THE EMPOWERMENT AND INDEPENDENCE OF IRIANESE SOCIETY

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By Frans Maniagasi

JAKARTA, Indonesia (September 10, 2000 – The Jakarta Post/Kabar-Irian)---Indonesia's easternmost province of Irian Jaya is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the north, Maluku province to the west, Australia to the south and Papua New Guinea to the east.

At its broadest points, it is 1,221 kilometers (732.6 miles) from east to west and 990 kilometers (594 miles) from north to south. Its total land mass is 414,800 square kilometers (165,920 square miles), comprising 13 regencies and mayoralties and 253 ethnic groups, each of which has its own dialect.

Irian Jaya's topography is vast. From its geological history, we know that the earth's outer crust once shifted frequently here, resulting in striking differences in certain areas.

Irian Jaya has numerous lakes, swamps and rivers, including the Tami, Wirawoi, Biri, Tor and Mamberamo rivers that empty into the Pacific Ocean; the Warsamson, Kais, Kemundan and Wiriagar rivers that empty into the Seram Sea; the Goseroi River that empties into the Banda Sea; and the Lemsuri, Orutu, Uta, Setakwa, Blumbu, Dumas and Balim that empty into the Arafura Sea.

Its lakes include the Rombebai, Paniai, Sentani, Yamur, Tigi and Bira.

Irian Jaya is three times the size of Java island and takes up almost 22 percent of Indonesia's total width. The current population is approximately 2.355 million people, which is a population density of less than six people per square kilometer.

Population is an important factor because it is one of the indicators used to determine the dynamics of development activities in certain areas. However, in Irian Jaya, population is not the only crucial problem that needs extraordinary attention.

One of its most difficult problems is that the province is isolated due to its poor infrastructure; it is isolated not only geographically but also socially and culturally.

As a result, Irian Jaya's socioeconomic development is ironic -- transportation costs are high. Most primary needs have to be supplied from other areas by plane due to a lack of roads.

Based on a socioanthropological analysis, social groups in the hinterlands are still in a subsystem cultural pattern as they still rely on collection activities in meeting their daily needs.

Seen from an ecological perspective, such a life pattern is a reflection of the attitude of "ecosystem inhabitants," meaning that geographical areas force them to rely on the ecosystem. They develop their own culture as they live with nature. They are practically unaware of modern technology. They just use minimum technology, if any, to carry out their subsystem activities.

Living with subsystem activities does not necessarily mean that the society in Irian Jaya's hinterlands is poor in natural resources. Research on potential resources in this area indicates that it is rich in natural resources. For example, Irian Jaya's mangrove swamps have resources of milkfish, shrimp and crabs that can be used in trading. The swampy areas in the north and south of Irian Jaya, with a total area of about one million hectares, are rich in swamp trees like sago. Its lowlands have rain forests, while its mountainous areas in the middle part of the province are rich in trees such as the ponetia, ficus, alstonia and terminalia.

Moreover, the province is rich in mining and mineral resources; for example, copper in Mimika, natural gas and oil in Sorong, uranium in Manokwari and gold in Nabire. It is also rich in marine resources such as tuna and skipjack.

One of Irian Jaya's problems is that the Papuans are still living in poverty. They should be empowered. How can they be empowered? Humans will, by nature, live in a society and adopt a culture in order to survive and to sustain their environment. The process of interaction between humans and their environment -- as is reflected in the "ecosystem society" -- therefore, should be used as a starting point for their empowerment.

This means that our knowledge about the behavior of the ecosystem society must be used as a basis for an introduction of any development program.

Because the ecosystem behavior is a reflection of the society's knowledge and way of life, its patterns must be modified and formulated into economic, social and cultural institutions so that society members can use them as their symbols of thought and behavior.

The synchronization of ecosystem behavioral factors and the economic, social and cultural institutions, therefore, is expected to crystallize into new values for the local society. Such values will become the core of the culture, which can be used as a reference for the empowerment of the local society.

Thus, future development programs in Irian Jaya must be supported by the development of the local society's own values. Development programs will not be focused merely on physical needs but also on institutional development based on a culture that guarantees the respect of human dignity.

So, the empowerment of the society will mean giving "independence" to the society, to develop itself in order to achieve prosperity, equality and justice.

Frans Maniagasi is an Irian Jaya social affairs observer.

KABAR-IRIAN ("Irian News") Websites: http://www.irja.org/index2.shtml and http://www.kabar-irian.com 

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