A bibliographic Essay on the Southwestern Kepala Burung (Bird’s Head, Doberai) of Papua

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A Bibliographic Essay on the Southwestern Kepala Burung

(Bird’s Head, Doberai) of Papua

by Jaap Timmer

State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Project / Department of Anthropology

Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University

jaap.timmer@anu.edu.au or jaaptimmer@hotmail.com

(Last modified August, 2002)

With the expansion of Dutch colonial control over the western part of the island of New Guinea, the territory’s eastern bird’s head-shaped tip came to be named the Vogelkop. It is sometimes referred to as Doberai, a term of unknown origin. Since the Indonesian acquisition of West New Guinea in 1963, the Indonesian translation of Vogelkop, Kepala Burung, was brought into fashion. This article reviews the main historical and anthropological materials related to the Southwestern Kepala Burung. It focuses on the Teminabuan area in the south-western part of the Kepala Burung, where I worked among the Imyan and Tehit people in 1994, 1995 and 1996. Based on material collected during that period, I wrote a dissertation titled Living with Intricate Futures: Order and Confusion in Imyan Worlds, Irian Jaya, Indonesia (2000) that is also available on Papuaweb.

Geography and Population
The sub-district (kecamatan) of Teminabuan covers an area of approximately 2,500 square kilometres and has a relatively dense population of about twelve thousand people, or five persons per square kilometre (Lautenbach 1999: 69). Besides the major ethnic groups, the Imyan and Tehit speakers, there are around one-thousand Buginese, Butonese, and Macassarese (BBM) from South Sulawesi and a lesser amount of Ambonese and Keiese families. These Eastern Indonesian in-migrants mostly live in Teminabuan town. Just outside the Teminabuan sub-district, in the sub-district of Aitinyo there is a so-called transmigration site in Moswaren where around two hundred Javanese attempt to make a living. Regional others or non-Tehit speakers making a living in or around Teminabuan town include Maybrat as well as immigrants from Inanwatan, Onin and Salawati.

Beautiful green karst hills of northern Teminabuan contrast with the extensive stretches of estuarine swamplands with mangroves, muddy tidal flats, and vast areas with sago groves of the south. For an overview of the environmental and geological setting of the lowlands of the Southwest Kepala Burung and the Kepala Burung in general, see Dam and Wong (1998) and Ratman (1998). For their livelihood, the people in the north largely depend on slash and burn cultivation of tubers and vegetables on small patches of land. The staple diet consists of tubers, supplemented by sago from the coast, and a variety of plants, fruits, nuts, and game gathered from the forest. In contrast, the villagers who live close to the coastal swamplands eat sago porridge (hlit or papeda), tubers, vegetables grown in gardens, and a variety of forest products.

In the ethnographic literature, the indigenous people of Teminabuan are generally referred to as Tehit or speakers of Tehit. Tehit, sometimes also called Tehid, is classified as a Papuan or non-Austronesian language and is grouped together with other Southwest Kepala Burung languages such as Seget, Moi, Moraid, Yabin-Konda, and Ogit into the West Kepala Burung Family of the West Papuan Phylum, forming one group with the languages of North Halmahera (Voorhoeve 1975, 1984, 1989; Silzer and Clouse 1991). The boundaries of the Tehit language coincide well with the sub-district boundaries. To all sides, there is an uninterrupted flow of population between Maybrat speakers to the north, Klabra speakers to the west, Moi speakers to the north-west, and Ogit or (Yabin-) Konda speakers to the east and south. For references to linguistic studies of Tehit and its dialects, see Silzer and Clouse (1991: 80), Hesse (1993), and Stokhof (1995).

The Maybrat figure prominently in the anthropological literature of the Kepala Burung and are also referred to as Ayamaru, Mejprat, Mejbrat, or Meybrat people. The Swedish anthropologist Elmberg has devoted two monographs (1965, 1968) and three articles (1955, 1959, 1966) to Maybrat exchange, kinship, mythology, and rituals, all based on fieldwork in 1954 and 1958. In his capacity as government anthropologist, Pouwer studied the cloth exchange of the Maybrat people (1956, 1957) and also described the ways in which a prominent ‘big man’, Abraham Kambuaya, dealt with major changes in Maybrat society in the late 1950s (1993). In the 1970s, Miedema, while working in charge of a local church, visited the Maybrat for six short periods of one to three weeks and gathered material for his analysis of their fishing practices and cloth exchange complex (1986). In later stages of his comparative historical analysis of trade, migration, and exchange in the Kepala Burung, Miedema begun to focus on the Maybrat, following Kamma’s (1970) hypothesis which suggests that the Maybrat area represents the centre of the cloth exchange complex in the Kepala Burung (see, for example, Miedema 1994, 1998, in press). Various dialects of the Maybrat language have been studied and documented by Ajamiseba, Kafiar, and Silzer (1989), Brown (1990, 1991), Brown and Brown (1991, 1993), and Dol (1995, 1996, 1998, 1999).

