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Papuan self-determination - historical roots II

Arie Brand continues a review of West Papuan history. See Part I.

by Arie Brand 

Papua as Indo-European 'homeland'

Dr Aditjondro, who is still my whipping boy here because I believe he holds views on this issue that are widely shared by other Indonesian commentators, is misguided on another point as well - the 'Indo-European homeland' theme. He believes that the strong desire to reserve a homeland for Dutch Eurasians was another reason for excluding Papua from the transfer of sovereignty. In my view he has stressed this point far too heavily.

This requires some explanation. Though about two thirds of the pre-Second World European population of Indonesia was of mixed ancestry, only a minority of those were regarded as true Indo-Europeans. These were in the first place people of whom one of the parents (generally the mother) was fully Indonesian. They were, if they had been officially recognised by their European parent, classified as Europeans. This was not in all respects an advantage. For one thing, they were not allowed to own land, a right that colonial legislation had reserved for truly indigenous Indonesians (land exploiting companies got around this through long term leases).

Thus they were generally employed in some administrative position. When, however, more and more educated Indonesians gradually started to take these over, the idea came up to provide a homeland exclusively for them. This was to be Papua.

Happily the idea was never popular among them. The New Guinea movement of A Th Schalk represented before the war only an insignificant minority within the Indo-European Association. The leaders of the IEV (Indo-European Association) reacted to his ideas by saying that if Indo-Europeans were deemed to be tough enough to cope with the jungles of New Guinea there was indeed nothing to fear for them if they stayed in Java. (Van der Veur (1961) De Indo-Europeaan: probleem en uitdaging in Baudet, H. and Brugmans, L.J. (eds.) Balans van beleid – Terugblik op de laatste halve eeuw van Nederlands Indie , Assen - The Indo European - Problem and Challenge in Baudet, H. & Brugmans, LJ (eds) Account of our policy - looking back at the last half century of the Netherlands Indies).

It is true that in his comments on the Linggajati-agreement the then Minister for Overseas Territories, JA. Jonkman declared, on 10th December 1946, in parliament that in West New Guinea ‘the possibility should be kept open for a larger settlement of Dutch people, particularly the Indo European Dutch’, but he also said, at the same point in his speech, that New Guinea too should be able to choose its own status in relation to the Kingdom (new style) and the United States of Indonesia ‘though it is perhaps still difficult for the indigenous population to express itself on this point’ ( Van Baal J. (1989) Ontglipt verleden, VolII p156 - The past that has slipped away). Jonkman apparently didn’t see an inconsistency here and, according to Van Baal, it was never signalled as such from the Indonesian side in the negotiations at the Round Table Conference (1989 VolII, p171).

Also, Jonkman seems to have spoken about this largely from the top of his head. In the 'Commissie Generaal', the commission of three that in 1946 was sent to the Indies to assist the then highest Dutch dignitary there, the lieutenant Governor-General Dr HJ van Mook, in the negotiations with the Indonesians, there was great scepticism on this point. One member of this commission, the labor politician and ex- Prime Minister Professor Schermerhorn, wrote about this:

Later New Guinea was regarded as a possible refuge for the Indo-Europeans, for whom there seemed no longer to be any place in an independent Indonesia. When I spoke about this in the 'Commissie-Generaal' with Van Mook we quickly came to the conclusion that New Guinea was totally unsuitable for this. Indo-Europeans would certainly not be prepared to start digging in the ground there - they would prefer to leave that to others (Gase R (1984) Misleiding of zelfbedrog p5 - Deception or self-deception - my translation, AB.)

These two themes, the homeland theme and the theme of self-determination, were originally intertwined but already before 1949 the former one became less urgent while the latter one increased in importance.

The idea to find a new territory for Indo Europeans thus played initially a role, to be sure, but never a very important one and already in August 1949 the theme of self-determination could be mentioned in the Dutch parliament as a goal in itself without a link to the homeland theme (more of that below).

Dr Aditjondro however, when he got into full stride on this theme, referred to the 1600 or so deluded Indo-European settlers, who were dumped on the beach of Manokwari in the last days of 1949, as the ‘gelombang pertama’ (the first wave) of the Indo-European colonists. This term suggests that this group of stragglers constituted the first part of some substantial migratory movement. The opposite is the case. That the Dutch cared in reality very little about this migration was already clear from the total lack of preparation for this pitiable group. This was not a matter of logistic incapacity. They had, after all, housed and fed an army of more than one hundred thousand men in various parts of the archipelago over the last few years and were then still doing so. It was, rather, testifying to a lack of real concern. Indo-European settlers in New Guinea never reached a higher number than three thousand or so (Van Baal, 1989 II, p.161). The Dutch members of the mixed Indonesian-Dutch New Guinea (Irian) Committee of 1950 were then already of the opinion that such Indo-Europeans as were present in West Papua should gradually merge in the indigenous population. A Dutch parliamentary mission rejected, in 1953, definitely the idea of West Papua as a home for Indo-Europeans. Even in 1957, when, at the behest of Sukarno, the great exodus of Indo-Europeans from Indonesia started, there was never any serious talk of letting them settle in West Papua. A few hundred thousand of them ultimately settled in Holland.

To be continued

PS. The Sydney West Papua demonstration will take place on Sunday 2nd April at twelve noon in Hyde Park.

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