By Susanne Schuster
It was the third time that on 31 August 2013 Court Lodge Farm in East Sussex, UK hosted a fundraiser for the Free West Papua Campaign – with building a ground oven and musical performances. This is primarily thanks to the commitment of Clare Harding, who grew up on the farm. Her parents run an organically certified dairy farm and produce delicious pouring yoghurt. Some years ago Clare travelled in Papua New Guinea and also visited the Indonesian occupied West Papua, where she made contact with a few freedom fighters, which can be risky. Since then she has been committed to this campaign. The background is the desire of West Papuans to lead a free and self-determined life and that means freedom from Indonesia.
Until the early 19th century New Guinea was a unified island. To this day many of its inhabitants live as hunter-gatherers or practice subsistence farming. They are extremely intelligent, possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of the flora and fauna of their environment and they are unbelievably resourceful and musical. Then the British and Dutch came on their colonial raids and took possession of the island: The Western half West Papua was occupied by the Dutch and the Eastern half Papua New Guinea by the British. In 1961 West Papua became independent, but just a few months later Indonesia invaded and claimed it as Indonesian territory. In 1969 a vote was held under the auspices of the UN, the so called “Act of Free Choice”, but it was a farce: About 1000 tribal leaders were forced at gunpoint to vote for integration with Indonesia. Until now about 400,000 West Papuans have been killed by Indonesian forces. Human rights violations, violence, torture, murders and displacement are a daily occurrence. Under a transmigration programme thousands of Indonesians from other parts have been resettled in West Papua and they get the best jobs. What is happening there can be described as a silent genocide, forgotten by the world.
The reason for it: West Papua is home to enormous reserves of gold, oil and copper, and their extraction is extremely lucrative for a tiny Indonesian elite and the collaborating corporations like US company Freeport. But the decisive factor for the US and its cronies being totally unmoved by the forgotten war against West Papua is the fact that Indonesia is already perfectly integrated into the capitalist world order – a neoliberal poster boy, paradise for investors, hell for the masses. Therefore there is no necessity for a “humanitarian intervention”. The US secret services saw to that when they overthrew the democratically elected government of president Sukarno in 1965 and installed into power the dictator Suharto as their puppet. In the bloodbath that followed at least half a million Indonesians, probably even more than one million, were killed. Andre Vltchek even speaks of 2 to 3 million dead.
The ground oven
When I arrived on the farm the West Papuans had already dug a considerable pit for the ground oven and in a big camp fire the stones were being heated. Benny Wenda, the tribal leader and founder of the Free West Papua Campaign, and his family and friends had already spent several days preparing: collecting leaves and herbs, making gripping tongs from thick tree branches, which we used to transport the hot stones from the camp fire to the ground oven, and they had specially bought some banana leaves. First the pit was lined with a row of hot stones, then a layer of leaves was put on top, followed by roots and tubers such as swede, potatoes, parsnips, sweet potatoes, pumpkin as well as corn cobs, followed by more layers of leaves, kale, cabbage, marrow, beetroot and further on top big cuts of pork (the pig had been fattened on the farm and slaughtered in the morning), two rabbits and in between layers of herbs, leaves and hot stones. When the pile of meat and vegetables formed a nice little mound everything was closed with a hessian (in West Papua banana leaves are used for that) and weighed down with some pieces of wood. After a good two hours of cooking time our dinner from the ground oven was ready. The food was delicious and we ate a lot of it. Although no salt had been added it all was full of flavour and tasty. Please watch this short video of the making of the ground oven.
Benny Wenda and the West Papua Campaign
Later on Benny Wenda spoke about the plans of the Free West Papua campaign to buy a piece of land in Papua New Guinea where many West Papuan refugees live. They are not recognised as refugees by Papua New Guinea – due to Indonesian pressure – but only as border crossers and therefore receive no support. On the land infrastructure and opportunities are to be created for West Papuans to grow vegetables, go to school, and receive training or study, thus creating perspectives for the future. The purchase price is 80.000 Pounds Sterling.
Benny also told us about his own fate. When he was two years old, his village was bombed by the Indonesian military, whereby many members of his family were killed. He was forced to flee into the jungle where he lived for five years. In his youth he was chosen as a leader by the elders of his tribe because of his nature. Due to his growing influence in West Papua he was arrested by the Indonesian authorities and placed on trial for a long sentence. During the trial he spent several weeks with arms and legs in chains in isolation and survived several attempts on his life. Through a remarkable string of events he could finally escape. He was smuggled through the jungle to Papua New Guinea where he was reunited with his wife Maria and young daughter Koteka in a refugee camp. Supporters then helped him flee to England where he applied for political asylum. In his new home Oxford he founded the Free West Papua campaign, which now also has offices in Holland and Australia. I was very impressed with how objectively Benny told his story, without any trace of bitterness. But he also said: Even when we might seem cheerful on the outside, we always cry inside. Then he sang a few freedom songs with the Lani Singers. His twelve year old daughter Koteka also sang a song composed by herself that really touched the heart. We were also treated to some very beautiful songs by Liz Ikamba and Beccy Elder.
What can you do?
For my writings, articles and translations in German visit missubuntu.wordpress.com
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