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The Testimony Project: Papua ed. by Charles E Farhadian (review)

From: The Contemporary Pacific
Volume 25, Number 1, Spring 2013
pp. 192-194 | 10.1353/cp.2013.0006

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The straightforward prose used by Charles Farhadian stands as an example to all anthropologists who strive to make their source material available to people beyond restricted academic audiences. Transcripts of extended interviews with twelve Papuan leaders contain stories about their religious faith, abuse by Indonesian security forces, and their resulting political struggles. These compelling narratives depict indigenous intellectuals who were forced to grapple with knotty moral problems while stuck in situations not of their own choosing. Testimony is a genre that is ripe for contemporary scholarly analysis in the Pacific, and this volume is a welcome reminder of the role individual experiences can play in revealing contemporary realities.

Some of the accounts in this book are by many of my own Papuan mentors and interlocutors. Intimate biographic details, personal parables that were news to me, reveal intense experiences that shaped the moral life of these men and women who were struggling to live under a military occupation.

Octovianus Mote describes violence he witnessed while he was a high school student in West Papua's capitol of Jayapura, from 1978 to 1981. "During those years," Mote recounts, "the military killed a lot of people in the gardens—like hunting wildlife. They would put the bodies in a large rice bag, with the feet of the victim showing" (104). After seeing these incidents as a teenager, Mote came "under conviction" in a process the anthropologist Susan Harding has described in The Book of Jerry Falwell as crossing "through a membrane into belief" (2000, 59). Mote became determined to help resolve longstanding political problems through tactical engagements with powerful institutions as an adult. "I tried to be a bridge between the government, churches, and parliament in West Papua, reminding them that we all were working together, that we all have the same commitments" (109).

Benny Giay recounts how his imagination was captured by the teachings of foreign missionaries, even as he worked to understand the cosmologies of his own people. After advanced theological training in Manila, where he was transformed by encounters with liberation theology, Giay earned a doctorate in anthropology from Amsterdam. Returning to West Papua, after rejecting lucrative career opportunities elsewhere, he became swept up in the human rights movement. When a pastor was shot dead by Indonesian soldiers at the pulpit on Christmas Day, Giay began pushing the leadership of his church to take a stand. Gradually he began to leverage his position in the church to oppose human rights abuses and to advocate for a peaceful solution to broader political problems.

Amidst Giay's account of political struggles, he also relates some of his personal struggles—offering intimate details about the relationship between politics and the contingencies of daily life. His first wife, Rukiah, died in August 1999—just as he was about to join an international team in investigating alleged crimes against humanity by the Indonesian government. The sudden onset of illness, an inconclusive diagnosis, and the timing of her death led many to conclude that Rukiah had been poisoned by government agents. "I was not at home when Rukiah died," Giay shares. "And that was very difficult for me" (32). After Rukiah's death, he temporarily withdrew from human rights advocacy and political organizing to take care of his two daughters. Giay has since returned to this work and has stepped forward to lead the KINGMI church, a Protestant denomination with tens of thousands of indigenous Papuan members.

The Testimony Project also contains colorful stories and surprising tales. Nicolaas Jouwe, Papua's self-styled president-in-exile, recounts that the deal to transfer West Papua to Indonesia was sealed during an intimate encounter between John F Kennedy and Indonesia's first president, Sukarno. Citing personal friends in the US State Department as sources, Jouwe reports: "In January 1961 Sukarno went to the US to see Kennedy, who was sick at the time. He had something wrong with his back. . . . Sukarno brought some Javanese oils to massage his back. . . . he went to Kennedy with the oil and gave him a back massage. After the massage, Sukarno went out. A little later Kennedy came out. As they sat together, Kennedy asked Sukarno, 'Mr. President, what can I do for...



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