During the interim between Indonesian independence and the 1962 signing of the New York Agreement, those few Papuan tribes who interacted with their Dutch colonialists in all manner of exchange were put on the fast track headed for Papuan independence. For those West Papuans drawn into the impending but unforeseen historical shift about to transform Papua forever, Dutch support and preparations fueled both a nationalist hope, and maybe more importantly- a nationalist identity. With the notion of a nationalist identity, so arose a Papuan elite as well. Amongst the elite, there wasn’t unanimity as concerns taking up the responsibility for becoming a new nation state. Some Papuan leaders favored incorporation into Indonesia. As such, tribal divides existed. But internal differences between the few coastal peoples caught-up in the independence movement were very different in kind as compared with the dynamics of the coastal versus highland tribal groups. Nonetheless, direct Dutch involvement in making ready a transition to statehood prompted a growing sense of a "Papuan identity" amongst both coastal and some highland tribes.
Midwife to the birth of Papuan Nationalism, the Dutch not only encouraged but nearly charged the West Papuans to politically ready themselves for decolonization. By the time the Act of Free Choice quashed these hopes, several homegrown political organizations had been formed and their plans for independence circulated throughout much of the territory for a decade. Nationalist dreams and aspirations were freely being discussed in Papuan meeting halls as presided over by Papuan-created and controlled political councils.
The First “Papuans”
From the turn of the 20th century until the outbreak of World War II and the Japanese invasion, the territorial administration of what was still known as Dutch New Guinea was composed of three factions- a top echelon of Dutch appointed by the government in the Netherlands, and a mix of both Indonesian and indigenous Papuan civil servants. For decades the Dutch had trained and transferred Indonesians from places such as the nearby Mulukas into Papua to take up administrative duties. As the concerted missionary work that had long been at work in Papua had succeeded in converting and educating select tribes, Papuans themselves began to step forward and take a place in the governance or their own land. These few individuals and their families constituted the first Papuan elite.
But just who were the "Papuan elite” exactly, and what were the ethnic, lingual, and tribal fault lines that distinguished and potentially divided them from other Papuans? Papuans from three areas dominated the group hand picked by the Dutch and who would become the first to receive transfer of power. They originated from the small coastal city of Hollandia (the Dutch’s main territorial administrative center and later renamed Jayapura) and two small islands- Biak and Yapen (including the important town and area of Serui). Both of these offshore islands are located in the northwest, just east of the Bird's Head peninsula and west of Hollandia. Because of their coastal proximity to Hollandia, all three areas and their inhabitants had long histories of contact with the Dutch and other foreign trade powers, including Asians such as the Chinese and Japanese. A significant number of these people were the sons and daughters of literate parents, had been educated in Dutch schools, were conversant in the Dutch language, had either been converted into Christianity or had had contact with Dutch missionaries, and generally understood much about European ways.
Interestingly, the two islands very much saw the future of Papua differently. Biak was strongly supportive of Papuan independence whereas Serui thought it better to incorporate into the Indonesia republic. Despite this substantial difference, the two groups together embodied those tribes in Papua best suited to participate in Papua’s administration, no matter who would be in control. They saw themselves as important stakeholders, no matter the outcome of the decolonization process. Above and beyond their own fault lines, they acted more in mutual cooperation than not.
After General MacArthur’s 1944 invasion of Hollandia, the Japanese occupation of West Papua came to an end. The Dutch quickly reestablished themselves and their new Dutch Resident, J.P.K. van Eechoud, a former policeman, immediately set to work establishing the special schools for training young Papuans to become teachers, police, nurses, and civil officials. These schools were built mainly in the coastal communities already mentioned. Only 40,000 Papuans inhabited the communities so-effected and that out of a total West Papuan population of 700,000. To insure inclusion, Van Eechoud did his best to seek out young candidates for his training centers from all around the territory “so as to broaden local identities into a Papuan one.” Despite his best recruiting efforts, one-half of all qualified candidates came from the ranks of those very few tribes living along the coast and close to the schools themselves.
Van Eechoud’s students understood the essentially political purpose of his policies. He told them as early as 1945 that they had to study diligently because they were “the new Papuans for a new New Guinea.” The Papuan graduates of Van Eechoud’s schools were in some senses the “first” Papuans as well as the first generation of Papuan nationalists in that they were the ones that began to think of themselves as being members of a broader pan-Papuan society, not merely a member of a particular ethno-linguistic group.
For his dedication to the Papuan people and their aspirations for self-determination, Van Eechoud was revered as a father figure by the Papuans. He was honored by his students with the name “Bapak Papua”- Father of Papua. Van Eechoud may be the sole honoree and occupant of an otherwise empty pantheon of those Dutchman lionized in their lifetime by any significant group of indigenous peoples in the greater archipelago.
Van Eechoud’s mission to prepare West Papuans for ultimate decolonization was fully incorporated into Dutch territorial policy in1952 when the Dutch officially recognized the right of Papuans to self-determination and systematically put the territory on a full-blown independence track. Van Eechoud’s like-minded successor, Th. H. Bot, directed policy towards political objectives. He ordered Dutch officials to recruit Papuans qualified to become potential candidates for representative councils, government advisors, and given a political science education in general. Arrangements were made to send these candidates abroad to Holland and other places as well.
