Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who is responsible for poverty in Papua?

Papua is one of the most underdeveloped regions in this country. And my question is who is actually responsible for creating that poverty? I spent more than four months this year teaching in Fakfak, West Papua. Before I went to Papua I knew how bad the situation in the region was from watching the news.

There is a lot of information about Papua, including information about the levels of poverty and illiteracy in the region. In Papua, the rate of education is very low and people have been known to die from starvation.

The reality of poverty and misery in Papua has drawn my attention for many years. I have devoted much time to thinking about the problems and how to overcome them. When I was in Papua, I started to form a real and complete picture of this problem. I began to ask myself how such a rich island could become so poor. The forest and sea looked like it provided abundant, which could sustain people's livelihood sufficiently.

The forest, river and sea could supply almost every need; wood for housing, various plants for medicine, unlimited land for farming, and animals and fish for consumption. With a little advanced knowledge and technology to manage these great resources, they would certainly lack nothing they would need to live a good life.

Driven by these questions, my thoughts turned to the lifestyle of the Papuan people that I saw while I was living there. I observed what they ate, what they wore, where they went when they got sick, what kind of houses they built, and finally what their definition of rich and poor was. Now apparently they eat rice instead of yam and sago palm, they wear garment clothes instead of more traditional clothing, when they get sick they go directly to a doctor rather than use their own traditional medicines, and the worst of all, they also build concrete houses instead of traditional wooden houses.

This time the measure of rich and poor was not how many pigs someone had, rather more like the Javanese, they measured wealth in terms of the size of their house, what vehicles they drove and what kind of phone they used. They have given up using their own resources and have began to use the products of others; the products of different cultures that come Java (read: modernization, globalization).

Papuans have now become absolutely dependent on other resources. And to get them they must buy them at four to six times the price. They buy clothes, rice, medicine and even building materials from Java. This is a problem, but there is something much bigger; while they must buy everything from Java, on the other hand, they sell almost nothing to Java. It is completely unfair and unjust. This is a problem, but there are bigger problems than this.

Javanese culture has become deeply imbedded in Papuan life. Today, their lifestyle is completely Javanese. They have abandoned their own culture in order to become Javanese. They eat, wear, build houses, and have become consumers just like the Javanese. They were pushed to live on something that their own island could not produce and then neglected their own resources.

Now we have to ask, how did this situation occur? In my opinion, one of the most important causes was the doctrine and theory of developed and underdeveloped regions and societies that was used by the Javanese in their approach to Papua. The Javanese came to Papua and told them that they were poor, backward, and underdeveloped, while at the same time implied how advanced, modern and civilized they were.

In this way the Javanese pushed the Papuans to be like them because they didn't want to be considered as underdeveloped and primitive. And as soon as the Papuans accepted this idea they became dependent on Java - believing they had to buy materials from Java so they too would become advanced, modern and civilized.

But the problem is that as soon as they adopted Javanese culture and became dependant on their products, the Papuans directly detached from their own culture and neglected their island's resources. And what is the result of this? Did the Papuans then became an advanced society like the Javanese? No! All that they got from this was poverty. This Javanization has just made the situation in Papua even worse than before. The Javanization was just a politic of how to sell, not how to help. They pushed Papuans to buy everything they sold, but never thought about how to create jobs for them so they could earn the money to pay for them. So, they just buy with their little saving; after which, poverty just hits harder. By Tri Harmaji, Yogyakarta The writer is a PhD student of ICRS Yogyakarta

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