West Papua lost one of its most important leaders, with the passing, on 17 September 2003 in Canberra, of Dirk Samuel Ayamiseba at the age of 91.
In 1969, the one million people living in West Papua were waiting for their chance to vote on their future. An act of self-determination had been promised and was a requirement of the 1962 New York Agreement that ended the bitter dispute between Holland and Indonesia over the Dutch colony of West Papua.
However, the Papuan people were to be betrayed by the United Nations, when, instead of a vote for all adult Papuans, just 1,025 were hand-picked by Indonesia to vote, at the point of a gun, against independence. And the international community turned and looked the other way, plunging West Papua into 40 years of abuse at the hands of the Indonesian military. According to Amnesty International, more than 100,000 Papuans have died as a result of Indonesian brutality.
In the lead-up to the 1969 fraudulent Act of Free Choice in West Papua, Dirk Ayamiseba was Chairman of the Regional Peoples’ Representative Assembly of Irian Jaya (West Papua), set up by the Indonesian government during their interim administration of the former Dutch colony. In 1968 the United Nations’ Representative, Dr Fernandes Ortiz Sanz, arrived in West Papua to oversee the Act of Free Choice. He worked with Indonesia and the Papuan leaders to facilitate the vote.
As the Chairman of the People’s Assembly, Mr Ayamiseba presented the views of the Papuan people to the UN representative. Unfortunately, because of the clear stand taken by the People’s Assembly under his leadership, demanding strict compliance with the New York Agreement, the Assembly was suspended by Indonesia. Instead of a universal vote, Indonesia orchestrated a limited vote by a handful of Papuans on behalf of all.
Mr Ayamiseba was one of three West Papuans on a panel of seven men appointed by the Indonesian Government to co-ordinate the Act of Free Choice, which he and all West Papuans thought was going to be a genuine referendum. Mr Ayamiseba resigned when he discovered what Indonesia and the United Nations were planning.
Dirk Samuel Ayamiseba was born on 19 November 1912 in the Village of Yende, Roon Islands, at the Bird of Paradise Peninsula, West Papua. He was educated away from home at boarding school, and continued on to teacher training. After he obtained his teaching qualifications, he worked in different regions in West Papua. His longest teaching term was in the village of Sorido on Biak Island, where he remained until the Second World War. As a pastor (as all teachers in that era were), Mr Ayamiseba was a founding member of the Protestant Church of West Papua, which was indigenised by Holland in 1956.
Mr Ayamiseba’s destiny as a future national leader was shaped by the political revolution on Biak, when the people rose up against the Japanese occupation. He was one of the leaders who led the fight not only against the Japanese, but also against the other invaders — firstly the Dutch, then the Indonesians.
Following the mysterious deaths of many Papuan leaders during the 1970s, the West Papuan Independence Movement (OPM), decided to protect Dirk Ayamiseba and the former Governor Eliezer Bonay, by sending them into exile. These two leaders were highly knowledgeable of Indonesian colonisation processes, and were living witnesses to the 1969 sham Act of Free Choice, and thus at risk. Mr. Eliezer Bonay died in Holland in 1989.
In 1979, the popular band the Black Brothers, managed by Mr Ayamiseba’s eldest son Andy, was invited by Air Niugini to perform in Papua New Guinea. Under an agreement with the OPM, the band included Dirk Ayamiseba as adviser on cultural matters — a ploy to get Mr Ayamiseba out of West Papua. From PNG, the band moved to Holland where Mr Ayamiseba reclaimed his Dutch citizenship.
In 1984 the Black Brothers, by now an internationally acclaimed reggae and rock band, were invited to Vanuatu to support a base for the West Papuan struggle. Mr Ayamiseba did not hesitate to return with the band to the Pacific. In Vanuatu, his views and knowledge were valued by the leaders of this progressive, newly independent country, especially by the Secretary General of the former Vanuaaku Party, and future Prime Minister, Barak Sope.
In 1988, due to political instability in Vanuatu, the Black Brothers and families were asked to leave the country. They were accepted as refugees in Australia, and made Canberra their new home. Over the years, Mr Ayamiseba has made invaluable contributions to academic and public debate.
Dirk Ayamiseba was buried in Canberra on 24 September 2003. He is survived by seven children, 29 grand children and 15 great grand children. He will be sadly missed by his family and all those who knew and respected this great Papuan leader.
Kel Dummett (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an academic at RMIT University, Melbourne. He has been active in the West Papuan and East Timor struggles for more than 15 years. Kel has written extensively on Australia’s relations with Indonesia and human rights abuses in West Papua.