‘Everything can be burnt’ – Melanesian West Papua in the Jokowi era

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The face of West Papuan society is changing but RNZ International found that the core culture of the indigenous people of Indonesia’s Papua region is not easily destroyed. Video: RNZI

On an island with the third largest rainforest in the world live an indigenous people who are quickly becoming a minority in their own land.

Sitting north of Australia and occupying the western half of the island of New Guinea is West Papua – a territory rich in natural resources which was formally but controversially absorbed into Indonesia in the 1960s following the withdrawal of Dutch colonial administration.

Indonesia's Papua region: the provinces of West Papua and Papua
Indonesia’s Papua region: the provinces of West Papua and Papua. Map: RNZI

West Papuans were largely excluded from that decision and for the past 50 years they have raised concerns about the infringement of their basic human rights in modern Indonesia.

Joko Widodo’s government has rejected these concerns saying living standards are improving for people in the Papua region, which appears at odds with the growing number of demonstrations by West Papuans calling for a legitimate self-determination process and an end to rights abuses.

Regardless, Indonesian rule means the face of West Papuan society is changing rapidly, but Radio New Zealand International journalists Johnny Blades and Koroi Hawkins found that the core culture of these Melanesian people is not easily destroyed.

RNZI’s Johnny Blades and Koroi Hawkins (video camera) interview the elusive Papuan Governor Lukas Enembe in 2015. Photo: Koroi Hawkins/RNZI

Written and produced by: Johnny Blades

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Camera: Koroi Hawkins

Editor: Jeremy Brick

This documentary was first broadcast by RNZ International on 23 December 2016 and has been republished here with permission.

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