AS the strains of the banned anthem Oh, My Land Papua faded away and tears streamed down the cheeks of the members of the Papuan delegation at the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly, the audience was left emotionally drained.
The reality had finally dawned.
Here stood a people, strangers for 52 years in the land of their ancestors, stopped from singing their hymn of praise of tanah – their vanua, brutally punished by the Indonesian security forces for daring to suggest that they wanted self-determination.
Here stood a people who had attempted for more than half a century to bring justice into their homes in the face of an international and church community which conveniently turns a blind eye to their struggle.
Two months earlier, then Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr claimed the international community had no interest in the situation of the indigenous people of West Papua.
Australia and the United States may not be interested in the people but they have a definite interest in the gold and timber in the forests of West Papua, along with the potential gas and oil off the coast.
The United Nations – which shirked its responsibility in 1961 and failed to block Indonesia’s annexing of the former Dutch colony – has done nothing, possibly out of shame.
So they have remained blind and silent to the plight of these people who finally claimed a place on the international stage.
The world’s churches, complicit with the UN and the global powers through their silence – were forced to open that space by the Pacific delegation to the WCC 10th Assembly.
At this religious forum representative of more than 500 million Christians the irony of this forgotten people making a political statement was not lost.
That was what brought tears to the eyes of people who did not know the words of the West Papuan anthem.
Here stood a people singing their song in a strange land.
Psalm 137 tells of the lament of the Israelites being forced by their Babylonian captors to sing songs of praise to God while the captors laughed until their sides hurt and tears rolled down their faces.
“How can we sing in a strange land?” the Israelites asked.
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By Netani Rika