An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
REGARDLESS of the many cries about corruption and the marginalisation of its indigenous people, Papua New Guinea is following a development path which will gradually lead the nation to the apex of power in the region.
This optimistic view is powered by the fact that the island nation is “an island of gold floating on a sea of oil powered by gas” - a saying that is becoming legendary across the island as many writers use it to give hope to the hopeless and throw the seeds of patriotism into a nation divided by tribalism.
The changes happening in PNG should worry Indonesia. Gone are the days of the 1990s when PNG citizens stressed themselves into thinking that an Indonesian invasion was imminent. There were many rumours.
The adage ‘with great power comes great responsibility’,made famous in the Toby Maguire Spiderman movie, is one that current and future PNG decision-makers should keep in mind. As PNG continues to grow will it continue to turn a blind eye to the West Papua independence issue, or will it find a solution to this humanitarian fiasco?
The time seems right for PNG to ponder the possibility of creating a united Papuan nation. The idea of a united Papuan nation occupying the whole island of New Guinea is tantalising.
PNG as a growing power will, in time, have a radical leader with an aggressive and expansionist foreign policy approach. The foreign policy at that future time will affect the dynamics of PNG and Indonesia’s bilateral relations because it will be based on promoting Papuan identity and creating a strong Papuan nation.
That needs a shift in PNG’s raison d’étre to facilitate a move of this magnitude. On top of its traditional interest in developing through cooperation, it will be time for PNG to be interested in territorial expansion.
For geopolitical reasons, the island should have been one country in the beginning. The colonial powers especially Great Britain, Australia and the Netherlands, and including the United Nations, were selfish and arrogant not to push for political union.
They knew that the sane thing was to unite the island because of geography, culture and shared ethnicity.
The island with its rugged geographical terrain and lush vegetation is home to people who share similar cultures.
Apart from the overused categorisation of being Melanesians, West Papuans are Papuans like those living on the eastern side of the island. The Malay word puah-puah meaning ‘frizzly-haired’ describes the inhabitants of the island of New Guinea.
When Jorge de Meneses touched down on the west coast of the main island in 1526 and called it ‘Ilhas dos Papuas’ (Island of the Papuans) he was in fact prophesying that one day this island will be one great island nation.
The name New Guinea is not necessary, because it is not as symbolic. The name New Guinea was given by Inigo Oritz de Retes in 1545 when he arrived on the north coast. He thought that the inhabitants looked like the people of Guinea in Africa so he gave it the name ‘Neuva Guinea’.
It is more fitting for the inhabitants of the island to see themselves as Papuans and not New Guineans. To be called a Papuan is more meaningful and respectful than to be called after the people of Guinea in Africa.
For centuries the Papuans on our island lived peacefully in small isolated societies. Their history is not similar to the Chinese, French, English or any other people with a monarchical or imperial system.
Throughout the world’s history when one clan’s population grew it needed more land. To acquire land the clan trained its clansmen in the art of war. Once empowered with fighting prowess, the clansmen fought hard to expand the clan boundaries. Powerful clans eventually spread their influence and became empires and kingdoms with a monarchial system of rule.
The same might have happened on our island, given time.
Imagine the king of the island and his castle in the interior, now home to the Highlanders. The aggressive nature and robust warrior-like features of Highlanders makes it easy to assume that this group of people would have dominated all other ethnic groups on the island.
Their alliance with the Sepiks on the north coast and the Goilalas and Orokaivians in the south-west would have consolidated their rule. The Sepiks like the Highlanders are known for their aggressive nature and the Goilala and Oro people are also known for their warrior traits.
Apart from the groups in the highlands, there are others on the coast known for their superior fighting skills and strategies. The Mailuans on the Papuan coast showed their dominance by setting up a small empire within their zone of influence before the coming of Europeans.
The Island of New Guinea would have been made up of various kingdoms vying for supremacy by spinning lies, engaging in blood baths, and making alliances. Like Game of Thrones….
If that was the case then the whole island would have had a strong sense of oneness. This would have made it difficult for Europeans to easily colonise the land for gold, glory and God. One is left to ponder about how the history of the island would have turned out if that was the case.
The recent case of Russia moving in to, it argues, protect ethnic Russians in Crimea is a precedent that a future expansionist PNG leader will not doubt consider. West Papuans are Papuans like those living on the Eastern side of the border. This connection gives the expansionist leader the right to fight for the other half of the island.
The Indonesians are aware of the fact that West Papua does not really fit into the picture of the state they are trying to build. The idea of a West Papuan becoming the next president of Indonesia is a far-fetched fantasy that will not happen in the next 100 years. It is evident that the West Papuans have no future under Indonesia.
It is against international law to intervene in the internal affairs of another state but what about the case of the United States in Iraq and Libya? The West has, under the pretext of spreading democracy, meddled in the internal affairs of many sovereign states over the years.
Under a radical leader and driven by an expansionist foreign policy, PNG could militarise and move its forces into the West Papuan province to challenge Indonesian dominance. The Chinese have shown in their historical narratives as portrayed in the works of Sun Tzu that military battles can be won with a minimal number of soldiers.
The excellent knowledge of the terrain and good guerilla fighting skills would make the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka) a formidable ally if the expansionist PNG leader could somehow manage to negotiate a deal.
The OPM together with the PNG military and, if need be, a conscripted force made up of the many unemployed roving marijuana addicts could possibly challenge the might of Indonesia.
Such a policy would have great impact on Australia. Where will Australia stand? Will Australia support an expansionist PNG or will it back Islamic Indonesia? Would Australia with the help of the United States be able to quash such a move through regime change before the foreign policy was implemented? Or would Australia play the middleman and negotiate for peace between Indonesia and PNG?
Australia might feel it had to help its former colonial territory and so-called small brother. This historical connection means that Australia shares a deep bond with PNG, unlike Indonesia.
This camaraderie was depicted at Kokoda and enshrined in the Bomana war cemetery which is a hot spot for high profile Australian political visitors. Every visit the broadcast rhetoric resonates with the significance of the PNG-Australia partnership.
The clock is ticking as the world watches the West Papuans fight for their freedom. Very soon a leader of great calibre and with a mindset like toughened steel will rise up in PNG and change the cause of history forever.