Teminabuan people generally agree that they are culturally different from the Maybrat people (in terms of language, exchange practices, and mentality), Ogit people (in language, origins, and settlement patterns), and Klabra. Linguistically, Klabra is one of the dialects of Tehit and Imyan speakers recognise few cultural differences between themselves and people living in the Klabra River area. Only recently did people in Teminabuan consider the Klabra, with their rather isolated commercial and administrative centre of Wanurian, as more traditional and backward.

Purba and Animung (1982-3, 1983, 1984) and Animung and Flassy (1987) have made studies of the Klabra and Seget languages respectively. For references to studies of the Moi language, see Ichwan and Fautngil (1984), Flassy (1983), and Menick (1995, 1996). There is virtually no material on the Ogit people. Imyan consider them as immigrants from coastal places further to the east (Yahadian, Inanwatan). Until missionary and colonial government activities took effect in the 1940s, the Ogit lived a nomadic life, sailing the rivers and creeks in the coastal swamplands. Presently, they live in the villages of Makambar, Sayal, and Konda.

Historical Connections
The major rivers of the Southwestern Bird’s Head, the Klabra, the Seremuk and the Kaibus provide access to the alluvial flats and karst lowlands. In the past, raiding parties used these rivers to catch slaves and to steal forest products which were then traded throughout the western maritime regions of the island of New Guinea and Nothern Maluku. In that respect, the groups in this area cannot be characterised as isolated or solitary. On the contrary, they have been connected to the world economy for centuries. At least three hundred years ago they began to play a role in the vast spheres of influence of the sultanate of Tidore in North Maluku. The Tidore sultans claimed suzerainty over a large area, which at various times also included western parts of New Guinea. Local Papuan leaders of mixed ethnic origin along the coast of western New Guinea dominated trade and supported the centralised authority of the sultan. These leaders were called raja (‘kings’).

On early power and trade relations between Maluku sultans and their domains at stretches of the west coast of New Guinea, see Leupe (1875), Haga (1884, I: 6-7, 192-8, 208-11), Huizinga (1998), De Clerq (1889a, 1889b, 1891), Van Hille (1905, 1906, 1907), Rauws (1919: 5), Kamma (1953a), Bergh (1964a), Miklouho-Maclay (1982: 439), Swadling (1996: 33), and Van Balen (n.d.: 134-47). The historical overviews, notably Kamma’s work on the Papuan Islands (1947/8a, 1947/8b, 1948/9a, 1948/9b), Goodman on seventeenth and eighteenth century exchange networks in the Seram Sea (1998), Pouwer on the Mimika (1955), and Van Logchem on Arguni Bay (1963), show that along the west coast of New Guinea, voyages of trade, kidnapping, and pillage were undertaken by people from Eastern Indonesia, Seram, Goram, Ternate and Tidore from as early as the seventeenth century, later joined by Makassarese, Buginese, Arabs, and Chinese.

The Raja Ampat Islands, the western coastal stretches of the Kepala Burung and the Onin Peninsula were important centres of trade, representatives of the eastern Indonesian sultans appointed local Indonesian and Papuan representatives as raja and kapitan. These local agents ensured regular production and collection of plumes, slaves, massoi bark, trepang (sea cucumber) and other valuable products demanded by the sultans. In return, all kinds of commodities including textiles and beads (manik-manik) entered the interior of the Bird’s Head, the Onin Peninsula, and the Mimika area (see Swadling 1996).

