While most people are familiar with Indonesia’s picturesque destinations – think Bali and Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara – Papua rarely comes up in conversation.
In reality, Papua, as frequent travelers can attest, has some of the country’s most scenic views and unique culture, such as pristine waters and the rich marine diversity of Raja Ampat in West Papua.
In an effort to encourage conversation, and to foster recognition of Papua, nonprofit organization EcoNusa launched an initiative called MaCe Papua, highlighting Papuan stories.
MaCe – short for Mari Cerita (Let’s Tell a Story) – comes in the form of a monthly discussion that highlights various topics, from local Papuan languages to culinary adventures.
For its initial discussion on Wednesday, EcoNusa brought in homegrown Papuan talents, inviting singer Michael Jakarimilena, author Raden Lukman and activist Lisa Duwiry.
Lisa has been active in championing social issues surrounding Papua. One of her first initiatives was to participate in a book drive called Buku Untuk Papua (Books for Papua).
“At first I was a volunteer, and at that time Twitter was abuzz with all sorts of social initiatives, but then I noticed there was next to nothing for the people of Papua,” she said. “I looked around and I finally found Buku Untuk Papua founder Dayu Rifanto.”
The book initiative grew over time to include free classes and a crowdfunding drive for a library.
After taking a break from the initiative and finding herself still wanting to do something for the Papuan people, Lisa started #UntukKorowai after finding a story on Facebook about a Korowai child named Puti Hatil in need of medical assistance.
“Initially, I went just to help spread the word around, but eventually it got bigger through celebrities and influencers highlighting the issue. We eventually managed to raise around Rp 136 million (US$9,697) to pay for a teaching assistant for the village as well as medical supplies.”
Lisa believes that growth and progress for Papua should not be limited to infrastructure and natural resources, as it should also include the people.
“The people of Papua are brilliant, and imagine if we can harness that potential. Indonesia will be immensely rich if we can involve Papua more in our development.”
Michael, known for his stint in the first season of Indonesian Idol, was born and raised in Jayapura, leaving his hometown to study in Surabaya in 2001 before making it to Jakarta three years later for the singing competition.
Throughout his singing career, which has taken him to numerous places, both at home and internationally, Michael often sings songs about Papua and asks his audience whether they have been to Papua as a way to introduce the region.
“I always say to them, ‘Papua is more beautiful than the stories I tell you’. Papuan children, with all of their disadvantages, venture out into the world to gather knowledge and to know their brothers and sisters from across the country.
“I make a point of saying, ‘If you’re Indonesian, visit Papua to get to know your Papuan brothers and sisters’,” Michael said, describing Papua as Indonesia’s “paradise on earth”.
Michael is aware many Papuan children often dream of being either a civil servant for financial stability or a soccer player for the fame and glory.
He himself once dreamed of being a player for Persipura, a soccer club based in Jayapura.
“It is every Papuan boy’s dream to play for Persipura, because the club’s vision is to bring glory to God and to bring honor to the Papuan people. When you see a player out on the field, you’ll see that he doesn’t play for himself, but he plays for his family and friends, carrying their hopes and dreams.”
Meanwhile, Raden, who was born in the Papuan city of Sorong, said that even though his father is from Banten and his mother from Jakarta, he reserved a special place in his heart for Papua.
His love for Papua is manifested in his book Ku Kenalkan Papuaku (Introducing My Papua), which he wrote to provide a different perspective on Papua for those who have never stepped foot there.
Raden, who recently graduated from Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, said he intended to return to Sorong to become a city planner, using his knowledge to improve his hometown.
“For me, Papua is not only built by material things. What we need is for people to put their hearts into it. I always tell my friends that the sun rises in the east, and because of that, hope also comes from the east. This means that we are people with hope in our hearts,” he said.
“Whenever my Papuan friends say we’re not experienced enough, I always reply that what we can offer is the future.” (ste)