Flotilla unsettles Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua

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As we sat around a campfire in Brisbane, Kevin Buzzacott held up a bottle of water collected from the springs near Lake Eyre — a vast salt encrusted plain, which except in times of rare floods is bone dry. The inner city park in Brisbane where we met was one of the many stops the West Papua Freedom Flotilla made in its journey over August and September from Australia to the Indonesian colony of West Papua. The rapt audience of black, white and indigenous activists that night included 30 people who would later board two small yachts on the last leg of the land and sea convoy.

Buzzacott spoke of a source in the north, on the border between West Papua and Papua New Guinea, that sends water surging thousands of kilometers south through a network of subterranean capillaries that later springs up in the desert. “This water has come to the Arabana people as a blessing from the land of the Papuans,” said Buzzacott, an Aboriginal elder from Lake Eyre. “I want to take it back to the people of West Papua and say thank you,” said Buzzacott. But to take the water back to West Papua involved an act of courage and defiance. This risky venture, an initiative of indigenous Australian Aboriginal elders and West Papuan refugees, was designed to build solidarity and shine a light on the Indonesian government’s ongoing occupation of West Papua. It was also a creative experiment employing ritual and ceremony as a form of third-party nonviolent intervention.

“With this journey we are testing the waters” said Ronny Kareni. “We knew exactly when we had to stop and we have learned a lot. But this action is just the beginning.”

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