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Papuan self-determination - Historical roots VIII

Arie Brand's excellent introduction to the politics of West Papua continues, exclusive to Webdiary. If anyone needs to catch up:

Part I Economically "worthless"?
Part II Papua as Indo-European 'homeland'
Part III Strategic Considerations
Part IV The Linggajati Agreement
Part V The Round Table Conference
Part VI 1950 -The first year test
Part VII Dutch-Indonesian relations - From bad to worse

Gradual Evolution

by Arie Brand

Though the idea of self-determination had been an important factor in keeping Papua, at any case for the time being, out of what was then still the United States of Indonesia, the Dutch were in the first half of the fifties far too optimistic about the time they would have to prepare the Papuans for this. They were thinking in terms of gradual evolution that would require a few generations. In 1954 the New Guinea Government opened a School for Civil Administration in what was then Hollandia (now Jayapura).

This requires some explanation. Until not long before that the required qualification for employment in the Netherlands East Indies field service as a district officer (controleur) was the Dutch equivalent of a Master's degree in 'Indology', a subject consisting of a combination of ethnology, islamology, language, law etc. With the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia the relevant faculties in Leiden and Utrecht had disappeared. It was the idea of Dr. Jan van Baal, the then Governor of New Guinea, to start with a course in New Guinea, having this supplemented by a few years field service after which chosen candidates would have further appropriate university training in Holland. This whole idea was based on the belief that at least one group of young civil servants would spend their entire career in Papua - a belief that must have been shared by all who were involved in authorizing funding for this rather costly set up.

Governor Van Baal, who was no fool, testified to this belief in the speech, given on 27th December 1954, at the opening of this School (of which I attended the first course - the text of this speech is added as an appendix to his two volume autobiography Ontglipt Verleden - The past that has slipped away - op cit). He posed there the question how the population could be prepared for independence in a democratic spirit and from what he said there it is clear that he thought in the first place of the creation of representative bodies on the local and regional level. But it is also clear that he apparently believed that there was still enough time for this. He told us that, since we were on average, 22,23 years old, we would probably be working in the country for another 27 years, and he compared these coming years to the period 1904 – 1931 in the history of Indonesia: 1904, the beginning of the period Van Heutsz, the period of expansion and further intensification of administrative control, and 1931 as the year in which ‘all causes were already present for the storms that since have gone over that country…’(Van Baal, 1989, VolII, p600).

This idea that evolution should be slow and solid was, by and large, also the view of the home government. It should be said, however, that the then largest parliamentary party, the Catholic People’s Party, showed on a few occasions that it did not share this view. So said the parliamentarian De Graaf, speaking about the West Papuan population. in behalf of this party on 16th December 1952 in parliament inter alia:

Though political maturity might not be achieved for decades, yet the rights linked to this will be demanded at an early stage, even in a sphere of conflict unless we conduct a policy based on a great breadth of view.

Exactly two years later, and in the same month in which Governor Van Baal spoke the words I have quoted above, he came back to this theme and stressed that it was a universal phenomenon for not self-administered territories to demand independence at an early stage and that if one wanted to prepare the population of West Papua for self-determination ‘this had to be done in all possible respects at great speed’ (Graaf ThMJ de (1960), Tegen wil en dank - Whether we want it or not - in Van't Veer, P. (op cit) pp100-101).

It is remarkable that, in neither his words nor in those of Van Baal, there was any reference to Indonesia’s claim to the region. However, it was this that really speeded up the development in the way De Graaf had deemed necessary. In the second half of the fifties and especially from 1960 onward the Netherlands made great haste with the preparations for independence.

Indonesia's increasingly more threatening tone was the main factor here, even though Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Luns kept assuring the cabinet that he had assurances from the US that it would come to its faithful NATO-partner's assistance in case of an armed conflict with Indonesia. To what extent the US was really committed to this is still a matter of discussion. Luns's opponents, who have multiplied with the benefit of hindsight, have argued that American 'assurances' only consisted of a fairly vaguely worded written note by the then American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, that Luns managed to get out of him during a dinner party on the first of October 1958 at the residence of the Dutch Ambassador in the U.S., JH van Roijen. The impression is created that it was written on a napkin or even Luns's cuff. This document is popularly called 'Dulles's scrap of paper'.