The Teminabuan area belonged to the sphere of influence of the ‘kingdom’ of Sailolof, of which leaders were appointed as tributaries of the sultan of Tidore. Imyan and Tehit mythologies, origin stories, and explanations of the unequal division of wealth in the world, portray Tidore and Sailolof as a centre of wealth and knowledge. The raja of Sailolof resided on the island of Salawati, one of the Raja Ampat Islands situated to the west of the Kepala Burung. For centuries, the Raja Ampat islanders, many of whom are Islamic, recognised the authority of the Moluccan rajas. Interestingly, despite the historical influence of Moluccan institutions such as the Tidore system of local authoriry, many ‘Melanesian’ cultural traits on the islands survive. Most of the population of the Raja Ampat Islands and at coastal stretches of the Kepala Burung Peninsula trace their descent and their cosmological beliefs and related ritual practices to the island of Biak. On the similarities in cosmologies between Biak and part of the Bird’s Head and the Raja Ampat Islands, see Kamma (1947/8a, 1947/8b, 1948/9a, 1948/9b), Van der Leeden (1983), and Mansoben (1995: 221-62).

People from Biak founded trading posts on the mainland of the Kepala Burung. In this part of Papua, the Biak people influenced trade relations. The Biak language became a trade lingua franca throughout the western and northern coast of the Kepala Burung, the Raja Ampat Islands, and Eastern Maluku (see Donohue 1996: 715, map 78). The origin story of wuon in which Bauk brings a metal axe into the interior of the Teminabuan area relates to this trade history (see Kamma and Kooijman 1973: 25-26). In his study of the Moi, Haenen (1991: 1-5) recounts the origin story of the Malibela people coming from Sor on the island of Biak. According to Kamma (cited in Haenen 1991: 5), the Malibela have settled among the Moi about 200 years ago, but the beginning of the Biak-Numfor migrations to the Raja Ampat Islands and the western Kepala Burung are traced back to the end of the 15th century (Kamma 1947/8a: 365). As also observed by Miedema (1995b: 24 n. 1), the Malibela account is consistent with ethno-historical reconstructions done by Barnett (1959), Bergh (1964a), Elmberg (1968), and Miedema (1986, 1994).

Trade, travel, and tribute linked the south-western coast of the Kepala Burung to a ‘global’ network of external relations. Particularly during the nineteenth century, when Europeans began to appreciate the beauty of bird of paradise feathers to decorate their hats, the island of New Guinea became important as source of feathers (Swadling 1996). Teminabuan and Seget became increasingly important posts for those raja who were instrumental in the collection and transportation of local products and manpower. The influence of raja on the northern and western shores of the Onin Peninsula lasted till the 1920s, when missionaries, Dutch military personnel and administrators, and traders of different casts became more dominant (Lotgering 1940: 36-37).

Early Mission Work
Two major Christian doctrines entered Teminabuan and its surrounding villages after 1927. The Protestant missionaries arrived first, followed later by two Mennonite (Doopsgezinde) missionaries, Marcus and Koopmans. The Protestant (Protestantse) missionaries from the Utrechtse Zendingsvereniging (UZV, the co-ordinating society of Dutch Protestant mission) started working in Inanwatan after 1918. The missionaries chose Inanwatan to counter the presence of Islam in Tarof and Negri Besar in what was then called the Berau region. The Berau region comprises the coastal area roughly from Inanwatan to Arandai. The area west of Teminabuan was referred to as Berauer. N. Vinck already reported the presence of Islamic belief among the ‘Berau people’ in 1663. Vinck was one of the first Europeans to travel into the MacCluer Gulf (Haga 1884, I: 81; Kamma 1976: 729). Fak-fak on the southern coast of the Bomberai Peninsula, was the first station of the Jesuit Cross of the Apostolic Vicariate of Batavia in West New Guinea, established in 1894. Fak-fak, together with Manokwari, was one of the two places where the Dutch established a permanent administrative centre after 1898 (Van Baal, Galis, and Koentjaraningrat 1984: 123; Overweel 1994: 115; Swadling 1996: 149-50). Fak-fak became the base from which missionisation of the south coast of the Kepala Burung was organised.

The UZV was following in Heldring’s footsteps (Rauws 1919: 66; Reenders 1991: 327, 368, 371). Already in 1859, Heldring advised the UZV to start ‘preaching the cross of our Saviour’ in pagan New Guinea ‘where it is still night’ (Heldring quoted in Reenders 1991: 245, my translation), not only because of the need to save this land from polygamy, slavery, despotism, superstition, idolatry, and the spread of Islam, but also because of the political danger of leaving this rich and promising, though difficult area to German and English missionaries. Moreover, according to Heldring, the government would be willing to support such missionary effort because of their interest in an ‘island that contains all the treasures of Australia’ (Heldring quoted in Reenders 1991: 243-6, 320 n. 11, my translation).

