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Giving West Papua Its Own Voice

Written By Voice Of Baptist Papua on October 9, 2011 | 4:07 PM

John Waromi hands me his collection of unpublished poems, its title “Sulur-Sulur Sali” handwritten on the cover. I flick through the pages, read some lines at random and feel that emotional charge you get from reading good poetry.

A fresh and authentic voice in contemporary Indonesian verse, John is a 51-year-old Serui man from the islands south of Biak, West Papua. He writes in Indonesian, using words from indigenous Papuan languages as he sees fit. “Sulur-Sulur Sali,” John said, referred to the lengths of grass used to make Papuan highlander women’s frocks.

“The sali [grass skirt] has special significance in Papuan cultures. I use the word [in the book’s title] as an expression of love and respect for women,” he said one morning in Depok from underneath the wood-stilt house of his friend, the musician Sawung Jabo.

“These poems are my contemplations after living in Jayapura for the past decade. I arrived back in Jayapura not long after the murder of [Papuan separatist leader] Theys Eluay. A few days later I was beaten up by a joint military-police ‘social control’ operation. I was hurt quite badly, had broken bones and internal injuries.
Read More>>Giving West Papua Its Own Voice | The Jakarta Globe
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