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Permissive Residents

Permissive Residents: West Papuan refugees living in Papua New Guinea

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: ANU Press
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    Permissive Residents
    Book Description:

    This book offers another frame through which to view the event of the outrigger landing of 43 West Papuans in Australia in 2006. West Papuans have crossed boundaries to seek asylum since 1962, usually eastward into Papua New Guinea (PNG), and occasionally southward to Australia. Between 1984-86, around 11,000 people crossed into PNG seeking asylum. After the Government of PNG acceded to the United Nations Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, West Papuans were relocated from informal camps on the international border to a single inland location called East Awin. This volume provides an ethnography of that settlement based on the author's fieldwork carried out in 1998-99.

    eISBN: 978-1-921536-23-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Glossary
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Prologue Intoxication flag
    (pp. 1-12)

    Since 1961, West Papuan people in the ′Indonesian Province′ of Papua raising the Morning Star flag in public have been shot by Indonesian soldiers.¹ Public declarations of allegiance to West Papuan nationhood broadcast beneath the flag have provoked violent retaliation. Raising the flag in public recalls the nascent state. It acts to constitute a West Papuan people and place, momentarily establishing the legitimacy of an alternative regime outside of the Indonesian state.² While West Papuan people at the East Awin refugee settlement in Papua New Guinea (PNG) no longer fear being shot down for raising the flag, the affect is...

  7. Chapter 1 Speaking historically about West Papua
    (pp. 13-30)

    Indonesian administration of Irian Jaya was overseen by President Suharto from 1967 until his forced resignation on 21 May 1998. Under the leadership of then President Sukarno, it was Suharto who led the military campaign that ′liberated′ Netherlands New Guinea from the Dutch (1961–66). Suharto′s resignation resonated among West Papuans at East Awin. People were not jubilant, but the spirit or elan of the settlement lifted subtly. Not long after hearing the news of his downfall on my shortwave radio, I was visiting the house of Mientje, a middle-aged woman who worked as a nurse at the East Awin...

  8. Chapter 2 Culture as the conscious object of performance
    (pp. 31-50)

    I stumbled across Arnold Ap in Benedict Anderson′s book Imagined communities while reading for an undergraduate course in nationalism. Anderson wrote that the link between Ap′s occupation as curator at the Cenderawasih University Museum in Jayapura and his ′assassination′ was not accidental: ′for museums, and the museumising imagination, are both profoundly political′.¹ In 1997, 13 years after Ap′s death, I visited the Cenderawasih Museum. It was in a parlous state. Walls were discoloured with mildew, and timber artefacts were so riddled with borers that unswept tailings lay piled beneath displays. The museum consisted of four galleries of ethnology and natural...

  9. Chapter 3 A flight path
    (pp. 51-62)

    Mambesak members once danced semi-clothed as a statement against the Indonesian government′s Koteka Operation which aimed to eliminate aspects of highland culture, including the wearing of the koteka or penis gourd. The koteka has ambiguous meanings. Some Indonesians refer to West Papuan people as ′koteka′. In this context it is a pejorative exonym, reifying West Papuan people as a category. (Although koteka is only worn by highlander men.) Yet koteka is also an object that marks out non-Indonesianness, for there are no other koteka wearers in the Indonesian archipelago. Koteka signifies Melanesianness, as it is worn in several places across...

  10. Chapter 4 Sensing displacement
    (pp. 63-76)

    Katarina did not say how she knew that she had crossed the international border into PNG. She said: ′We knew we were drawing close to the border. We met a hunter on the road. He said that we were heading to ″PNG″. We did not know PNG. At the end of 1979, we reached the border.′ Her journey from the highlands of Irian Jaya to the international border took two years to complete. In contrast, most of the refugees at East Awin were Muyu whose dusun was located within several days′ walking distance from the camp. The location of ′East...

  11. Chapter 5 Refugee settlements as social spaces
    (pp. 77-84)

    On Saturday afternoons, women sellers spread their produce on empty 10-kilogram rice bags outside the Saint Bertilla Catholic Church, located at the opening of Atkamba camp at East Awin. They offered fresh pig meat cut into portions, smoked couscous carcass, raw and cooked gomo nuts from the breadfruit tree, unshelled peanuts tied by their stalks into bunches, red chillis and ginger, taro, cassava and sweet potato, a variety of greens, a dozen types of banana, pineapples and soursop. On one particular Saturday while stopping to buy eggs from a seller, I found myself standing next to Cecilia. She introduced the...

