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Rizzo, Susanna 2004 From Paradise Lost to Promised Land: Christianity and the rise of West Papuan nationalism, PhD Dissertation, Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies (CAPSTRANS), School of History and Politics, University of Wollongong.
    © Susanna Grazia Rizzo 2004.


In 1953 Aarne Koskinen's book, The Missionary Influence as a Political Factor in the Pacific Islands, appeared on the shelves of the academic world, adding further fuel to the longstanding debate in anthropological and historical studies regarding the role and effects of missionary activity in colonial settings. Koskinen's findings supported the general view amongst anthropologists and historians that missionary activity had a negative impact on non-Western populations, wiping away their cultural templates and disrupting their socio-economic and political systems. This attitude towards mission activity assumes that the contemporary non-Western world is the product of the 'West', and that what the 'Rest' believes and how it lives, its social, economic and political systems, as well as its values and beliefs, have derived from or have been implanted by the 'West'. This postulate has led to the denial of the agency of non-Western or colonial people, deeming them as 'history-less' and 'nation-less': as an entity devoid of identity. But is this postulate true? Have the non-Western populations really been passive recipients of Western commodities, ideas and values?

This dissertation examines the role that Christianity, the ideology of the West, the religion whose values underlies the semantics and structures of modernisation, has played in the genesis and rise of West Papuan nationalism.

The modernist and primordialist approaches to the study of the relation between nationalism and religion assume either structural-functionalist or intellectualist definitions of religion. This thesis rejects that view in postulating that religion plays a foundational role in the rise of both historical consciousness and nationalism. Positioning itself in antithesis to traditional primitivist approaches to the study of West Papua, which have tended to study the Papuan people as a set of distinct tribes, each endowed with particular identity dynamics, this thesis attempts to provide a comprehensive study of West Papuan nationalism as a single ethnic and geographical entity. Breaking away from modular forms of nationalism, which consider such a phenomenon as a res capable of being transplanted, it attempts to recover the 'eventful reconfigurations' which have allowed for the rise of West Papuan national consciousness and identity. Sahlins structure of the conjuncture will be used as the basis for the articulation of a methodology to enable the recovery of the lost history of pre-literate peoples and the discarding of the interrelated myths of 'history-less-ness' and 'nation-less-ness'.

This thesis argues that West Papua was a distinct ethnic identity long before the Europeans entered the region. This identity was shaped and defined by processes of adaptation to a particular ecosystem and by the longstanding relations that the Papuans had engaged in with the neighbouring Malay populations in, what can be regarded as, the 'Maluku-Papuan-Ceramese' zone. Consequently Papuan pre-colonial ethnic identity, authenticated by a series of myths and stories, acted as the prime mover in determining the relational dynamics and dialectics with the Europeans and Christianity.

It will be shown that Christianity did not create the Papuan nation and West Papuan nationalism, although, once Christianity was 'inculturated' into the Papuan cultural-religious template, Christian institutions acted as the structure and semantics by which the Papuans were able to communicate and articulate communal sentiments of belonging, coalescing into a unified entity. Papuan hermeneutics, known as cargoism, played an important role in mediating and systemising Christian beliefs and values into Papuan cultural-religious templates, so that the locus of Papuan national identity came to reside in the intersection of Papuan stories and myths with Christian narratives.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Dutch nation-building program inculcated into the emerging Papuan intelligentsia an idea of nation and nationalism, which could serve their neo-colonial interests and resist Indonesian incorporation of the territory. This program came to clash with the autochthonous Papuan nationalism, which had manifested itself in the great Koreri movement of 1938-1942.

  © Copyright UNIPA - ANU - UNCEN PapuaWeb Project, 2005.

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