For 99% of mankind’s existence, we have been hunters and gatherers. Our current affluence is but a brief moment in human history. Yet, we impose our will and influence on people whose way of life is just below the surface of our own collective memories. However, we choose not to look there.
The fate of West Papua’s aboriginal population depends on how well they are respected by Indonesia and the rest of the world. Respect means to “look over/more”. This requires looking at the world’s aboriginal cultures differently from the way the colonialists did and continue to do. It is a matter of celebrating who they are and what they can offer, rather than what can be taken of their land, labour, and resources. There is no doubt in my mind that very few of the advantages portrayed by the purveyors of globalization are trickling down to aboriginal people.
There is little doubt that people of the Asmat, Yali, Dani, KimYal/Goliat, Obini, Tokiat, and Shetak regions and the Wickbone of the Seng River, and the many other aboriginal cultures living in West Papua, will someday wear Western clothes and use money. But I wonder if the quality of their lives will improve, or if they will be lost in the growing poverty statistics of the Third World.
It is obvious to me that for development to be truly sustainable, common ground has to be found between economic progress and ecological and cultural integrity, and the relationship between man and nature. West Papua’s original people epitomize this communion. Who they are, where they are, and what they do, are inseparable. They live with a rare sensitivity to nature – a recognition that they are part of something much larger than themselves – an ecological imperative that is not computed in Gross National Product and balance of payments equations. They live their lives with the understanding that everything comes from the earth, and that they belong to the earth; it does not belong to them. We need their wisdom far more than the oil, copper, gold, and timber now being ripped from West Papua’s soil.
And when I see the multi-national corporations operating in West Papua, the biggest among them being Freeport mines, I am angry at the complete disregard that these operations have for anything or anyone beyond their reptilian vision. It is narrow, selfish, and fear-based, and not much different from the mentality of those who run the Pentagon, produce landmines, or who use food and children as weapons of war.
We cannot damage what we are dependent upon without damaging ourselves. There is no “us and them”, “we and our environment”. Only us. In my heart, I learn things here that my head knows nothing about.