Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Stone Burning in West Papua

Andreas Iswinarto made this "Bakar Batu" (Stone Burning) painting. It depicts a traditional feast in West Papua where Papuans dig up a hole, layer it with leaves, fill it with pork, and put over burning stones. It takes hours to wait ... thus a chance to chat and to tell jokes.

I always enjoy a stone burning feast. My wife gave me a painting from Andreas Iswinarto to remind me to a feast that I took part in May 2015 in a church guest house in Jayapura.

It began on May 9, 2015 when President Jokowi visited the Abepura prison –the first Indonesian president to visit this historical prison-- and granted clemency to five Papuan prisoners, each of them has spent 12 years in prison, for their role in an arsenal raid in Wamena in 2003.

Apotnalogolik Lokobal, Jefrai Murib, Kimanus Wenda, Linus Hiluka, and Numbungga Telenggen, talked to President Jokowi, appreciating Jokowi but also asking him to release other prisoners, Papuan and Moluccan detainees.

Jokowi promised to release all of them.

I was waiting in a guest house, dealing with some journalists' interviews including Al Jazeera and AFP.

That evening, three of the five men came to the two-story church guest house where I was staying and had a chat with some human rights defenders. Lokobal and Murib had suffered strokes, having difficulties to climb stairs and staying in an NGO office, next door. All of them experienced torture and ill-treatment in detention.

The three slept in two rooms next to mine.

At 3am, Numbungga Telenggen got out of his room, walking to the dining area.

I woke up and asked him.

“Where am I? What am I doing here?” asked Telenggen.

I told him that he had been released from the prison.

It was saddening to see how they felt uncomfortable, strange, uneasy, but also relieved, when taking a morning stroll outside the guest house the following morning.

“We have never walking outside the prison,” said Kimanus Wenda.

We decided to do a ceremony to welcome them back. Yermias Degei, a journalist from Nabire, helped buy pork, vegetables and sweet potatoes. The church provided a bigger sum indeed.

It was organized on May 14, in the guest house. Many Papuans came to the feast, mostly their relatives. I was the only Indonesian there. We chatted and waited for the burning to finish. It was about five hours.

I also feel some kind of warm feeling when remembering that feast. No formal speeches. No chair. No plates. We ate with our hands. This picture reminds me to that stone burning feast.

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