The Professor of diplomatic history at the University of Leiden, Albert Kersten, has in his valedictory lecture on the 14th of October last year forcefully argued against this notion. According to him 'Dulles's scrap of paper', written on paper with the letterhead of Ambassador Van Roijen, did indeed exist but that was not more than a motherhood statement concerning Washington's support for principles of international law and the maintenance of peace. Dulles' statement on which Luns based his assurances dated from the 7th of October and was written on paper with the letterhead of the State Department. Kersten said:

Dulles summoned Ambassador Van Roijen on the seventh of October to hand him the statement concerning the American rejection of violence in the solution of territorial conflicts and its conviction that Indonesia would not use violence in the dispute concerning New Guinea. Van Roijen's first question was what the American government would do if Jakarta would use violence anyway. Dulles could not and did not wish to give a direct answer to this and certainly did not want to enter into any commitment. The approval of Congress would be necessary for any military action. He referred to comparable situations, such as Taiwan and the recent American interference in Libanon, as the pattern to be expected (Kersten A. 2005, Het vodje van Dulles 1958 - 1962 - Dulles's scrap of paper 1958 - 1962, Valedictory lecture, Univ. of Leiden, my translation AB).

Van Roijen said later that he interpreted the statement as evidence of America's interest in and concern about the conflict but for the rest he saw no more in it than testimony that the powerful ally 'was against sin'. Luns, however, saw in Dulles's (oral) reference to Taiwan an implicit promise of American military support in case the Indonesians attacked. Dulles's statement was published with the US Secretary of State's approval, and it was taken note of in Dutch cabinet and in the parliamentary dealings with the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in November 1958. For Kersten this statement was thus far from a scrap of paper as the 'myth makers' (his word) had made of it since 1960. Well, yes, perhaps it wasn't in 1958 but the question is to which extent it became so after the inauguration of the Kennedy administration.

But at any case the idea that the Papuans could be prepared for independence over the course of a few generations had definitely gone - the target date now became the year 1970. In 1959 the Dutch New Guinea government started setting up elected regional councils. In February 1961 elections were held for the New Guinea Council, which was inaugurated in April 1961. This inauguration was attended by representatives from Britain and Australia. A representative from the US was notably lacking.

To be continued.


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van der post

Trevor, you were quite right in prefacing your quote of Van der Post with the proviso "if he can be believed."

The unfortunate truth is that he can't. I suspected that ever since I read his book on Jung which seemed to me so much nonsense interspersed with fantasies (for instance about the degree of his intimacy with Jung). His biographer, JDF Jones (Teller of many Tales, London 2001) has since then nailed his many fantasies and lies in what must have been one of the most spectacular examples of the debunking of a fraudulent celebrity in recent times.

Here are a few passages of reviews of this biography. The first of these are from the review by Matt Steinglass in the Chicago Sun of Sept 1 2001:

He was also a compulsive liar. Handsome and charming, van der Post honed his storytelling skills by spinning whoppers. He fantastically claimed to be a seasoned whale hunter, to have served as military governor of Indonesia, and to have personally negotiated the transition to black rule in Zimbabwe. A captain in the British army, he spent his entire time in the POW camps pretending to be a lieutenant colonel; amazingly, he got away with it.

Worst of all, the man whom admirers dubbed "the white Bushman" seems to have drawn all he knew of Bushman culture from a single two- week encounter in 1955. In the 1980s he parlayed his half-invented tales of Bushmen and Zulus into a role as Margaret Thatcher's unofficial South Africa adviser, and very nearly ran Britain's policy in that nation off the rails.

JDF Jones has spent years untangling the snarls of van der Post's life and fictions. The resulting biography is relentlessly entertaining. Van der Post emerges as both sympathetic and repulsive, an untrustworthy rake with a nagging inferiority complex and an absurdly romantic world view, composed of equal parts DH Lawrence and H Rider Haggard.

And here are a few passages from David Anderson's review in The English Historical Review of June 2003:

But the excitement of the biographer's task must have heightened once it was realized that much of this public life was in fact a confection of deceits and fabrications, half-truths and fantasies. Jones has given us the story of the manufacturing of celebrity - the self-conscious and deliberate distorting of his life by van der Post himself. It is a brilliantly researched book, unpicking the intricate weave of fantasy and truth from the published works and the collections of private and family papers. It is not clear whether the van der Post family hoped to save Laurens's reputation by granting Jones access to these papers, but what the biographer has accomplished is a masterful debunking of a modern myth.

