>> Jumat, 21 Desember 2007
By Jason McLoad Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 12:05am
Posted in memory of Arnold Ap and Eddie Mofu, who were killed this day twenty years ago; and in memory of Sam Kapissa and Chief Yafet Yelamaken, two great songmen who both recently died in mysterious circumstances; and in tribute to the spirit of a new generation of poets and musicians in the Land of the Morning Star.
Singing for Life
Twenty years after the killing of Arnold Ap, music is still a potent source of cultural resistance in West Papua Just before he was murdered by Kopassus Indonesias notorious special forces -- renowned West Papuan musician and anthropologist, Arnold Ap wrote his last song. Ap, leader of the cultural music group Mambesak was living on borrowed time. He knew that the military wanted to kill him. Sitting beside an old portable tape recorder in his prison cell, guitar in hand, Ap lovingly recorded. The Mystery of Life. Then he wrapped the cassette up, stuffed it into an envelope with words of consolation and sent it to his wife, who had fled to a refugee camp in Papua New Guinea. The only thing I desire and am waiting for, Ap sung in the closing words of the song, is nothing else but freedom. Like his music and life, the words came from the heart, and gave voice to a desire that was at once personal and political, particular to his situation, but shared by all West Papuans.
Together with fellow musician Eddie Mofu, Arnold Ap was languishing in jail suspected by the Indonesian military of having sympathy with the West Papuan resistance movement, the OPM. West Papua had been occupied by the Indonesian military since the early sixties, and the movement for self-determination had taken root deep in the hearts of West Papuans. In a place where contested identities have become a site of struggle; music, song and dance became weapons. Mofu and Ap’s real crime was singing and dancing the traditional songs of his people, promoting pride in Papuan culture.
Each song is infused with this pride in being Papua. To see it you almost need to get inside the song itself. And to do that is to begin to understand something of West Papua. Through song, culture was uplifted, and people’s lives dignified. Lyrics and tunes celebrate the mystery and natural beauty of Papua, retell traditional legends, impart knowledge and wisdom, lament, laugh, rage, speak about the ordinariness of daily life, and the struggles and joys of relationships. They function as the glue that invokes soul, animates spirit, and reinforces identity through the
medium of oral traditions.
One Mambesak song, Awin Sup Ine sung in the Biak language is translated as follows: At twilight, the rays of the sun paint beautiful skyscapes, stirring the eye and heart. At these times, the lyrics continue, one cannot help but recall sweet moments from the past and feel again the bonds of love that bind one to the land.
Other songs sound clear warning bells, and evoke strong emotions. Muman Minggil is sung in the Auyi language from Arso, a region concentrated with security forces and ravaged by logging and oil palm plantations.
A catchy tune and a fast rhythm, but a sobering message: Times are changing rapidly, and the signs of the heritage left to us by our ancestors are disappearing from view; Remaining only are the ruins of our settlement, the villages no longer maintained, abandoned like orphaned children.
Many songs also have sophisticated double meanings. One such song, Nit Pughuluok En, crafted by Dani songman and widely respected elder, Chief Yafet Yelamaken, tells of the departure of a friend.
Who knows when you will be coming back, the song goes. My only hope is to pray that we shall meet again. Travel safely. However, the friend, Chief Yelamaken’s daughter explains to me, can also be read as the Indonesian government, who ultimately will leave West Papua. Tragically Chief Yelamaken died in a spate of fatal poisonings that felled many West Papuan cultural and civil society leaders. Although it has never been proven, many West Papuans feel certain it was a political assassination organised by the Indonesian military.
Nanen Babe from Sarmi on the north coast of Papua also has layers of meaning: The Morning Star appears in the east and will soon be followed by the sun. The beauty of the sky brings back memories of home. The last star in the inky darkness before the dawn, the light that guides fisherman safely home: little wonder the Morning Star has became a symbol of freedom, a representation of independence, a longing to be at home in ones own land. The song also invokes the creation story of Kumeseri the Morning Star -- in Biak language. Legend has it that Manarmakeri, a humble village man caught Kumeseri as the heavenly light descended to earth to drink palm wine. Manarmakeri struck a bargain with the star, receiving the gift of peace and renewal in return for letting Kumeseri go.
Refusing to keep the secrets for his tribe alone, Manarmakeri left West Papua on a journey to garner support to herald in a new age of freedom, peace, and justice. For Jakob Rumbiak, a West Papuan friend who endured ten years in Indonesia’s dungeons, once sharing a cell with Xanana Gusmao and now living in Melbourne, the story continues to have fresh meaning. Maybe Manarmakeri came to Australia? he asks.Maybe he wants you to join him to help free West Papua? And so the story continues. And so the power grows.
