For Papuans, their graves are a reminder of the grief that besieges their land.
In front of the Justice and Human Rights Advocacy Network office in Wamena is the grave of Opinus Tabuni, a member of the Papuan Indigenous Council, killed in a military crackdown on World Indigenous Peoples’ Day in August 2008.
Human rights activist Theo Hesegem sat just a few feet from the grave. He recently said that the government’s attitude to the complex social and political problems in Papua would not end the violence.
In 2011, UP4B was established to accelerate development and growth in the most impoverished region in Indonesia. The hope was to improve the welfare of indigenous Papuans and quell their discontents.
But the source of discontent is not about having food on their plates. Theo said that Papuans’ main problem “is not eating and drinking. It’s not about welfare. We don’t know how many children, how many families, how many people have been shot or killed — that’s the problem”, Theo said.
Researchers at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) believe that decades of political violence has led Papua to a collective memory of grief, or memoria passionis.
While the government attempts to speed up development in the region, it retains a military approach. In 2009, security forces killed Free Papua Movement (OPM) leader Kelly Kwalik, and despite of his death, sporadic attacks from the OPM continue. According to the National Intelligence Agency (BIN), last month’s ambush was partly due to rebel fighters unhappy with a new military district command (Kodim) in Puncak Jaya.
“People can’t assume that the issue of Papua is finished. It’s about ideology. You can’t shoot a person and say his ideology is dead. There are other people. That person has children who will continue to think that ‘my father was shot because of Papua’,” Theo said.
Melianus Wantik, 29, member of the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB) which campaign for secession from Indonesia, said that the grave of They H. Eluay, the assassinated leader of the independence movement the Papua Presidium Council, was an important place for KNPB.
Young activists in Papua established KNPB after Theys was killed. During the founding of KNPB Melianus said they camped at Theys.
KNPB members themselves are now on the police wanted list, accused of shootings and bombings. KNPB leader Victor Yeimo reports that 22 KNPB members were killed last year, including the KNPB leader Mako Tabuni.
For Papuan Indigenous Council (DAP) Baliem area head, Yulianus Hisage, the killings no longer have a shock effect on him. “Killing people, shooting people in Papua: It’s normal. For us, the indigenous community, it’s normal because it’s not the first time we’ve seen it,” he said.
Yulianus, who is part of the Jakarta-based conflict resolution NGO, the Titian Perdamaian Institute and often travels outside of Papua, does not feel safe in his own land. “When I leave Papua, for Yogya I feel safe. Back in Papua, I worry when I will be killed,” he said.