west papua / refugees
This article examines how ethnographic representations of violence inflect contemporary understandings of West Papua and influence its politics. It describes how colonial depictions of perpetual warfare in the highlands became paradigmatic for the region. Recent forms of extreme tourism draw on these images in offering encounters with ‘lost tribes’ that undermine the credibility of West Papuan political actors. Similarly, an American mining company paid the Indonesian military for protection against the West Papuan resistance movement while ignoring the violence of state actors. However, the collapse of Suharto’s New Order Indonesia has facilitated the reinterpretation of merdeka (freedom) as social justice, suggesting alternative ways to conceptualize West Papua’s relationship to the Indonesian state. Recent efforts by West Papuan activists to mobilize the discourses of human rights and indigenous politics are contingent on displacing the narratives of violence that dominate popular understandings of West Papua. This article shows how ethnographic representations may have negative consequences for indigenous politics.
This article addresses the neglected subject of political violence in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya, known locally as West Papua. It asks how this regime of political violence is reproduced in and through representations of culture, gender and difference. It argues that rumours about state-sponsored violence contribute to both the experience and expression of terror. It examines how West Papuans understand, subvert and imagine alternatives to the political and symbolic forms of violence in which they are enmeshed. Finally, it compares rumour to ethnographic accounts and human rights reports, arguing that anthropologists have both political and ethnographic responsibilities to ‘bear witness’ to political violence and the mechanisms through which it is reproduced as terror.
Refugees and representation: Politics, critical discourse and ethnography along the New Guinea border. In Mainstream(s) and margins: Cultural politics in the 90s, eds. Michael Morgan and Susan Leggett, 222-236. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996.