When Arnold Ap first began his work, however, many failed to understand his true purpose. "Maybe you think what I am doing is stupid, he once said, but it is what I think I should do for my people before I die". Yet Arnold Ap knew something of the animating spirit of Papua that shaped and inspired his people. Mambesak=92s simple underlying truth was that we are Melanesians and this is our land; a powerful message now taken up by rising West Papuan music and cultural sensation, Black Paradise.
History and identity in West Papua
To understand the power of music in West Papua one needs to understand the struggle for identity and the way this has become entwined with the struggle for self-determination. When Indonesia became independent the Dutch retained control of West Papua, arguing that the territory had no political or cultural links with the rest of the archipelago. Indonesia was affronted. Nationalist president Sukarno felt that the struggle for liberation against the Dutch would not be completed until West Papua was returned to the fold of the motherland. A master strategist, Sukarno would do anything to win the territory from the Dutch. It was the cold war. Indonesia sought Russian aid to wrest West Papua from the Dutch control and a small-scale military invasion was launched to back up diplomatic efforts. The international community, fearful of Indonesia sliding into communism, felt West Papua was a price worth paying to secure the allegiance of a pro-Western Indonesia. The sham referendum -- The Act of Free Choice -- was organised in 1969 to give the barest semblance of legitimacy. 1,022 tribal elders, less than 1% of the population, were rounded up and cajoled to participate in the exercise. Then bribed or intimidated by acts of outright violence, they were forced to vote for integration with Indonesia. In reality there was no vote. An Indonesian general spoke. This was followed by a few rehearsed speeches welcoming Indonesia. Finally every single participant raised his hands in support, before the whole sorry stage-managed circus moved on to the next venue.
West Papuans, bristling with righteous indignation, call it the Act of No Choice. Tragically the fact that their fundamental democratic and human rights were violated, still appears to be of little concern to international elites. One British diplomat at the time summed up the betrayal of the international community with the words: cannot imagine the U.S, Japanese, Dutch, or Australian governments, putting at risk their economic and political relations with Indonesia over matter of principle involving a relatively small number of very primitive people.
In this context Mambesak celebrated being Papuan, an identity the Indonesian government had tried to erase. All words that referred to West Papua or West Papuans were banned. The name of the territory was changed from West Papua to Irian Jaya. Irian, a Biak word meaning hot land was co-opted by Indonesian nationalists as an acronym, Ikut Republik Indonesia Anti Nederland, meaning, Join the Republic of Indonesia against the Netherlands. Jaya translates as victorious, and was seen as a fitting description for Indonesia’s triumphant victory: wrestling the territory from the Dutch. Indonesian nationalists viewed the notion of self-determination for West Papuans, as a colonial fantasy of the Dutch, a cynical attempt to fan the embers of their dying empire. In Irian Jaya, the Indonesian government asserted, there can be no West Papuans, only loyal Irianese. The fact that Irianese was a fictitious and imposed identity did not escape West Papuans. In a few short years being Papuan went from something that was promoted by the Dutch to something that was criminalised by the Indonesian government.
Twenty years have passed since Ap and Mofu=92s murder yet music and the legacy of Arnold Ap retains its potency in the troubled territory. I am in West Papua meeting some of the new generation of musicians to follow In the legacy of Mambesak. Ferry Marisan, works for Elsham -- The Institute for the Study and Advocacy of Human Rights in West Papua -- a widely respected human rights organisation. His job is to investigate and monitor human rights violations in his violence-ridden homeland. Mr. Marisan, also a graduate in anthropology from the University of Cendrawasih, is the leader of the West Papuan cultural music group, Black Paradise. When I first met him, Ferry was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Arnold Ap sitting down with guitar in hand, singing, with the words Spirit of Mambesak emblazoned at the top of the shirt. Arnold Ap’s motto, says Ferry Marisan, was to sing for life. Yesterday, today and tomorrow. The people of West Papua, recounts Marisan, dearly loved Arnold Clemens Ap. He helped transform our consciousness from the tribal to the national.
Black Paradise is continuing what Mambesak began: nurturing cultures battered by militarism, undermined by Christianity, and exploited by commerce. Most of the group are also human rights activists who work for Elsham. The work of defending human rights cannot be separated from their music. Recently a few band members traveled to Timika, the frontier town located in the shadow of a gargantuan copper and gold mine. Freeport, the controversial military backed Mining Corporation that owns the mine, has caused massive environmental damage and created enormous social unrest. While in Timika, investigating human rights violations, they also collected songs. One such song, Akai Mbipae recounts the suffering of the indigenous Amungme as a result of the mine: A mother is weeping because people, especially Freeport, have destroyed the environment.