At the beginning of the war Van der Post was posted in Africa

...and it is here that Jones finds the first threads in the tapestry of fantasy that became the many lives of Laurens van der Post. Writing to his mistress at the time, van der Post invented a series of tales about his exploits in the Abyssinia campaign. From there, he was posted to the Far East. Here again, Jones exposes the gulf between van der Post's later writings about his exploits as a guerrilla fighter and the more mundane reality of his circumstances assisting in the Allied retreat from Java. Van der Post would weave his fantasies of these wartime campaigns into his writings over the next four decades, building his reputation and credibility as he did so. After the war, Laurens took up a new career as a travel writer, embarking upon a series of journeys around Africa. These books earned his reputation as one of the great travel writers, especially his writings on the Kalahari. But, just as van der Post lied about his military service, his African journeys were seldom in reality as they appeared on the page. His influential works on southern Africa shamelessly borrowed from the work of earlier writers without acknowledgement: the best stories were not his, and had never been told to him; and Laurens made up what he could not plagiarize. Jones sets this all out with meticulous care, giving a powerful sense of van der Post's conscious manipulation of the facts.

Yet, as the article by Professor Drooglever to which you provided a link makes clear, this fantasist had quite a lot of influence on British policy towards post war Indonesia through the story he told Edwina Mountbatten during her early visit to post war Java. Through her Van der Post's views reached the ears of the Supreme Allied Commander in that area, Mountbatten.

It is quite obvious that Van der Post could not be well informed on the prevailing situation in Java because he had then only been for a few weeks out of the Japanese camp he had been interned in (and where apparently he developed a solid grudge against his Dutch fellow-prisoners ).

To a more hard-headed person than Edwina Mountbatten , Admiral Patterson, the commander on board of the ship that Van der Post described in the turgid prose you quoted, this seems to have been rather clear.

Drooglever provides a clue to this matter. Mountbatten asked Patterson about a report by a certain "Lambert" which seemed to be missing. Patterson made clear that he had disposed of it providing the following reason: He has painted the picture in far too vivid colours and is naturally rather unbalanced after all he has been through.

Nobody, says Drooglever, has ever been able to identify this Lambert but Van der Post's first name was Laurens and it is quite plausible that it was him whom the Admiral deemed 'rather unbalanced'. A decoding error could have been at the bottom of this.

Van der Post's comparisons of Dutch and British colonialism, where the first is painted in the blackest dye, to have the appropriate background for the shining qualities of noble and generous British colonialism, are absurd. Apparently he never read the publications of the British colonial civil servant who was well qualified to make this comparison, JS Furnivall.

The Wikipedia piece on Van der Post still sticks to the 'official' biography of the celebrity Van der Post even though it grudgingly refers to the Jones-book.

Incidentally, Professor Drooglever is the historian who was commissioned by the previous Dutch Foreign Minister to provide a report on the so-called 'Act of Free Choice' in Papua - a report that was about six years in the making and appeared as a voluminous book last year.

The present Dutch government has tried to distance itself from this report by pretending that somehow it did not originate in a government commission. When Dutch PM,  Jan Pieter Balkenende,  was queried on this report on Lateline, during his recent visit to Australia, he pretended that it all came from a request by members of parliament. This is not untrue but it is only a half truth. Aartsen, the previous Foreign Minister who commissioned the report, has called these manoeuvres by the present Dutch government 'grotesque'.

Tropical hardwood

In August 1945, when Laurens van der Post was released after three years in a Japanese PoW camp in Java, he was immediately drafted by the British military to act as middleman in negotiations between the British, Japanese, Dutch and Indonesians. If he can be believed, his actions were pivotal to effecting a relatively smooth handover of Indonesia from the Japanese to the British.

He published 'The Admiral's Baby' in 1996, 50 years after the events, and at the end of his life. Here is an extract, from Chapter Two (pages 36-39) that may provide an insight to relationships between Indonesia and Australia:

As we left the harbour the day was still of an incredible beauty, perhaps at the peak of the beauty that those Javanese mornings achieved before the sun took over and burned them into a feverish, blinding heat-haze, which was its preparation for the temples and palaces of cloud it invariably summoned out of the sea and which by afternoon had formed a cathedral city in the sky. It was as if there was just sufficient moisture in the air to lead to an all-round refraction of light which imparted a subtle rainbow glow to the day and made an opal of the light. For me there was always magic in that moment and no light could have been more evocative. Then, suddenly, in the haze gathering on the far horizon in front of us, a darkening of this opalescent glow began to assert itself; and then, as if it were not substantial and real and made of steel but rather a coloured photographic print emerging from its negative, the outline of a great ship appeared. At our orders the pilot immediately reduced speed and slowly, as this ship became increasingly clearly defined, we went towards her and she approached as if not under her own power but, to my heightened senses, magically drawn towards us until there was, distinct and clear, a British cruiser, hardly moving at all. The absence of a wake showed that her engines had been stopped. There was no ripple across her fine-cut bows and clearly she was gliding in this dignified and elegant way into the moment when her anchors would be dropped. Watching through a pair of German military glasses we had obtained from the Japanese, there came a moment when the ship's guns, on which I had concentrated most of all, seemed to me to be slowly turning in our direction. At once I climbed on to the fore-deck and, with the pilot flag in my hand, began to signal the ship in the semaphore that was still being taught in our classical army training at the beginning of the war:
`British officers approaching. Repeat. British officers approaching.'
Almost at once I saw how right we had been in anticipating that the watch on us from the ship would be intense, because the response from her gunners was instantaneous. Like the fingers of a hand stretched out in a gesture of peace the guns did a brief waggle, and I knew our message had been received.
Soon we were alongside and there was a ship's ladder ready with an able seaman to help us up. The bosun, seeing my home-made badges of rank, immediately began to pipe me on board. It was one of the most wonderful sounds I have ever heard in my life. I was so deeply moved that I did not know quite how I was going to contain myself, feeling rather as I imagined horses feel when they hear mili-tary music for the first time, not knowing where to hold their heads and a shiver going through their skins, and it brought me close to tears. But I must have contained myself, because there I was stepping on to the quarterdeck of HMS Cumberland, the flagship of the Fifth Cruiser Squadron, and giving her the best military salute I have ever given anybody or anything.

What Alan and van Till felt I could not tell because I was immediately taken aside by the officer of the day. They presumably were taken in charge by another officer to deal with their own RAPWI business, and I did not see them again that day. I was conducted below and found myself in a room full of men in uniform, mostly the uniform of the Dutch forces, as at the Allied headquarters in Bandoeng.

And then there was Admiral Patterson, the CS5 himself. His tall figure made him look slender and elegant in comparison with the assembly of robust officers packed into his room, and his features were clean-cut and unusually defined. His wide, intense blue eyes darkened, I thought, for a moment with a shadow of concern as his hand came forward and he took my own and shook it warmly.

It had been a good three weeks since our release from captivity and first access to normal food, and I was getting physically stronger. Nonetheless, I must still have looked ill-fed and prison-worn in that context and the Admiral, in a voice rounded with natural feeling, urged me to sit down at once, beside him. The sudden cancellation of all the years of human and physical denial and the inrush of spontaneous humanity were so overwhelming that I was not even certain the chair in which I sat could hold me. I steadied myself and looked around at this room crowded with officers. They were, with one exception large men for whom, whatever the war had imposed on them, denial of physical sustenance had not been one of their trials.

There was only one small person in the uniform of the Dutch civil service whom I recognized at once from the many descriptions I had had of his person and character from officers in prison who had served with him in the course of his long career. Slight, bearded, obviously tense and highly strung, he was the embodiment of the voice I had heard so often on the radio, railing against Soekarno and Hatta and all the Indonesian collaborators and warning that they would be hanged: Mr van der Plas. He was almost over-eager to begin whatever was in the minds of himself and his fellow officers.

I do not remember the words with which Admiral Patterson took charge of the occasion then, though I do remember being grateful that I had prepared myself for this moment by writing those long and meticulous reports on Indonesia. I presented them immediately to the Admiral, explained what they were and asked him if they could be read first, before I made my report and answered any questions. This made immediate sense to the Admiral, and I remember him smiling and saying something to the effect that it would give me a chance to have a good warm drink of some kind, with which he was sure I could do.

There followed some hours of intense interrogation. My intelligence report astonished even the Admiral, but the Dutch contingent of high-ranking civil affairs officers and representatives of other services were filled with disbelief. I in my turn was astonished that their ignorance of what had been happening in Java, not just since their capitulation but over the past three weeks, was even greater than I in my most extreme anxieties had presupposed from listening to their radio. But gradually the interrogation and my answers penetrated, the atmosphere became more sombre, and for the moment Mr van der Plas suppressed his eagerness to go ashore and hoist the Dutch flag over the government buildings in Batavia. I can remember how startled and aghast they were when I told him there could be no question of hoisting flags at the moment because only the day before I had received a report from Sourabaya that some Dutch prisoners, who had left their camp against orders and had hoisted the Dutch flag in the city, had been set upon and murdered by an incensed Indonesian mob. Somehow I knew already, from my experience in Java and my feel for the concealed volcanic element in the character of the people, that the more collective the social patterns to which they conformed became, the more easily they were inflamed by the simplest of symbols. It was always a source of comfort to me that, in the fierce little skirmish fought in Cumberland over this issue that night, with Admiral Patterson's support I emerged the victor, because hoisting flags of one's own and pulling other people's down was, over the months that followed, to become about the most dangerous and provocative sport in which Javanese and Dutch could indulge.