During their initial exploration of the situation in Fak-fak, the UZV missionaries, Starrenburg and Jens discovered that the rajas on the north coast of the Onin Peninsula used trade to spread Islam to the Berau area (Wetstein 1953: 101, Slump 1953: 110). The UZV sent the missionaries Starrenburg and Jens on a 350-kilometre hiking and canoe trip from Windesi to Fak-fak in 1911. From there, Starrenburg travelled across the MacCluer Gulf to Inanwatan where he was surprised to see thousands of Papuans living together in one settlement (Wetstein 1953: 99). For detailed and anecdotal overviews of these early Protestant mission efforts on the south coast of the Kepala Burung, see Van Muijlwijk (1913), Rauws (1919: 159-69), Van Hasselt (1926), Wetstein (1925, 1953), Slump (1933, 1934, 1953, n.d.), and the overview of missionisation in West New Guinea in Kamma (1976).

During the first decades of missionary activity in the Berau area the missionaries confronted local belief in spirits, magic, witchcraft, and poisoning. In the mid-1930s, Slump reports that in the village of Mogetemin, located north of Inanwatan, stories about a giant flood that would destroy the world were circulating. The people believed that evil spirits caused the catastrophe but the presence of colonial government was sometimes also considered the cause of these fearful impending events (see Slump 1953, n.d.). Moreover, mission reports that were clearly written for an audience in the Netherlands pictured the local people as fierce head-hunters who cut meat from alive captives for consumption (Van Hasselt 1926: 46).

It is in this terrifying world that Van Starrenburg was welcomed with enthusiasm by a thousand people in Bira (later Inanwatan) in 1911. The business of conversion was difficult as missionaries found it hard to convince the Bira people to change their ‘primitive’ behaviours. There were also ‘selfish’ local leaders who adhered to Islamic doctrine and practices because of their relations with the raja at the north coast of the Onin Peninsula (Bergh 1964a: 51, 79; Elmberg 1968: 127). Their resistance to the influences of Dutch traders and missionaries can be seen as a continuation of reported harsh attacks on foreign ships and their crews in the late nineteenth century. For example, in 1873 the Prussian pearler Captain Edwin Redlich on the brig ‘Franz’ sent his first mate and seventeen men off in two small boats on 12 November. In December, the Raja of Salawati reported to Redlich that they had been killed and eaten by people on the Klabra River (Bergh 1964a: 28-41; Kamma 1948/9b: 261; Robidé van der Aa 1879: 256; Souter 1964: 38 n. 3).

Nevertheless, after 1912, the Berau region, together with Bintuni, Kokas, and Fak-fak became an area of active missionary activity following the arrival of Van Muijlwijk in Fak-fak. Shifts in personnel and the eventual arrival of more missionaries and teachers (gurus) advanced the goals of the mission. From the beginning of missionary activities in Berau, local people regularly asked for gurus. According to Rauws (1919: 166), they felt unsatisfied after they were ‘forced to adhere to Islam under pressure from their leaders and subsequently returned to their pagan state again’. Interestingly, in Onim’s (1988) account of the history of the mission in the Teminabuan area, Islam is the problem, impelling people to prefer Christian teachers and Dutch colonial officers. Speaking for a different audience, Rauws, then director of the Protestant mission centre in Oegstgeest, the Netherlands, was concerned to satisfy members of his own organisation and the public in general in the Netherlands. However, the groups along the south coast of the Kepala Burung also wanted gurus as an incentive for the Dutch to build a dock for the Dutch cargo ships, and thus gain access to Western goods and wealth.

In 1942, the Japanese occupied the area. Slump (1953: 112) decribes the cheating, threat, and uncertainty of the Second World War period as a damaging event for the mission. However, by 1950, Slump noted that many parish members returned to the villages to attend Sunday service. At the end of 1944, allied officers and soldiers drove out the Japanese with the enthousiastic help of local people. Heroic stories of how the Japanese were cheated, tricked and killed are still told. In 1945, the colonial administrators and the Dutch missionaries had not yet returned. The gurus, however, continued the pre-war programs and started to urge people to rebuild their villages or to establish new villages. The first Dutch missionaries sent to Inanwatan after the war were Minister Middag and Reverend Slump. Numerous people from the interior came down to the coast to greet the Dutch missionaries and to request the return of their guru or a new guru for their newly built villages. Only after an expedition to the interior by a civil servant did the government and mission begin to address the Aitinyo and Ayamaru areas in 1948. In addition, in 1948, Slump opened the first school at the Seremuk River, in the village of Klabot, together with several mission posts.

