Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

Papua Land of Peace

Papua is both a beautiful and exotic Island.  It is named as “a piece of heaven on earth”.  Not surprisingly, Raja Ampat in Papua is called as “the last paradise in the world”.  History tells us that hundreds years ago, Ferdinand Magellan, a Spanish sailor, called Papua the Golden Island.  A dream to find spices and gold brought European people to conquer the island.  There were many expeditions to find Papua after Maggellan, including Alvaro de Saavedra, Herman Griyalva, Ynogo Ortiz de Retes, Torres, etc.  Instead, not only sailors and explorers fell in love with this land, but also scholarly expeditions that followed, such as one led by Forbes Wilson that paved the way to PT Freeport McMoran to operate in Papua.

Unfortunately, since the referendum in 1969, when the majority of Papuans supported integration with Indonesia, Papua has been marginalized by the policies of the Indonesian government so the gold mines that were discovered in the land do not benefit its indigenous Papuan people.  The emergence of the Free Papuan Movement, to a certain degree, was because some rejected the result of the referendum, believing that Papua already got independence from the Dutch on 1 December 1961.

Recently, in 2001, Papua received special autonomy, although many parties were disappointed because corruption has hindered the proper utilization of funds granted under the special autonomy arrangement.  In short, Papua seems to experience what has been termed the “natural resources curse”.

If in the past European people had a dream to find spices in the land, today I have a dream to find peace in the torn land of protracted conflict.  Put it differently: I have a dream that one day indigenous people and immigrants from all over Indonesia can be walking together side by side to strive for a Papua Land of Peace.  That’s my dream.  I believe this dream also touches a majority of people in Indonesia and especially Papua, regardless of their ethnic and religious background.  In their minds and hearts, they want to live in harmony and peace; they hate protracted social conflict that has haunted them bitterly.  At the same time, greedy and self-interested people from both sides, the Free Papua Movement and the Indonesian government, want to make this conflict seems complex and unsolvable , by being non-cooperative and strict with their respective standpoints and pursuing economic and political advantages.

“Papua Land of Peace” (Papua Tanah Damai in bahasa) is a vision.  A big dream!  It was declared on 5 February 2002 by religious leaders in Papua.  The date was chosen because it refers to 5 February 1855 when two missionaries from Germany, Ottow and Gessler, brought and introduced the Bible to indigenous Papuan people.  Papua Tanah Damai can be seen as moral imagination, if I may borrow from John Paul Laderach, and strong response toward the denial of civil and political rights (CPR), and economic, cultural and social rights (ECSR), domination of a security approach by the Indonesian military, a welfare gap of marginalization, and the phenomenon of the destruction of religious places, in particular churches in Jawa island, after the demise of Suharto regime 1998.

I have been involved in Forum Komunikasi Para Pimpinan Agama (FKPPA) and Forum Kerukunan Umat Beragama (FKUB) — Religious Leaders Forum.  Both institutions have carried out activities in particular to promote peace and harmony among different religious groups to achieve the dream of Papua Land of Peace.  The last activity that I coordinated was “Conference-Focused Group Discussion-Strategic Planning for Papua Land of Peace” that involved approximately 76 religious leaders in Papua.  It was a collaboration between Dian Interfidei, Yogyakarta, and FKPPA Papua.  As a result, we identified four main issues that are threats for Papua Land of Peace: religious fanaticism, ethnic promordialism, marginalization, and social change triggered by abundant immigrant to Papua.  This year we strive to persuade the civil society organizations and the local government to carry out projects in order to address these issues.

In Jayapura, the main city in Papua, I also teach students in the International Relations Department at the University of Sciences and Technology Jayapura (USTJ), Papua, and other colleges.  Most of them are indigenous Papuan people.  Some of them were from mixed ethnic backgrounds, in particular with a mother or father from an immigrant group.  At this point, it becomes difficult for them because they are not categorized as “Indigenous Papuan People” anymore, in particular if their father is from an immigrant family.  Several students are interested to join the free Papua movement.  I don’t know how many of them are sympathizers or supporters of the movement.  Also, how much they love the Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia (the Unity of Republic of Indonesian).  This should not be the issue.  The most important thing is not to resort to the use of violence; this cannot be tolerated at all.  The problem is how to ensure that my students and both parties choose non-violent action as the alternative way to overcome the complexity of the social conflict.

The Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University is a good and fabulous place for learning.  To some degree, it provides answers to my inquiry about knowledge of conflict resolution, in particular non-violent action from lectures, field studies, presentations, etc.  I like all of our instructors with his/her own way and method of teaching and sharing knowledge and wisdom.  All the staff members are very helpful.  I love all my sisters and brothers in peace in Class 18, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, and countries.  We share stories, laughs, meals, and have fun.  We sing and dance.  I remember the lyrics of the Rotary Fellows song:

… We’ve come to Thailand from many lands.
This world can be a better place…

Well make this world a better place!

Ridwan al-Makassary, Indonesia
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2015 Session


2 comments on “Papua Land of Peace

  1. Ruchika
    February 20, 2015

    Thank you for sharing the history of Papua. I wish you all the best as you move your country forward towards peaceful resolutions with Indonesia.
    Ruchika Bahl, Rotary Peace Fellow 2013.

  2. Ridwan al-Makassary
    February 25, 2015

    Thanks Ruchika for your response. Appreciated. Hope so.
    With best wishes,


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