Deakin University academic on palm oil in West Papua

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DR EBEN KIRKSEY from Deakin University was keynote speaker at a conference in West Papua’s FRWP office in Docklands on 8 April 2018. The American scholar’s interest in the Indonesian colony was launched brutally in 1998, when as an exchange student at Cendrawasih University investigating the subsistence qualities of indigenous communities, he witnessed two Melanesian students being shot by the Indonesian military.  Days later in Biak Island he witnessed the massacre of two-hundred West Papuans assembled around a 35m water-tower singing and praying for independence and self-determination.

Eben’s interest in justice has yielded a substantial array of critical and informative articles and books.  In 2000 a Bachelor of Arts thesis Saya Makan Sembarang (I eat anything): the changing world of the Oge Mabe Mee; in 2000 (Note 1); in 2002 a Masters thesis From Cannibal to Terrorist: State Violence, Indigenous Resistance and Representation in West Papua (Note 2); in 2008 a critical analysis of the role of the Indonesian military in the murder of two Americans near the Freeport mine in 2002 with Indonesian investigative reporter Andreas Harsono entitled Criminal Collaborations: Antonius Wamang and the Indonesian military in Timika (Note 3).

In 2010, Eben testified before the US House of Representatives Hearing in Washington Crimes Against Humanity: when will Indonesia’s Military be held accountable for deliberate and systematic abuses in West Papua? organised by Samoan Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (Note 4).  The hearing surprised and offended the Indonesian Government; and even more so when the West Papuan leaders flown to Washington were introduced to officials at the National Security Council, U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of State.  At the time Eni Faleomavaega was Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but throughout his long and successful career in US and Pacific politics he always promoted the issue of West Papua.  Some of his Samoan relatives were missionaries in West Papua and are buried there. “Their missionary service and sacrifice compels me to do what I can for the people they loved.”

In July 2013, Eben testified before the Biak Citizens Tribunal in Sydney, which was presided over by the Hon. John Dowd (former NSW Attorney-General; President, International Commission of Jurists-Australia) and Dr Keith Suter (Chair, ICJ NSW; Director, International Law Association-Australia).  Counsel Assisting the Tribunal were Gustav Kawer a West Papuan human rights lawyer; and Professor Nicholas Cowdery (former NSW Crown Prosecutor; President, International Association of Prosecutors).  The tribunal followed the format of a Coronial Inquest (a formal inquiry into a death), with Counsel Assisting performing as prosecution and other interested parties acting like defence attorneys critically evaluating evidence (Note 5).

In his 2012 Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Global Architecture of Power, Eben analysed how West Papuans generate practical and surprising freedom projects in the fissures of power created by Indonesian occupiers, global financial interests, and foreign governments (Note 6).  He extended the arguments in Lively Multispecies Communities, Deadly Racial Assemblages and the Promise of Justice; an imaginative study of meeting spaces between humans and other species in West Papua that utilises ethnographic, historical, ethological, and genetic methodologies to include the fate of the territory’s flora and fauna (Note 7).

On 8 April 2018 at the FRWP Office in Docklands (Melbourne) Eben galvanised the audience with a drone-recording of a palm-oil plantation in Merauke and explained its devastating effect on the fragile environment.  He also demonstrated how palm-oil based products is mostly consumed by populations in non-palm-oil producing countries.

(i) Drone-video, Merauke Palm Plantation (Sophie Chao)

(ii) Eben Kirksey, Video-speech, FRWP Office in Docklands, 8 April 2018

NOTE 1 Eben Kirksey, BA thesis: Saya Makan Sembarang (I eat anything): the changing world of the Oge Mabe Mee University of South Florida, 2000 [click to read/download] Eben Kirksey, 2000

NOTE 2  Eben Kirksey, Doctoral thesis: From Cannibal to Terrorist: State Violence, Indigenous Resistance and Representation in West Papua University of Oxford, 2002 [click to read] Eben Kirksey, 2002, State Violence, Indigenous Resistance and Representation in West Papua

NOTE 3  Criminal Collaborations: Antonius Wamang and the Indonesian military in Timika Eben Kirksey & Andreas Harsono, South East Asia Research, 16, 2, 2008:pp165–197

NOTE 4  2010 US Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on West Papua
4.1  Transcript [click to download/read]
Transcript, US Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on West Papua, 2010
4.2  Summary of hearing, and Indonesia’s response [click to read/download]
Article, US Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on West Papua, 2010
4.3  Eben Kirksey’s testimony to the FA Committee Hearing [click to watch]

NOTE 5  Biak Massacre, July 1998

5.1  Names without Graves, Graves without Names (English translation of the report on Human Rights Abuses in Biak, Irian Jaya, in 1998 by ELSHAM Director Ferry Marisan)
5.2  Website, Biak Citizens Tribunal, Sydney, 6 July 1998
5.3  ABC -TV 7.30 Report, 16 December 2013, West Papua massacre: University of Sydney citizen tribunal calls for Indonesia to investigate Biak slaughter [click to read]
5.4 Sydney Morning Herald Biak Massacre, Australian cover up 4 June 2001
Biak Massacre, Australian cover up
5.5  Kel Dummett Biak massacre, Deathly silence Eureka Street, 13 June 2006  Biak Massacre, Eureka, 2006, Deathly silence by Kel Dummett

NOTE 6  Eben Kirksey Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power Duke University Press 2012 (copies for sale at FRWP Office in Docklands).

NOTE 7  Eben Kirksey Lively Multispecies Communities, Deadly Racial Assemblages, and the Promise of Justice The South Atlantic Quarterly 116:1, Duke University January 2017 Eben Kirksey, Kirksey-Lively-Multispecies-Communities_Deadly-Racial-Assemblages

Featured Image: Torres’ Strait Pigeon

“You folk, conch shells shall be! Bailer shells you shall become! Pearlshells you shall become! Ducks you shall become! Native companions be! I go! Better that I should go! For white pigeons will come with me!”

Nyungu became the the hero ancestor to his children after Sivri, the Silver Gull, kidnapped Nyungu’s daughter and took her to Mabuig.  Nyunguj gave chase, and then flew on to Papua. His children stayed behind and became the ducks and brolgas of the sandbanks and the shells of the sea-bed. Nyungu lives on in the imagination and cultural reality of Torres Strait islanders and the essential connections between Papua to the north and the islands and Australian mainland to the south (Bob Gosford The Pied Imperial Pigeon

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