SALUTING MELANESIA was a ceremonial occasion that succeeded in bringing together communities normally separated by sea-water to celebrate their origins and living cultures. The Federal Republic of West Papua hosted the event in the AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY’S luminous Art Gallery in Fitzroy during the Sampari Art Exhibition for West Papua. In 2016 the exhibition included a special MELANESIAN WALL OF ART, a series of vibrant prints sent by artists from Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
THE MELANESIAN WALL OF ART reminded Australians of the MELANESIAN SPEARHEAD GROUP’s decision in 2015 to accept West Papua’s application for membership. The small intergovernmental forum’s formal recognition of their kins’s right of sovereignty catapulted West Papuans out of the isolation imposed on them on 1 May 1963 when Indonesian President Sukarno categorised their territory an Operational War Zone, banned foreign media, and reactivated old Dutch colonial laws of subversion to silence opposition. The MSG’s committment to recognise and shoulder passage of West Papua’s self-determination was an expensive exercise. Indonesia tried to splinter the organisation with bribes, treaties, promises of aid and trade …. even applied for full membership itself based on an outrageous claim that it is home to eleven million Melanesians [see below, Asia Pacific Report, 15 May 2015].
Indonesia’s machiavellian manoeuvres bulldozed chasms between Melanesian politicians and their communities, especially in PNG and Fiji which both endorsed Indonesia’s application (rather than West Papua’s). The split between the MSG’s ‘older, bigger brothers’ and ‘younger, smaller siblings’ (Vanuatu, Solomons, the Kanak of New Caledonia) forced MSG CHAIR MANESSAH SOGAVARE (Prime Minister, Solomon Islands) to accept both applications for membership. This angered many Melanesians, because it would enable a large wealthy mostly Muslim Asian state to sit in the motherhouse of four tiny predominately Christian Pacific nations. The MSG Secretariat decided to review its guidelines before formally responding to the applications.
In 2016, the leaders of Polynesian and Miconesian nations—namely Tonga, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Nauru, Samoa—joined the MSG petitioners as a PACIFIC COALITION FOR WEST PAPUA. Based at Hawai’i University, the Coalition initiated debate in the 71st UN General Assembly for West Papua to be reinserted on the UN DECOLONIZATION LIST from which it had been removed in 1969 after the New York Agreement’s fradulent Act of Free Choice ballot [see below, Pacific Coalition for West Papua, December 2016].
SALUTING MELANESIA in the ACU Art Gallery opened with a KAVA CEREMONY led by Bula Rendiring and Sef Suka Seviua, two Fiji chiefs who reside in Melbourne. Before they mixed and served the kava to honoured guests, DR ROBERT WOLFGRAMM spoke to young Melanesians brought up and educated in Australia (where kava is illegal) about the relationship between kava and culture. He talked of the plant’s origin in West Papua, its place in high culture and social discourse across indigenous Pacific cultures, stressing that kava is neither part of a bygone culture nor an appropriate alternative to alcohol [see below, Dr Wolfgramm’s full address]. After the chief’s honouring of foreign guests, people in the gallery sat on the kava mat with Robert and the chiefs while the feast prepared by DAPUR SAMPARI (Papua Kitchen) was being served.
“When our island people meet someone from the highlands, we barapen (feast). We cook pig—the feast-food of the mountain people, vegetables, and fish—which is more usually part of the island diet. Sharing customs and eating together, that’s our polite form” (Jacob Rumbiak, Federal Republic of West Papua)
DAPUR SAMPARI (Papua kitchen) served Papuan recipes prepared by Natalie Adadikam and Babuan Mirino. Traditional West Papuans have a seed-to-plate custom born of a history arcing back seven-to-nine-thousand years when they domesticated the wild ancestors of sugarcane, hibiscus spinach, highland pitpit, pandanus, taro, banana, and numerous other species. During this dry period, at the end of the last Ice Age, a drainage method (water control) was also perfected. Pig husbandry developed after Austronesian speakers arrived about 3,500 years ago.
JEFRY JIKWA (below) is Dani from the highlands in West Papua, and came to Australia in 2006 with 42 other asylum seekers in a traditional double-outrigger canoe. He organised Saluting Melanesia with Maluku independence advocate Tommy Latupeirissa, and introduced the Melanesian speakers and performers. He also thanked BISHOP HILTON DEAKIN for his acute observations of the role of churches and activists in East Timor’s independence struggle.
Three young West Papuans performed YOSPAN, a derivative of two dances, yosim and pancar, which were joined by edict in Jayapura in the early 1980s at a seminar convened to select the province’s official dance. Yosim, a slow jog, is an older dance from Sarmi. Pancar, from Biak, is of relatively recent origin, traceable to the military buildup that preceded the end of Dutch colonialism, when rumours of an impending Indonesian attack swept the island. The drills of Dutch fighter pilots apparently inspired an artist to invent a step, pantja gas (‘jet’) that imitated an airplane entering a stall. (For more on Yospan, Danilyn Rutherford below).
1. Click for Asia Pacific Report, May 2015 Asia Pacific Report, 8 April 2016. Indonesia strengthens ties with Pacific ‘good friends’
2. Click for Pacific Coalition for West Papua, December 2015 Pacific Coalition for West Papua, December 2016
3. Dr Robert Wolfgramm: a musician of note and father of The Wolfgramm Sisters. Lecturer in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University for decades. Editor-in-Chief of the Fiji Daily Post until the Bainimarama administration forced its closure in 2010. Trranslator and editor of the New Fijian Translation Bible. Coach of the Fiji junior team that won the AFL International Cup in 2011. Click for Robert Wolfgramm’s Address at ‘Saluting Melanesia’ in the ACU Art Gallery on 4 December 2016.Robert Wolfgramm, Melanesia Kava Symbolism
5. Bishop Hilton Deakin: a new book Bonded through tragedy; united in hope by Jim and Theresa D’Orsa investigates Bishop Hilton Deakin’s advocacy for East Timor’s self-determination from the time of the Santa Cruz Massacre in 1991 until the present day.