JACOB RUMBIAK was born in the Birdshead region of Dutch New Guinea. His parents are from Biak-Numfor in Cenderawasih Bay; both were primary school teachers, his father, Daniel, also a Protestant pastor. His mother passed away in 1982 while he was studying in West Java.
In 1965, the Cassowary Battalion destroyed the Indonesian military barracks in Arfai (behind Manokwari) and Jacob’s family, like many others, moved into the forest to live under the protection of the freedom fighters. The fighters taught Jacob to hunt and to harvest and to help feed the families. In 1968, the Indonesian government escalated its troop numbers and military hardware (in preparation for the United Nations ‘Act of Free Choice’ referendum in 1969). Hundreds of the freedom fighters were captured and killed, or dropped into the sea from helicopters, or incarcerated in jails in Java. Jacob, still a teenager, was appointed a platoon commander, in charge of thirty-seven men.
In 1977, Jacob’s family induced him to accept a government scholarship to study in Bandung (West Java). During the next ten years he completed high school, then a Bachelor of Arts (1982) and Masters/Doctorandusin Geography (1987) at the Institute for Teachers Training and Educational Sciences (IKIP). He taught at the Indonesian National Scientific Institute, and worked as a researcher at the Physical Geography Research Institute for East Indonesia and the Environment Resource Institute of Indonesia. During his time in Java he became inspired by ‘non-violence’ as a formal strategy of resistance, ironically, by reading about Napoleon’s ruminations on power when he was in exile on St Helena. (‘Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself have founded great empires, but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone found his empire upon love …and to this day millions are dying for him’). Jacob’s experiments with ‘non-violence’ on campus and on the streets of Bandung helped inspire and educate the generation of Indonesians who brought down President Suharto and his New Order in 1998.
In 1987, Jacob was appointed to lead the Physical Science Department at Cenderawasih University in Jayapura. Back in his homeland he taught students their own history, helped them structure legal argument and political debate, and instigated a regime of non-violent independence activities. He also encouraged the Melanesian lecturers to adopt Thomas Wainggai’s belief that the inalienable right of West Papuans to their land and self-determination was violated by the New York Agreement of 1962. (After raising a flag on the ‘Republic of West Melanesia’ in 1988, Wainggai was incarcerated and died in Cipinang Prison in 1996). Jacob’s student movement mushroomed, survived the incarceration of all their Melanesian lecturers between 1989 and 1999, and inspired the formation of the West Papua National Authority in 2002, and the Federal Republic of West Papua in 2011.
Jacob was one of the twenty-seven lecturers charged with subversion in 1989. He was incarcerated in eight military and four civilian prisons, then Tangerang Prison in West Java for two-and-a-half years (at the top of a thirty-foot stone tower), then Cipinang Prison in the cell next to Xanana Gusmao (which he described in Xanana’s autobiography as a ‘first-class Indonesian jail’). In 1999 he escaped in order to report on the referendum in East Timor for Xanana and the United Nations, and midst Indonesia’s scorched-earth retreat the Australian government evacuated him to Darwin and granted him political asylum.
From the diaspora, Jacob initiated an intense campaign to strengthen nationalism within West Papua, and to galvanize international support for independence and self-determination. He was a member of the West Papua delegation to the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji (2002), New Zealand (2003), Fiji (2006), and represented the Federal Republic of West Papua in Kanaky (New Caledonia) in 2013. In 2005, he led the West Papua National Authority delegation to the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting in Papua New Guinea. In 2006 he met the UN Decolonization Committee in Fiji, and in 2007 signed the ground-breaking ‘Unitary Day Port Vila Vanuatu Declaration’ with the Maraki Vanuariki Council of Chiefs and Port Vila Council of Chiefs. In 2003 he was a member of the West Papua delegation to the European Union in Brussels; met officials in Japan’s Department of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo in 2004; attended the International Solidarity meeting in Canada in 2006, and inspired the first Melanesian Cultural Festival in The Netherlands in 2007.
Jacob’s diplomatic endeavours in pursuit of West Papua’s freedom are widely recognised. In 2002, RMIT University’s Globalism Institute in Melbourne appointed him Senior Research Associate as ‘a leading scholar on Indonesia and West Papua’. In 2007 he was the first foreigner appointed to Vanuatu’s Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs. The story of his life was used by film-director Charlie Hill-Smith to structure his award-winning documentary ‘Strange Birds in Paradise’ (which premiered at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam in 2009, and won in 2010 the SBS Best Documentary IF Award, Best Documentary at the Colarado Film Festival, and Best Educational Feature Film at the ‘Peace Film Festival’ in Medea, Italy). In 2011, he was flown to Jakarta for talks with President Subilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and in 2013, during the 159th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade Rebellion in Ballarat he was awarded the Eureka Australia Day Medal.
In 2011, after the 3rd Papua Congress established the Federal Republic of West Papua (FRWP), Jacob was appointed Co-ordinating Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 2014, he oversaw the opening of the FRWP republic’s first office in the diaspora by Councillor Amanda Stone (Yarra City Council), despite restrictions in Australia (and in Indonesia) imposed by the Lombok Treaty. The office, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Immigration & Trade, is in the wealthy business district of Docklands, and is funded by an bourgeoning group of Australians who see no alternative to Indonesia’s long-standing problem with West Papua.