Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Dead Birds" Revisited

A report from Australian television on the changing face of warfare in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

View Dead Birds, the classic ethnographic film about traditional warfare among the Dani of the highlands of New Gunea:

And here's another take on warfare in the highlands. The Dani live in West Papua, now part of Indonesia.

Now there is a new kind of war going on.

The story today is about international mining. Colonialists of our time, the multinationals have made and continue to make huge profits from exploiting the riches of West Papua. These companies, if called into question, can hire top lawyers to protect their interests. They can curry favor with politicians. They can win support from the military.

But the West Papuans, now, have more than bows and arrows, though their arsenal is still small by comparison with that of the big companies. They are organizing and enlisting international political support against the depredations of the mining companies. They are using an indigenous concept, merdeka (freedom) to express their wish for both regional autonomy and social justice.

Starting with the intrusion of the Dutch and continuing to today’s Indonesian control, many West Papuans have suffered from a politics of violence that makes the ritual warfare of Dead Birds look like child’s play.

If one were to film a documentary of conflict in West Papua today, the line-up would be very different from that depicted in Dead Birds. The mining companies would have a star role. Their employees are dressed up nicely. But they don’t stop shooting after wounding just one person.