Herman Wainggai
The man who never quit

Nonviolent Movement in West Papua

Martin Luther King Jr

Civil Disobedience

Dr. Martin Luther King explained that he was introduced to the idea of nonviolence while reading Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience during his freshman years at Morehouse College. Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, King witnessed segregation and racism every day, and determined to put his movement to action. He wrote, I was ‘‘fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system’’ (King, Stride, 73). An evil system - government - is a system that must be resisted, not supported. 

Addressing the lies

“Set the record straight: Human Rights protection and promotion has always been a strong part of my government’s priority. Indonesian’s constitution and National Law provide a solid guarantee of respect for the human right of every person in Indonesia” - Indonesian Right of Reply 

Birth of Nonviolent Resistance in West Papua

Dr. Thom Wainggai during
​his incarceration

Basic ideoloies and Methods

Dr. Thom Wainggai
Dr. Thom was one of the few educated West Papuans of his time. He’d earned his Law degree in Japan and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in the US. He earned his Master’s Degree in New York and a Doctorate in Florida before returning home. At the time of his arrest and incarceration, he was a lecturer at the Cenderawasih University and also worked for various government agencies. As a scholar and a philosopher, Dr. Wainggai had many historical idols; above all, he was a great admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi – two popular peaceful nonviolent leaders of their time. And as years passed, seeing the violence and injustice against his people, Dr. Wainggai began to rally support from his people, using the same tactics to go after the Indonesian government. He modeled his 'Nonviolent Movement' after their (MLK and MG) tactics while adding tactics that were applicable  to the indigenous people of West Papua. Today, his legacy lives on through 'Nonviolent Workshops' and public awareness in West Papua and abroad.

Dr. Thom taught that "pen and paper" are a weapon more powerful than machine guns or any weapons known to man. In other words, education is the key to success in any struggle against colonialism. In the case of West Papua, he encouraged people to cherish their own cultures, ethnicity, customs and being Melanesian. 

The Cultural Awareness
We grew up learning the Indonesian language in order to advance and then we are taught things that have nothing to do with West Papuans. Then at school, West Papuans are taught the Indonesian national anthem. These are things designed to eradicate West Papuan cultural identity by instilling in their minds that their cultures are inferior. This feeling of inferiority sometimes gives indigenous West Papuans the idea that perhaps the Indonesian occupation of West Papua is justified. To overcome this, ‘Nonviolent leaders’ must work hard to educate their people about the importance of their cultures and customs and the things that held their ancestors together before foreign influence reached their shores. Activists look to their communities for guidelines. In our community, there are a number of systems; systems that protect the relationship of all West Papuans. For instance: conflict and resolution. We resolve issues based on our customs instead of long deliberations in court based on laws written by a few that benefit only some, and often those with the most money get away with committing even the worst crimes. In our culture, we resolve our issues based on the customs, punctuated by love and compassion – reconciliation and forgiveness.

Language revival
Language is also vital to this cultural revival. Today’s world, our language is often pushed to the side in favor of Indonesian language or Papua Malay for commerce and for survival; they are the languages - lingua francas - of the modern world. The reason being used to justify learning foreign languages is that we cannot operate in this modern world by sticking to our languages. In fact, the system is created in that way and soon, the new generation will find their own languages worthless and need to learn them forever eradicated. However, that is not true. This cultural revival cannot be possible without the revival of the indigenous languages and cultural practices. Our languages can thrive in this modern world. It is our identity. As much as we need the Indonesian language to survive, we can never be Indonesia. We can maintain a modern lifestyle while maintaining our own cultural identity - especially our language. This is critical to Dr. Thom's vision of West Papuan as a people. 

We learn from nature
Our people lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years, long before the Europeans, long before Indonesia and modern currency arrived. The fact that our people existed without these modern necessities is one of the reasons why we as indigenous people should draw important life-saving lessons from nature. Nature shapes our way of life; our way of thinking; and our way of communicating. We thrived as a unique group of people before foreign ideas were forced on us. So we must learn from Nature – how nature operates – the systems that existed for thousands of years and how the balance of life kept us going since our ancestors settled these lands.