The Protestant mission of the UZV faced to contend with a shortage of gurus and missionaries during the first few years after the war. In the 1950s, the situation changed when large Dutch subsidies enabled the churches to build more schools and health centres and employ more personnel. In Sorong this resulted in the building of a leper hospital, Sele be Solu, where the Mennonite sisters Lydia and Ruth Bähler from Switzerland were employed (see Laurense 1972). Around the same time, in consultation with the United Dutch Mission Corporation (Vereenigde Nederlandse Zendingscorporaties, Oegstgeest), the parish of Teminabuan was handed over to the Mennonite Missionary Council (Doopsgezinde Zendingsraad). The Mennonites were allowed to work in the area under the condition that they would contribute to the establishment of a united church of West New Guinea that would later become the Irian Jaya Evangelical Church and presently known as Gereja Kristen Injili di Irian Jaya (GKI).

Colonial administration followed in the footsteps of the mission and the military exploration in the beginning of the twentieth century. For detailed material on the history and policies of the colonial government, see the reports from departing officials to their successors. These informative reports are called Memoranda of Transfer (Memories van Overgave) and are held in the archive of the Ministry of Colonial Affairs in the General State Archives at The Hague. In the same archive diaries of government personnel and official correspondence related to Teminabuan are available from 1924 and 1928, whereas for other areas the earliest written materials date to the mid-1930s, when the sub-division of Inanwatan first became an independent administrative unit.

Memoranda relevant to the Teminabuan area are the Onderafdeeling Midden-Vogelkop (Van Dijk 1940), the Onderafdeeling Inanwatan (Lotgering 1940), the Onderafdeeling Ajamaroe (Merkelijn 1951b and Van der Veen 1953b), and the Onderafdeeling Teminaboean (Massink 1955b and Cappetti 1961). The different names of the Onderafdeeling (sub-division) incorporating the Teminabuan area reflects the shifts of the government headquarters responsible for the south-west coast of the Kepala Burung. In 1954, the town of Teminabuan became the headquarters of the newly established sub-division carrying the same name (Teminaboean). Consequently, observations reported in earlier Memoranda of Transfer deal largely with Inanwatan and Ayamaru, the two previous major centres of administration and mission. The first government official to account for the coastal people of Teminabuan in detail is Cappetti in his 1961 Memorandum of Transfer.

In 1962, Teminabuan was the first place where the Indonesian red and white flag was raised during the military infiltrations, which began with the Trikora command to free the territory from Dutch control. The most successful infiltrations were paratroops dropped from Hercules aircrafts. At Teminabuan, paratroops of the Operasi Serigala landed on 8, 17, and 18 May, 1962. On 23 May, for the first time, they flew the Indonesian red and white flag (Sang Merah Putih) on West New Guinea, and Teminabuan was announced as the residency of the Indonesian governor of Irian Barat (Sejarah Perjuangan 1989: 154-55). In response, the Dutch Royal Airforce dropped paratroopers in the area on 19 and 21 May, together with the local Papuan Voluntary Army (PVK) or Papuan battalion, to combat the Indonesian invaders. Four days later, Dutch marines and PVK soldiers killed around 40 Indonesian paratroopers in the forest between Wersar, Beriat, and Konda, and two Indonesian soldiers in Teminabuan town on 27 May. In June, after many more deaths, the Netherlands’ control over Teminabuan was re-established (Eisinga 1982).

After several years of political and military conflict between Indonesia and the Netherlands, the General Assembly of the United Nations ordered that the Dutch should quit New Guinea in 1962. In March 1963, West New Guinea became a part of the Republic of Indonesia. After Indonesia assumed administrative control over the territory, the new authorities did not begin modernisation programs until the mid-1970s. With the gradual expansion of communications and transportation technology during the Dutch period and the Indonesian efforts to develop the territory, the isolation of once-remote villages has diminished and the standard of living of most Imyan has significantly increased. However, Indonesian civilians and officials took positions in government, education, and the oil industry, once held by Papuans. Not surprisingly, nowadays, many Papuans see the church as the one Papuan institution that bridges the widened gap between the Papuans and ‘the whites’.

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