Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Freedom in Entangled Worlds

On Monday, I had the opportunity to meet Eben Kirksey, a cultural anthropologist at the CUNY Graduate Center who studies the political dimensions of imagination as well as the interplay of natural and cultural history. Eben gave a lunchtime lecture at the Anthropology and Religion department at Tufts University, during which he spoke about his first book, Freedom in Entangled Worlds, is about the indigenous political movement in West Papua.

Eben happened to be in West Papua in 1998 during the initial independence demonstrations. On July 1, 1998, he was in Jayapura in West Papua when there was a small independence demonstration. Eben said he was speaking with a professor when the demonstration started and the police arrived shortly after. One demonstrator was shot and killed, and a school girl was shot and wounded.

View West Papua in a larger map

The next day, Eben was on the ferry to Biak, where Filep Karma was arranging for the raising of the Morning Star Flag. This was the first time the Morning Star Flag had been raised in 30 years, Filep himself wasn't even sure what the flag looked like, and he had to find someone who could make one. During the peaceful ceremony, Filep urged supporters to arm themselves only with prayer and hymns, and declared:
We the people of West Papua pledge to struggle to uphold the ideal of the independence of West Papua.
We the people of West Papua declare that the Republic of Indonesia cannot interfere in the affairs of West Papua.
We the people of West Papua ask that our security be guaranteed by the United Nations and by no one else.
Within the next few days, Indonesian authorities cracked down brutally. As Filep gathered his followers using hymns, Indonesian authorities formed a U around the gathering and began shooting. Filep himself was shot twice, and about 29 others were shot and killed. Filep Karma was eventually arrested and jailed for 10 months.

In 2004, Filep arranged another flag raising on the anniversary of Papuan independence from the Netherlands. Again, Indonesian forces are alleged to have used violence against the Papuan demonstrators. Filep was arrested and charged with treason for this peaceful demonstration and is still serving a 15-year prison term.

Eben had some fascinating insights from his time in West Papua, and I'm very much looking forward to reading his book.

1 comment:

John said...

you can order Eben's book from ETAN (East Timor and Indonesia Action Network) here: Kirksey