Like Van Eechoud, Bot recognized that the rugged terrain and ethnic diversity of West Papua hadn’t ever allowed for a national awareness amongst the hundreds of tribes, and he moved to address the issue head-on. Along with the educational institutions already set into motion, Bot promoted a Papuan Volunteers Corps (PVC) and the landmark New Guinea Council which was, in effect, the first Papuan deliberative body made up almost exclusively of indigenous Papuans. Bot also believed it necessary that in order for Papuans to establish a national identity, they must come to see themselves belonging to the same peoples as indigenous to the Australian-administered territories, and not to any Malay Indonesian race or ethnicity. This would be a Melanesian identification, belonging to an independent state, but linked in all important ways to the West. A greater geostrategic sense was factored into Bot’s modus operandi. Of paramount importance was to insure not only a free Papua, but a Papuan identity free from any sense of belonging to Indonesia.
These developments irked the Indonesian government to no end, and it stepped up its international protests. After a dozen years of growing tension over West Papuan territory, things came to a head with the election of President John F. Kennedy in November 1960. A change of American administrations provided the catalyst for both a flurry of Dutch diplomatic proposals and insurgencies by the Indonesian military. Aggressions into Papuan territorial land and waters took place in November 1960, September 1961, and most significantly in January 1962 under the new operational name of Mandala headed by Brigadier General Suharto.
The uptick of Indonesian violence in 1961-1962 was the direct result of at least two major events. First, in September 1961 Dutch Foreign Minister Luns presented a proposal to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on West New Guinea’s future. The “Luns Plan” proposed an end to Dutch sovereignty and the establishment of a UN administration in “West New Guinea” to supervise and organize a plebiscite to decide the territory’s final status. In November the proposal came to a UNGA floor vote and passed, but did not garner the two-thirds vote required, so it failed. Indonesia was determined that the vote would not be raised in the UN again.
Second- and even more alarming to President Sukarno- was the growing projected power of newly formed nationalist organizations in West Papua presided over by indigenous Papuans themselves. This was perhaps the most ominous sign for the Indonesians that the Dutch were doing everything possible to make a success of handing over colonial control.
One of the most important of these political groups was the already mentioned West New Guinea Council. The council was just as alarmed by the Luns plan as was Sukarno. As Luns never conferred with the Papuans over his plan, there was resentment given their exclusion from political proposals deeply affecting their future. In rapid response to the proposal, members of West New Guinea Council and another prominent Papuan political organization, PARMA, convened jointly in Hollandia on October 19, 1961. The delegates were drawn from most regions of the territory, they included both Christians and Muslims, and all but one of them was Papuan. They elected seventeen people to form a Komite Nasional Papua. The Komite knew they must be proactive in asserting the Papuan preference for self-determination. They immediately issued a Manifest Politik making demands to the Dutch that Papuan voices be heard in the decolonization process.
The Manifest asked that the Netherlands New Guinea be renamed West Papua, and it called for the immediate use of Papuan national symbols alongside the Dutch ones. As addressed to the New Guinea Council and the government of the Netherlands, the core of the document stated:
"On the basis of the desire of our people for independence, we urge through the mediation of the Komite Nasional and our popular representative body, the New Guinea Council, that the governments of Netherlands New Guinea and the Netherlands take action to ensure that, as of November 1st, our flag be flown beside the Netherlands flag; our national anthem, Hai Tanahku Papua, be sung along with the Wilhelmus; the name of our land become West Papua; the name of our people become Papuan.
On this basis we the Papuan people demand to obtain our own place among the other free peoples and nations. In addition, we, the Papuan people, wish to contribute to the maintenance of the freedom of the world."
The Manifest asked that the Netherlands New Guinea be renamed West Papua. The Manifest Politik was the first assertion of the Papuan demand to establish a new nation state.
But the raising of what would be known as the “Morning Star” flag did not mean that the Komite Nasional intended to declare the actual transfer of sovereignty. To that symbolic end, the flag was to be flown not alone but alongside the Dutch tricolors. So too, the decision to raise the flag was not unanimously supported. Some council members were concerned that ordinary Papuans would interpret a flag-raising as a declaration of independence and were not in support. Neither did the Manifest demand nor declare outright independence- only that Papuans be given a voice in the terms of decolonization.
Raising of the Morning Star Flag
The first raising of the flag was organized by the Komite Nasional and took place in front of the New Guinea Council building in Hollandia on December 1, 1961. Flag raising ceremonies took place throughout the territory as well. There was substantial interest shown by the Papuan people both in areas of strong support (such as Biak) or where support for Indonesia had deep roots (Serui & Yapen).
Sukarno’s retaliation was swift. On December 19, 1961 and less than three weeks after the flag raising, he gave his important TRIKORA speech (peoples’ triple command). It called for the total mobilization of the Indonesian people to “liberate” West Irian. Quickly following he ordered Suharto to organize Operasi Mandala and begin a new wave of military insurgencies.
This wave of insurgencies was in total a military failure. The first assault of Operasi Mandala occurred on January 15, 1962. Having disembarked from Jakarta and consisting of four torpedo boats and one hundred fifteen insurgents, the group was intercepted by Dutch in the Arafura Sea and more than half were killed including the operational commander, Commodore Yous Sudarso, Deputy Chief of the Indonesian naval staff. Known as the Battle of Arafura Sea, this insurgency was the third consecutive attack against the Dutch in West Papua to fail miserably since the September previous.
Sukarno’s military aggression constituted both a tactical failure and strategic success to the extent it signaled the international community Indonesian willingness to engage the Dutch in all-out war over the Papuan question.
The United Nations and the Kennedy administration were soon to respond all to Indonesia’s liking.
NOTE: This article is part of a series. Part III is soon to follow
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