On December 1, 1961, West Papuan nationalists raised a new flag bearing the morning star emblem and sang a new anthem. In fabric and music, they hoped to sing a new nation into being.
The land of Papua, located where Indonesia fades into the Melanesian Pacific, never gained its independence. Papuan nationalist leaders of the early 1960s hoped that their homeland, then still a Dutch colony, would follow the wave of decolonization sweeping Africa. They even called their country a “new Africa” and their people “the negroids of the Pacific.” Instead, the Kennedy administration in the United States brokered a deal that saw the land of Papua transferred to Indonesian rule.
Yet December 1 remains a foundational moment in the West Papuan nationalism that still persists after more than 50 years of Indonesian rule. In 1999, it was hailed as a bright shining moment when Papuans had, in many ways, declared their independence. The Papuan nationalists of 1999 argued that they were “already sovereign as a people and as a nation,” and had been 1961, when their fore-runners raised the morning star flag and sang the new anthem.
2015 was no different: Papuan students rallied in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. “We also wanted to retell that since December 1, 1961, Papua should’ve been independent,” one protester told Tempo magazine.
I wrote about the significance of December 1 as a foundational moment in Papuan nationalism in the wake of the day’s resurrection as nationalist touchstone at the turn of the century: D. Webster, “Already Sovereign as a People: A Foundational Moment in West Papuan Nationalism,” Pacific Affairs 74.4 (2001): 507-528 (archiving on autor web site permiotted after embargo, copyright Pacific Affairs):
Some of this is out of date, but the significance of the day and the history remains. New Zealand activist and researcher Maire Leadbetter offers an updated historical overview today to mark the 54th anniversary of the original December 1 moment.
This is not an issue that is going away. Nationalism is persistent, and it echoes through the generations on such days of memory.