Ideas About Papua in Indonesia’s BPUPKI

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Rudi Kurniawan Dahlan — October 2020

In many discourse about Papua, one of the problems that must be resolved regarding is a problem related to history. One of the important points in LIPI’s research, written in the Papua Road Map, also raises this point.

Historical issues are an essential factor for the Papuan people in particular, and the Indonesian people in general. The discourse on history must be at a starting point to understand during which time a historical event took place. It is important to clarify the discourse when talking about Indonesia as a state entity with Papua in it. When Indonesian independence was to be declared, decisions regarding its territory should already be part of it.

The history of the aerchipelagic country’s independence process, including preparations regarding territorial sovereignty, is a fundamental part to conceive the clarity of Papua’s status. Also, it is crucial that the views of the founders of this nation be reexamined. We need to understand the mystical atmosphere and their struggles when discussing Indonesia’s territorial boundaries.

From this starting point, the fundamental questions arise. Was Papua as part of the Indonesian state born out of the exploitative and imperialistic thoughts of the founders of this nation? Or was it derived from a sense of solidarity as a fellow nation in an unbroken geographic range under Dutch colonialism at that time?


As mentioned above, I will start the starting point in this paper from the main ideas of the nation’s founders, especially when the BPUPKI sessions took place in 1945. This paper will raise the views of Moh. Yamin about Papua in the form of thoughts he conveyed during the plenary sessions of the Indonesian Independence Preparatory Investigation Agency (BPUPKI).

I started from BPUPKI because this is where and how the idea of the concept of Indonesian independence started. It means that by discussinh BPUPKI, we can also assess why Papua is part of Indonesia as we know it today. This moment was a moment that initiated ideas and concepts of nationality from an embryo of an independent state.

Every idea and concept of nationality is adequately recorded in the form of official session minutes. These minutes will be a systematic written historical evidence so that the next generation can reopen the sheets of these ideas as in this paper.

Papua is part of the struggle

The issue of Papua was indeed discussed in the BPUPKI sessions, which were held on 29 May-16 July 1945. At that time, Papua became a heated debate between Moh. Yamin and Moh. Hatta. During the sessions, Moh. Hatta had a different view from Moh. Yamin. But the idea of Moh. Hatta will not be discussed in this paper. Readers can follow Moh. Hatta’s views in my other writings.

In the trial, Moh. Yamin had mentioned Papua since the opening period of the first day of the session series. During a session, Yamin said that the territory of the Indonesian state must be under the wishes of all Indonesian people.

“First, the discussion and the formation of the Indonesian State at a later time will cover the territory of the country under the wishes of the Indonesian people and the Indonesian youth generation …”.

Furthermore, regarding Papua, Moh. Yamin said that even though the Papua region was currently under occupation by other foreign nations (the Dutch and their allies), there was no word of bargaining to free the area from the clutches of colonization as an imprisoned state.

“In the memory, dreams, and hopes of the young generation and educated generation, the sovereign nation does not care about the US-Australian seizure landings in Morotai, Papua, Halmahera, and Tarakan. Even though these nations would colonize these areas, the country and religion of Islam still believe that these lands are part of Indonesia’s blood. They will be under the protection of the Indonesian State.

We should note that during the BPUPKI sessions, Indonesian territory was still under Japanese occupation. Meanwhile, the Morotai, Halmahera, Papua, and Tarakan regions were in the grip of the allies and the Netherlands. But referring to the area of the Dutch East Indies, Moh. Yamin said that the area must also achieve its independence along with other parts of Indonesia.

At that time, Japan did promise the Indonesian people and the nation’s founders to prepare for the independence. The founders of the country agreed that the main territory of the future independent Indonesian state was an area that was formerly a Dutch colony.

However, Moh. Yamin had a preview that Papua, Halmahera, Morotai, and Tarakan as “orphans.” This is because during the independent committee, BPUPKI, sessions, Indonesia was under the Japanese power, and those four areas did not have representatives in the BPUPKI session due to their status under different colonial powers.

“The areas mentioned in this committee meeting are sorrowful orphans, who should be protected with a pure heart. Let us be even more careful if we wish to provide material for investigations, which intend to separate the areas. Basically, this committee also meets for that region, but not together with their representatives”.

Yamin realized that even though the four regions had no representatives in the BPUPKI sessions, the struggle to liberate these regions became a selfless task for the founders of the nation. It was not easy at that time to subsume the four regions into Indonesia because they were still considered as areas in the war (terra Belli) between Japan and the Allies. But when the war is over, the four regions must become part of Indonesia.

“If the areas are cleared of enemies, then Tarakan and Morotai, Halmahera and Papua will return under the control of the Dai Nippon Army. They naturally have to experience the fate of becoming terra occupationis belli, together with the six regions that are included in the territory of the Indonesian State which are united, not divided”.