Music and poetry
It is also important to rediscover our music and poetry. Music and poetry are two important factors in our cultural revival. As a matter of fact, Music and Poetry were used to preserve our language, names, history, and beliefs. They were vital to their "oral tradition". Our ancestors preserved their history through music – songs and chants, storytelling, and, of course, poetry. Music comes naturally to us and it is our way of defying foreign occupiers,  that is to sing our own songs, in our own language; uplifting our people. This is how we use poetry and music as part of our ‘Nonviolent resistance’ against foreign cultures.

Religious faith
In our modern fight against injustice, Faith and patience play a vital role. For most of us, faith is essential to keeping us together, especially during trying times. In the course of my life as an activist, I would not have made it this far without my faith; believing that what I was doing was the right thing. I fasted many times and prayed aggressively for guidance and enlightenment. Scriptures, hymnals, songs, and sharing are an integral part of our Nonviolent resistant.

How about Humor and Comedy? I see humor and comedy as a subtle way of expressing one’s opinion toward government and its unfair institutions. If the system is designed to demoralize our people, then the most important part of this is getting under the skin of the government by turning things into humor. If you don’t want me to raise the West Papuan flag, I’ll paint the flag on my face. If you hate me because I’m black, I’ll paint my body as black as possible and march in public against government brutality! Though this tactic plays a minor role in our ‘Nonviolent struggle,’ it is an important one.

Peaceful Protests
Ultimately, public peaceful protest. Since 1999, during the fall of the Suharto Regime, leaders of West Papuan self-determination movement have been holding public protests all over West Papua to express their opinion. I had been part of this for many years. Every time we invited the Indonesian government to debate us in public, peaceful protesters were harassed and arrested, however, their messages were clear and heard. Peaceful protests are, in fact, the hardest to deal with. If a protester brings a gun to a protest, killing him or her, is – in the eyes of the Indonesian government, justifiable, even if that armed individual didn’t do anything to provoke such reaction. But shooting a peaceful, unarmed protesters is hard to be justified. So we train our nonviolent supporters to be brave and to stare down the barrel of the guns with faith and resolve. This is why "public protest" is important to the ‘Nonviolent movement’.

 The Indonesian government murdered so many innocent and peaceful West Papuans over the period of five decades. Hundreds and even thousand of West Papuans either incarcerated for decades, or arrested, tortured, and then released, others died in prison under suspicious circumstances. Most of those incarcerated were either suspected of being collaborators or suspected members OPM – a separatist movement. Others, however, their only crime had been raising the outlawed West Papuan flag. The claim of “human rights” protection is not supported by facts and evidence. This is the same national law that criminalized “speech against the president." In 1996, the Indonesian government – the alleged protector of human rights of “every” single Indonesia, murdered the leader of the "Nonviolent Resistance movement" in West Papua, Dr. Thom Wainggai, who was at the time of his death serving a 20- year prison term.
Just recently more than 2000 protesters were arrested in a single day simply for supporting ULMWP's application to be a permanent member of the MSG, even though West Papua was granted 'observer status' of MSG last year in Honiara, Solomon Islands, by the leaders of MSG. We are in fact witnessing an Indonesia with two faces - one that violated the UN charter and the rights of West Papuans, and the other that tells the lies or spin the lies before the United Nations body. Indonesia's behavior is why the 'Nonresistance Movement' was formed in West Papua a decade ago.
Dr. Thom Wainggai's Scholarship Announcement
During the brutal reign of Indonesian President Suharto, criticizing the government was a crime, making it impossible to even question government programs or officials. West Papuans were constantly living in fear; fear of being accused falsely and even executed by the military. It was not until Dr. Thom Wainggai returned to West Papua from abroad that West Papuans began to assert their rights to speak in public places and demonstration against the Indonesian government. A charismatic leader, Dr. Thom – a lawyer himself – understood that West Papua have all the rights in the world to bring their opinion about the government to the public. West Papuans began flooding the streets calling for reform and amendment of past agreements.
Above all, Dr. Thom envisioned a new West Papua where people lived free from government oppression and tyranny. He also talked about the integration of West Papuans with their fellow Melanesians in the Pacific - the Melanesian family. To push his agenda, he took on the government in peaceful protests and public debate. In 1988, he rallied his Tribesmen and marched into Mandala Stadium where he declared West Papua - the Independent State of Western Melanesia. He was subsequently arrested, tried, and convicted of "subversion" and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Just a few years into his 20-year prison term, Dr. Thom died was murdered. What he started, however, flourished to this day.
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