It was late afternoon when I finished. The Dutch were astonished to discover that Java was not, as they had expected, a piece of scorched earth. There were no bridges blown, no factories burnt, no power stations out of electricity. Trains and communications services were still running in a surprising measure, and the Javanese subordinate services, challenged to do all that their masters had done before, had risen to that challenge in a remarkable way.

I remember almost the last question I had to answer was from one the tallest and biggest of the men there, a Dutch airforce officer high rank, who asked me if I had by any chance on my journey round the women's internment camps come across his wife. He broke down when I told him how, by some extraordinary coincidence, she was the lady who had just visited me in my office at the Hotel des Indes, and there was no reason why he should not be able to see her the moment he went ashore.

I had a feeling of guilt at my unaccustomed cynicism and apprehension that their reunion might not be permanent (and indeed it did not last beyond some six months). I thought of the fine-drawn features of the woman's face, deeply etched, as in a Rembrandt sketch, by the shadows cast by the electric light of my office, and her sense of foreboding, joined to the expression of three years of suffering and deprivation which took over as soon as she ceased to speak. And I looked at him, so exactly like the dozen or more Dutch officers I had seen at Wavell's headquarters on my arrival in Java at the beginning of 1942. I had been quite shocked by the appearance of all the Dutch officers on his staff: not one of them was not overweight. At eleven o'clock on a hot tropical morning they were all served with large plates of thick pea-and-ham soup, and again at lunch they all began with gin, followed by beer, and a rice table in the highest Javanese fashion. If differences of physique could convey the truth, I could see how justified was the fear which she had expressed intuitively of the difficulties there would be between all like herself and the world they were about to meet, which had gone through the war safe and well-fed in Australia.

More on the same era, by a Prof. Pieter Drooglever, in SEAC in Indonesia, voicies from the past?

From 'Gossip from the Forest', page 162 (Hodder and Stoughton, 1983 edition), a novel set around the signing of the Armistice by Thomas Keneally.

Erzberger: Do you know that they, those Junker bastards, have never forgiven me. Not for eating spatzle. But for telling people how we were treating the Africans. Maiberling: Yes. Yes.
Erzberger: I told the house that a Prussian army shot thirty thousand East Africans in one year and burned crops so that another quarter of a million starved. These are recorded deaths.
Maiberling: Yes. Yes. I know you -
Erzberger: I told the Germans that General von Trotha ordered the shooting of every male Herero in South-West Africa. And drove the women into the Kalahari.
Maiberling: I know, I know, I know. Don't boast. It made your career when you were very young. General von Trotha was a gift from God.
Erzberger: Is that the kind of mind you have?
But even behind his fury he was thinking, yes, that's the size of it. There's so much fat politician in me. Even if not enough to make life always comfortable.
Maiberling: What were you? Thirty? Thirty-one? The bloody Hereros set you up for life.

This is reference to the Herero Genocide, of which van der Post would have been aware. Considering his feelings for the San people of the Kalahari, this persecution of the Herero may have been part of the foundation of his sympathy for the Indonesian fight against the evils of colonialism.

From Why forests matter: Not out of the woods just yet, International Herald Tribune:

First, we must connect local, informal foresters, who harvest timber and other forest products for a small fraction of their value, to better markets. A good example is in Papua New Guinea. A community there receives the equivalent about $13 for a cubic meter of tropical hardwood. That same cubic meter of wood, transferred through a series of intermediaries, shows up in New York Harbor with a new price tag, $700. Minimally processed into thin veneer, it sells for $2,300. That same cubic meter, fully finished, goes for more than $3,000. Small forest holders who receive just pennies on the dollar for a valuable natural resource can hardly be expected to practice sustainable forestry. Opening access to regional and global markets at fair value will create strong incentives for sustainable forest management.

The immediate outlook, for the Melanesian peoples of the densely forested islands to our north, is intrinsically linked to the fate of their forests. From BHP's viewpoint, the sooner the forests are destroyed - by logging and/or fire - the sooner Australian family investors can reap the rewards of gold, copper and tin from the mountains. 

Small Window for Peace in Papua

Lee Hudson from the Council on Foreign Relations, New York, made contact with this link of interest to Papua watchers.

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