost half a century now.

Against this, of course, there is the much-lamented contrast between "Papuans" and "Javanese." In truth, however, the whole of Indonesia is rife with interethnic contrasts, and this is not different within each individual island, West Irian not excluded. But many observers are simply blinded by external distinctions of race, which lets West Papuans appear much more "naturally" grouped with East Papuans, and just as "unnaturally" with "Javanese." Nevertheless, there is no distinct boundary between the distribution areas of Australoids (i.e. Negritos, Papuas, Melanesians taken together) and mongoloids in Indonesia, and such a boundary most certainly does not run between West Irian and the remaining Indonesian provinces. One finds Australoids as far west as in Sumatra and in the island of Enggano to the west of it. Communities with mixed racial features are spread throughout Maluku and Nusa Tenggara, but also occur e.g. in Sumatra or Sulawesi.

Javanese however form the largest ethnic group in Indonesia, and so, even in case of strict proportionality, one would expectably find more Javanese in all fields of activity, thus creating the optical impression of dominance. Of course, variant ethnic preferences leads to even over proportional representation of Javanese in some walks of life -- e.g. among civil servants -- and an under proportional one in others -- e.g. among merchants and traders. Buginese, Makassarese and Minangkabaus, by contrast, seem to exhibit the opposite preference. The probably most expansionist ethnic group in Indonesia has however since some centuries been the Buginese, and not the Javanese. And Madurese, also more expansionist than the Javanese, have even for some centuries been expanding into originally Javanese territory in East Java.

But one circumstance may have contributed to particular apprehension of West Papuans towards Javanese. Already since the 1950s, it had been standard military policy in Indonesia to deal with local unrests using troops of divergent ethnic origin. I personally know of Muslim Sundanese in West Java who had an aversion towards Bataks (from Sumatra). It just so happened that the troops implemented to fight the DI/TII rebellion in the part of West Java where they lived were Bataks. It seems probable that the greater part of troops that were set in against the OPM and the population in West Irian were from Java.

Considering the extent of the brutalities that were committed against the population in West Irian, one will probably have to bear with prolonged and intense anti-Javanese sentiments in parts of the population, if the greater part of the troops involved in the repressions had been Javanese. The circumstance, that Javanese probably also make up the greater part of NGO activists working for human rights, medical and economic relief, and environmental protection in West Irian, and also make up a substantial part of members of church organizations operating in the province, does help of course. But they cannot fully neutralize the intensive shock effect and traumas occasioned by the military.

(To Be Continued)

6. Prospects for the Future.

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