The six regions are Sumatra, Java, Lesser Sunda (Nusa Tenggara and Bali), Borneo (Kalimantan), Sulawesi, Maluku. Yamin himself classified the four war zones (Terra Belli) as part of the other two regions, namely Tarakan, which became an integral part of Borneo.

Meanwhile, Morotai-Halmahera-Papua is in the Maluku-Tidore unitary territory. During the sessions, that region was seen that there was something strong in common as a nation with the same fate under Dutch colonial rule.

Moh. Yamin himself said at the hearing, “That the land of Papua belongs to the land of Indonesia, as well as the inhabitants of Timor, Ambon, Tidore, Halmahera. For the inhabitants of the islands I mention, the island of Papua is not separated from the Indonesian land. According to the people of Maluku, the land of Papua is part of Indonesian land. It has been decades since Indonesians from Ambon, Tidore, and other regions have been doing business on the islands. Moreover, in their feeling, the land of Papua is not separated from the land of Maluku”.

Historical factors in the form of prolonged social, economic, and cultural interactions in the same geographic location are revealed in this view. The history of this interaction is part of the history of hundreds of years back between Papua and the inhabitants of other areas surrounding. It did strengthen the bonds of feeling each other that are reflected in the struggles of the founders of the nation.

Social solidarity was reflected when the Dutch controlled the archipelago, including Papua, as presented in the arguments at the BPUPKI sessions. This solidarity is the basis for the struggle to liberate Papua, and at the same time, ensure its togetherness within the Indonesian State.

Papua is the history of Indonesia

Besides, Yamin also considered that a significant contribution to the struggle of the entire Indonesian nation for independence was also inseparable from the assistance of the land of Papua. Yamin gave an example that the Digoel area was a witness to the nation struggle for independence.

“Digul is the culmination of sacrifices by our advocates, so releasing Digul’s land outside the Indonesian territory violates the feeling of justice because Digul land is a place of sacrifice for our movement towards independence. Let those who have fought for independence not be ignored and forgotten”.

It is noteworthy that Boven Digul was once an exile camp for opponents of Dutch colonialism. It is recorded that around 1308 people were ‘dumped’ there in 1926–1927. Two places in Digul were detention camps, namely Tanah Merah Camp and Tanah Tinggi Camp. Even in 1934, Sutan Syahrir was also exiled to Tanah Merah, followed Moh. Hatta three months later. The two of them were later transferred to Bandaneira in 1936.

The detainees who were exiled were youths with high organizational and intellectual skills and even militancy. Not all can survive because of the ferocity of nature. But they were the top cream and the central circle of the modern Indonesian fighters in the fight for Indonesian independence later.

Tanah Merah or Digul became a kind of ‘diploma’ for the leaders of Indonesian liberation from Dutch colonial rule. To this end, it could not be more true that that history has transformed to a closer emotional bond between the Papua region and the rest of the Indonesian islands.

Not ego-ethnocentrism, but unity

As mentioned earlier, from the BPUPKI sessions, we can now have a deep reflection. Papua as part of Indonesia is a real result of collective struggle.

Indeed the status of Papua as part of Indonesia continues to be debated nowadays. But it is mostly rested upon the discourse of a more recent history related to the New York Agreement and Papua’s natural wealth and resources. In that sense, the debate is indeed necessary especially if it is based on the desire of certain interests to exploit Papua.

But as discussed above, the long history of Papua should not be neglected. The struggle of the 1945 independence indeed included Papua liberation. Founding fathers of the nation struggled for the liberation was based on the shared view that Papua was an area that was still colonized by the Dutch as the other parts of Indonesia.

Papua has become a crucial part of Indonesia’s history and is inseparable from the struggle for the founding of the nation. There were leading youth exiled in the wilderness of Boven Digul in the early moments of the nation struggle. From there, now there is a country called Indonesia.

So it is somewhat ahistoric to say that Papua is all the current regimes’ imperialistic and economic motives. Supporters of separatism are trying to develop this narrative in amidst the Papua conflict. It is unfortunate that such a robust and vivid history is overlooked in finding common ground to help Papua prosper.

Therefore, we hope, by reinterpreting the struggle for the founding of this republic, we can understand and closely examine the contexts and the goals of the founding of Indonesia. Such a prudent examination should become our foundational reflection, especially in developing and advancing Papua and Indonesia as a whole.

We also want to locate this pluralistic national problem within the framework of unity by getting rid of the ethnocentrism ego and ethnic superiority. Cultural diversity is not meant to provide space for domination of one or two ethnicities over other ethnicities, but the advancement and justice of all races.

Duduk sama rendah, berdiri sama tinggi or ‘whether we sit or stand, we must be at the same level.’ Those are the words of Indonesian wisdom for mutual respect among our people and our nations. (*)

This piece fully represents the writer’s idea. It does not express any ideas or stances of specific institutions or organizations she/he works at or is affiliated with.

Enriching discourse and understanding. A protest to Indonesian govt that unsuccessfully serves the world fair info about West Papua.

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