Papua by journalist and Indonesia expert Dirk Vlasblom is the first comprehensive history of western New Guinea, covering five centuries with an emphasis on the last hundred years - inevitably perhaps, since few written texts are available from earlier periods.
Vlasblom has studied all the relevant sources, including buried reports and obscure missionary archives. He speaks fluent Bahasa and has talked in depth with practically all the relevant authorities still living: Papuan leaders, some of whom have been fighting for an independent Papua for more than fifty years; Indonesian politicians and soldiers fiercely opposed to such a development; and countless Dutch colonial administrators and missionaries. He has witnessed the Great Papua Congress of 2000, and other critical events of recent years.
When sovereignty over the Dutch East Indies was transferred to Indonesia in 1949, western New Guinea was exempted. Under pressure from the United States, which did not want to damage its relationship with Indonesia, the Dutch betrayed the Papuans by backtracking on an earlier announcement that Dutch New Guinea would gain its independence in about 1970, once an intellectual elite had been formed and the country’s infrastructure sufficiently developed. The conflict subsequently played out between Indonesia and The Netherlands over the heads of the Papuans, and un involvement in the transfer to Indonesian rule are described here in detail.
It is a surprise to read criticisms from Indonesian soldiers and politicians of past mistakes made by the Indonesian army. Unfortunately this does not mean that humiliation of the Papuans is over, in spite of the promise of autonomy held out to them after the fall of Suharto’s violent regime.
Renewed repression has dashed their hopes, while a steady stream of immigrants means Papuans will soon be a minority in their own country.
Vlasblom’s book tells a story never told before in such detail, making many new and unexpected connections. This is the standard work for anyone interested in the region, but perhaps most importantly of all it makes clear to the reader how obsessively the Papuans retain a world view dominated by the hope of salvation, often messianic in character. In a future paradise Papuans will finally regain their magic powers, so that they can turn events to their own advantage once more. Papua makes it painfully clear that there is still no sign of these ‘redeemers’.