Black Paradise has a simple message. "We are here to show that West Papuan culture is still alive," says Marisan. "We are a distinct and separate people. We want the Indonesian Government to stop the violence and let us be."
Not all the music is overtly political, however. Aye Nanawe, one of the bands signature tunes, is a sexy, funny and upbeat hip-swinging number about one of songwriters most popular themes: unrequited love.
No matter what the music is about, though, it affirms the dignity and identity of the Papuan people. We the young generation of Papua have to care for our culture says Marisan. West Papuan culture could be dead within 10 years if the people do not find ways to protect, promote and revive their indigenous traditions. With the deterioration of the political situation, and increasing repression by the military and government, this need is becoming increasingly urgent.
Recently the band travelled to Australia for the Morning Star Concert for West Papua, a showcase of Australian talent organised by Melbourne musician David Bridie, which put the spotlight on what was happening a few short miles from Australian shores.
Start by telling them where West Papua is=94 the late Silas Rumboirusi, Elsham’s Accountant and Black Paradise vocalist, always said to me whenever I had the pleasure of introducing them. Although the band was often amazed by the welcome they received around Australia, they quickly noticed that most Australians didn’t even know where West Papua is. Rather than being downcast at the lack of awareness, however, the band felt that their performances had touched people, and hopefully inspired them to learn lore about West Papua. Notable human rights defender John Rumbiak says that the tour was a great opportunity for Australians to be really educated about what is going on in West Papua. He felt that just by Black Paradise coming here performing, and appearing in papers and radio, many more Australians have learnt about Papuans as a people; that they have a culture and the problems they are facing. Culture, says Rumbiak, is a good way of to communicate and inspire closer solidarity between neighbours. Australia is one of the countries that has benefited politically and economically from what is going on in West Papua. The struggle is not the struggle of Papuans alone, says Rumbiak. This is a struggle for everyone, no matter where they are in the world, who believes in respect for other human beings and their cultures, and for the beautiful planet upon which we all depend for life.
Having tasted success in Australia, Black Paradise is now formulating plans it wouldn't have dreamed of just over a year ago when it first came together. A CD is has been recorded on Bridie's label Blunt, which the band hopes to follow up with a video compact disc; a speaking and music tour around West Papua; starting up a recording studio; and opening a centre to preserve and promote indigenous culture throughout West Papua.
A Dangerous Job
It is nearly 20 years since Arnold Ap and Eddy Mofu’s bloated corpses were found washed up on a beach, their bodies showing signs of torture. But writing, uncovering, cultivating and promoting Papuan music and culture are still dangerous activities. Two years ago, ex-Mambesak member Sam Kapissa, cultural activist, respected elder, and mentor to Black Paradise, was found dead. Kapissa was another victim of the mysterious spate of poisonings.
Marisan has honoured Sam Kapissa and Arnold Ap by writing a moving tribute in his -- and their-- native Biak language. The song, entitled Mambruk ma Manyouri, tells the story of the two men, both of them from Biak Numfor, who are represented in the song as the Mambruk and Nuri bird. Arnold Clemens Ap and Sam Kapissa were two leaders who strove to unite the Papuan people, through their creations in song, dance and music. But the powers-that-be viewed their struggle as a political one that endangered the country, so in the end, they were killed says Ferry. It is stories like this that are often recounted to me as I travel throughout West Papua. And with each passing day, seduced by beauty and suffering, I find the land and people entering more deeply into my heart.
Although people in West Papua are still afraid to sell Mambesak recordings in the market for fear of recriminations by the Indonesian state, the music is everywhere. Scratchy songs are handed down from parents to children. In the cloud veiled jungles and mountains of West Papua several days walk outside of the nearest town, I witnessed weather beaten copies carried in on foot to remote villages and played on ancient cassette players. Villages where women sell sweet potatoes and garden produce just to afford the batteries to play the tapes on ancient cassette players.
And when Black Paradise gears up for one of there not to be missed cultural performances people stream in, eager to soak up the sounds and dance to the beats of their land.
In West Papua music is everywhere. In so many ways it represents the irrepressible desire for life. Every evening, as the sun goes down and the jungle erupts in a cacophony of insects backed up by a syncopating base line of frogs; and every morning, when the air is still, you hear the sound of music. Songs of struggle, haunting laments, musical delights in the natural beauty of the land of their ancestors, and sultry love songs puncture the tropical heat. Ukulele, guitar, snakeskin drums, and the distinct four-part soaring harmonies of the Melanesian Pacific work there way inwards, shaping identity, weaving stories, and strengthening the courage of a people determined to be free.
Soon the music of Black Paradise, recorded during their recent visit to Melbourne, will be circulating throughout West Papua and around the world. Their first CD is a powerful affirmation that in the Land of the Morning Star songs for life are stronger than ever.@