Racism and Colonialism: ‘Monkey Race’, Racism and Papua Independence Aspiration

“Monkey! Pig! Dog! Don’t you come out? We are waiting for you here”. While racist slurs were heard being chanted at the background dozens of military officers forced their way towards the entrance of Papua students’ dormitory in Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia. They damaged the entire fence and forced the students to come out of their dormitory by force.

Meanwhile, an angry mob consisting of hundreds of people from various nationalist organizations gathered in front of the dormitory hurling stones and sticks into the student dormitory smashing windows and building in the process while calling the students derogatory names like ‘monkeys,’ ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’. The crowd sang Indonesian national anthem until midnight and chanted; “out! Out! Papua out! Massacre Papua! Massacre Papua’.

Papuan students, who are ethnically different from other Indonesians, were accused of throwing Indonesian flag into a ditch in front of their dormitory. There were forty-three (43) Papuan students that were arrested after the officers fired tear gas into the dormitory and forced them into the police car. They were detained for 24 hours before their release without bail.

On the 15th of August 2019, just one day before the Surabaya incident, the Papuan Student Alliance (AMP) and the Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-WP) in the East Java city of Malang held a peaceful protest. The activists marched to mark the 56th anniversary of the controversial United Nations-brokered New York agreement that took place in New York on the 15th of August 1962 which guarantee Papuans the right to self-determination. They commemorated the event at the same time calling for the review of the agreement because Papuans were excluded from participating in the agreement as a major party. However, the protest ended up in a riot after the local mobs involved in throwing stones and sticks into the protesting students. There were shouting, beating and mocking of students by the mobs even calling the students with all sorts of animal’s name. Some students sustained injuries due to torture and beatings.

The racially motivated attacks in Surabaya and Malang sparked anger among Papuans throughout the towns and cities in both Papua and West Papua provinces. On social media, majority of Papuans changed their profile pictures with pictures of monkeys and maintain the term ‘monkey’ as a symbol for West Papua freedom struggle. Many more publicly shared their own experiences of being the victims of racial abuse by other Indonesian citizens throughout their lives. These collective experiences fueled the rage and resentment among Papuans that unify them to struggle for freedom from Indonesia.


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