  12. Chapter 6 Inscribing the empty rainforest with our history
    (pp. 85-94)

    Cutting through the coarse outer skin of the pineapple, Regina scored the eyes until the flesh was smooth. Juice coursed down the knife blade dripping though the slatted floor to the dusty ground below. She passed the pineapple on a tin plate and sat beside me on the floor, eyeing me keenly. Then she apologised for the taste of the pineapple, it was neither sweet nor fragrant compared to those grown in her own dusun. Cucumbers and bananas were also without aroma. Regina told me that in her own place, she could not open the skin of a baked banana...

  13. Chapter 7 Unsated sago appetites
    (pp. 95-106)

    Yakub′s house is 2 metres off the ground, its narrow front porch with overhanging sago roof only accessible via a steep ladder. These are not the kum steps of Markus′s house but a vertical ladder. The slatted floor is made from spindly lengths of black palm. Walking across the floor was a delicate exercise. I initially tried to ensure that my bodyweight was evenly balanced over flattened feet, but quickly learned of the resilient nature of black palm, and the way that it springs back beneath the foot. The sago leaf roof was sooty black, cured by hearth smoke against...

  14. Chapter 8 Becoming translokal
    (pp. 107-116)

    After only three years at East Awin, Conrad left in 1995 to make a reconnaissance journey to Irian Jaya to assess the feasibility of permanent return. In his absence, Conrad′s dusun and that of his neighbours had been levelled to the ground and developed as a transmigration settlement. Local landholders—Conrad′s neighbours—had been integrated into the settlement as translokal. They had been issued with a 2-hectare land parcel, a prefabricated timber dwelling, and food rations for the first season. Conrad′s return to East Awin in 1999 coincided with my research, and over many sessions he recounted the fate of...

  15. Chapter 9 Permissive residents
    (pp. 117-130)

    It was not the fact that six of her seven children had just been diagnosed with tuberculosis that Gisela had not slept the night before our visit. It was because of the torrential rain. Her roof comprised scraps of iron and bark, and thick plastic that had been ripped and torn by the winds. In a storm the plastic funnelled the water into the house. She had no money to purchase sago thatch, and no energy to harvest the leaves of the forest coconut palm. On stormy nights, resourceful Gisela would send her children, aged between five and sixteen, to...

  16. Chapter 10 Relocation to connected places
    (pp. 131-140)

    I heard news of a raid on East Awin by PNG riot police while waiting at the Kiunga harbour for a connection between motorised canoe travelling on the Fly River and a truck travelling inland to the refugee settlement. Some men who had acted as principal interlocutors in my research had been beaten in the raid. The news deeply disturbed me. I had been away from East Awin for six months, and the raid had occurred three months earlier in December 1998. It was reportedly carried out because of a riot at East Awin, but according to many refugees the...

  17. Chapter 11 Being ′indigenous′ in the Indonesian province of Papua
    (pp. 141-154)

    Lina was selling individual pieces of cutlery on a piece of hessian sacking in the East Awin market when we first met. As I passed by her in my search for chillis, she tugged at my billum. Woven from natural fibres and dyed with local pigments, the billum was one I had bought in Wamena, West Papua. From her seated position Lina pulled the billum to her body, and burying her face in it, inhaled deeply: ′O′, she cried, ′I can smell the soil of my place in this billum.′ I explained to Lina that I had bought it in...

  18. Coda: Forty-three West Papuans arrive in Australia by outrigger canoe, 2006
    (pp. 155-158)

    Seven years after completing fieldwork at East Awin, the arrival of 43 West Papuans by outrigger canoe accorded a certain currency to that fieldwork. The event of the arrival and the subsequent processing of asylum claims and issuing of temporary visas focused intense media and public attention on foreign policy relations between Australia and Indonesia.

    This book offers another ′frame′ through which to view the 2006 outrigger landing, for West Papuans have crossed boundaries to seek asylum since 1962, usually eastward into PNG and occasionally southward to Australia. This coda does not set out to provide new material, but draws...