Co-originator, Surfers for West Papua
Indonesian soldiers lead

“Indonesian security forces systematically silence West Papuan independence movements, through intimidation, imprisonment and assassination of its leaders.” Photo: Dan Field

The Inertia

Bali. The Mentawai Islands. G-Land. Nias. Ask your average surfer what comes to mind when you mention these places and he or she will tell you of perfect waves that break for hundreds of metres, tropically warm waters, cold Bintangs and friendly locals. For the majority of us, this is our perception of Indonesia, the archipelago nation on the southern fringes of South East Asia. It’s a perception that has remained relatively unchanged since the island of Bali was first pioneered by Aussie surfers in the 1970s.

This perception of Indonesia couldn’t contrast more strongly with that held by the original inhabitants of the two most eastern provinces of Indonesia – Papua and West Papua – known collectively to their people as West Papua. These people, who are ethnically, culturally, and often linguistically distinct from their Indonesian counterparts see Indonesia as a brutal occupier of what has been their homeland for the past 50,000 years. And unfortunately, it’s a perception that has been borne out by a bloody reality. Amnesty International estimates that at least 100,000 West Papuans have died at the hands of Indonesian security forces since Indonesia invaded the region in the 1960s.  Countless others have been tortured, raped, intimidated and unjustly imprisoned. West Papuans have been subjected to forced labor, dispossessed of their land, and are becoming increasingly marginalized and isolated through a transmigration program which has made them a minority in their own land. Together, the various atrocities committed against the first peoples of this region have been described as approaching genocide.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of what is happening in West Papua, it’s because the Indonesian Government desperately doesn’t want the world to know. West Papua is blessed – or perhaps cursed in this case – with bountiful natural resources and the Indonesian Government is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain control over these resources. To ensure this conflict remains one of the world’s most forgotten, the Indonesian Government has placed a near total ban on foreign media and human rights organizations entering the region while Indonesian security forces systematically silence West Papuan independence movements, through intimidation, imprisonment and assassination of its leaders.

Surfing sometimes takes us to exotic places far from home. During these trips we often come in contact with cultures quite different from our own, though we almost always return home with a sense that – at least at a basic level – we’re all connected as members of the human family. If we are to remain committed to this sense of humanity, we mustn’t exclude the cries of a people largely forgotten about by the rest of the world and particularly when these people are on the doorstep of some of our favourite waves. Although we are all tempted to cling on to the idea of a surfing paradise, we must change our perception of Indonesia to a place that is not only home to the kinds of waves we dream about, but also home to a government guilty of gross human rights violations.

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