Indonesia Suppresses Indigenous Music, Culture In West Papua

Indonesia Suppresses Indigenous Music, Culture In West Papua

Indonesia Suppresses Indigenous Music, Culture In West Papua Blog, Indonesia, Pacific, Sounds, The Struggle, West Papua
April 20, 2012

Source: Tapol – Statement by Yan Christian Warimussy
– Translated by Carmel Budiardjo

Ever since the 1970s, the Indonesian government has been taking measures to supress the cultural rights of the indigenous Papua people.

This is clear from the murder of two indigenous Papuan cultural activists, the late Arnold Ap, curator of the Anthropological Museum of the Cenderawasih University, and Eduard Mofu, who was a member of the staff of the Museum, in April 1984. This crime against humanity was perpetrated by members of the army’s elite corps known as Kopasus which was present in the area at the time.

These murders were committed because the state apparatus suspected that Arnold Ap, Eduard Mofu and their Mambesak Music Group were using cultural activities to build resistance against Indonesia by promoting traditional Papuan songs which these people were bringing to light, performing and recording on cassettes and distributing to the Papuan people.

Ever since the death of these two cultural workers, we hardly ever hear the songs popularised by the Mambesak group of musicians on the radio or sung by groups of Melanesian musicians on instruments such as the guitar, the ukulele, the bass guitar or on drums and pipes.

Traditional Papuan songs such as Akai Bipamare, Domidou, Enambo Simbo, Nuru ai pami, Sye naek o, Orisyun and others are rarely heard on radio cassettes in the homes of indigenous Papuans It even happens that when Papuan people make music together in the style of the Mambesak group, on television or during church services on Sunday, some indigenous Papuans laugh at them as if this was something funny or strange and not an integral part of their own culture.

Sometimes, these traditional songs are indeed performed by Papuan groups but these days they are sung in the style of Malukan or Batak music, and not in the way they were performed by those two murdered cultural workers.

Actions to suppress the cultural rights of the indigenous Papuan people are conducted on a structural and systematic basis, such as excluding these songs with the accompaniment of wind instruments from the song book which was published by the Rev. Isaac Semuel Kijne. This is because the second song, Hai Tanah Nieuw Guinea, is suspected by the Indonesian government as being tainted with separatism. The fact of the matter is that all the seven songs have nothing to do with separatism but have simply used Papuan words in their titles and a few words in the verses.

In my opinion, the songs included in the collection, Nyanyian Seruling Emas, have all emerged from the social and communal traditions and cultural patterns of the indigenous people, even though these lyrics were written by Dutch missionaries who were in Papua at the time.

As result of all this, these songs are not taught to people anywhere in Papua or in any Sunday Schools.

This is a matter of great concern for all indigenous Papuans because churches throughout Papua as well as the Papua Customary Council (DAP) and the Papuan Arts Council should take immediate action to ensure the protection of these Papuan cultural rights in conformity with the laws in force.



This onslaught against Papuan culture was expressed on the very first day that Indonesia was able, under the terms of the New York Agreement, to take control of West Papua. I personally was alerted of the fact that from Day One, the cultural attributes of the Papuan people were subjected to extermination, as is related in the following comment I wrote many years later:

‘When Indonesia seized control of West Papua on 1 May 1963, one of the first things the Indonesian armed forces did was to stage a public display of the suppression of Papuan cultural identity and the destruction of Papuan political activities.

‘The day following the seizure, a huge bonfire was organised in the main square of Jayapura, presided over by Indonesia’s Minister of Culture, Rusiah Sardjono. Symbols of public life, cultural artefacts, school books and Papuan flags were set ablaze. About 10,000 Papuans were herded into the square to watch the ceremonial burning of what was described as “their cultural identity”.

‘Later that month, Presidential Decree No 8 imposed a ‘political quarantine’. All Papuan political activities were suspended and all Papuan political parties were disbanded. In doing this, the Indonesians recognised that the Papuan people had a distinctive culture and a thriving political life which had to be suppressed in order to make sure that Indonesia’s grip would not be challenged.’


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