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Julia Jouwe sees it as a mission to tell the Papua story of her grandfather Nicolaas Jouwe

A forgotten country, a forgotten people. In the spirit of Papua leader Nicolaas Jouwe, his son Nico (60) and granddaughter Julia (23) fight for 'the just cause': self-government for Papua.

Julia, who completed her degree in biomedical sciences, is actively concerned with the consequences 76 years after WWII. Although it took a while before she could tell self-consciously about her roots and motivations. “I was raised in a very Dutch way and grew up in a white neighborhood, where I wanted to be just like friends.

That proud attitude would certainly get the approval of grandfather Nicolaas, who died in Indonesia in 2017. During the funeral, Julia was in the country where her grandfather and father were born, for the second time. It marked a turning point. Julia: ,,My aunt Nancy once said it beautifully: the moment I landed in Papua, it felt like I was rooting, or I belonged there.''


Grandpa Nicolaas felt the difference between home (in Delft) and home (in Papua) the most. The son of a chieftain in Kayu Pulau, he was destined to play a leading role in the approaching independence. This also looked promising in 1961, when a parliament was established. Indonesia had been independent since 1949, and on August 15, 1962, Dutch New Guinea - until then under Dutch rule - would acquire the right of self-determination. Nico Jouwe: "The Dutch government had promised that."

In the preceding months, Indonesia increased the pressure: President Sukarno wanted to annex Papua - rich in copper and gold, among other things - to Indonesia. After months of tinkering at the highest level, and because the US no longer wanted any noise in the region, the UN decided in 1962 that Papua would - for the time being - become part of Indonesia. It was determined that the Papuans could still choose independence or not via a binding referendum in 1969." right box. One hundred percent of those entitled to vote opted to join Indonesia.

Nicolaas Jouwe, had to flee tot he Netherlands in 1962, where he lived in exile. I loved his stories. He proudly told about the paradise where he had grown up: myths in which nature played an important role. He also told how as a child played on the beach and was suddenly 'picked naked from the beach' by a white Dutch man and put at school. He had a good laugh about that. Avo passed away in 2017 and was buried in the place where he was born, the Jouwe Island (Pulau Kosong). I was there; it was my second trip. Every day we mourned with our large family. 

Several tribes came to pay him their last respects and performed traditional dances. It was as if my grandfather himself was a mythical figure from one of his own hero stories.”

Indonesian invitation

In 2009 President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had invited Jouwe himself. To come and have a look again and to talk to the president about the reconstruction of Papua – within the republic of Indonesia.
After more than forty years, Papua foreman Jouwe saw his homeland again. But he was not committed to Jakarta's propaganda.

Jouwe decided to go to Jakarta. Not to give up his pursuit of self-determination, but to open dialogue with the Yudhoyono government. The documentary 'Land without a King', made by Babette Niemel, shows how that return went after 47 years: chaotic, with a lot of scheming and political games.

On the island of Kayu Pulau in Jayapura Bay, the capital of the Indonesian province of Papua, musicians donned colored feathers, reed skirts and painted faces. They welcomed their old clan chief to his native island. The clan chief Nicolaas Jouwe (85) and he barely makes any headway after arriving on the island. Every few meters he is attacked by older women , who fall into his arms crying. And together they sing the national anthem 'Hai Tanakhu Papua', Oh my country Papua.

If it weren't for so many Indonesian intelligence officers, it would have been just an emotional reunion of an old man with his homeland, which he hasn't seen for 47 years. But the Indonesian government wanted to keep everything under control, because Nicolaas Jouwe was no ordinary old man. In 1961, when Jayapura was still called Hollandia and Papua was still Dutch New Guinea, he was elected as the highest-ranking representative in the New Guinea Council, the new parliament of the Dutch colony. There he was the first to shape the struggle for independence. He designed the national flag, the Morning Star, the symbol of a free Papua. And he was the intended first prime minister of the independent state of West Papua.

When Nicolaas Jouwe arrived in Jakarta he had his Morning Star pin on his jacket. When he landed in Jayapura, he kneeled to kiss the ground surrounded by journalists. For him it was a golden opportunity to pick up his fight for a better life for the Papuans and to see his homeland again. Since the Netherlands had 'given away' Papua in 1962, Jouwe had lived in Delft, with redundancy pay from the Dutch government.

"Papua needs a country of its own, for its own people," he said after arriving in Jakarta. Switching between Dutch, Indonesian and English, he spoke about Indonesia's 'banditry'. From the fall of the Soviet Union to the fall of the British pound to the Old Testament, everything points to the fact that Indonesia cannot continue its practices in Papua forever. Nicolaas Jouwe assumed that the president had invited him because Indonesia was beginning to repent. "Even if we talk a thousand times, it's better than violence."

But back in Jakarta it quickly became clear what the government's agenda was. A day after his arrival, the Ministry of Welfare, without the knowledge of Jouwe, spread the news that "the founder of the separatist movement OPM" gave up his fight for independence. He would call on the OPM fighters, who had shot a soldier a few days earlier, to surrender. And during a special ceremony, he would take off his "pin," his Morning Star pin.

The election stunt did not turn out the way the government had hoped. "Your pin, where is your pin?" Junus Habibie, the Indonesian ambassador to the Netherlands, shouted to Jouwe during the press conference where the 'pin moment' should have happened. But all Indonesian journalists saw how Jouwe refused. “No, not yet,” he said in Dutch. "Not today." Earlier, Jouwe had shocked his audience by talking about "two peoples", "two countries", and "our great neighbor Indonesia".

Hence, the Indonesian government kept this unguided missile close at hand for the rest of his journey. He was joined by four Papuans - part family - who had previously decided to cooperate with the Indonesian government and were therefore controversial within the Papuan community. He almost exclusively met government officials, such as the governor of Papua and the mayor of Jayapura. Interviews with the Indonesian press were out of the question: two journalists who managed to approach Jouwe in Jakarta were yelled at by his chaperons – “Bloody idiot!” – and sent away. Even when he visited his native island yesterday, he did not get to talk to 'ordinary people' and he was banned from the island before he could visit his birthplace.

Hence, his return was not welcomed by all Papuan leaders. "I think it would have been better if Mr. Jouwe had met the people, and not just the government," said Secretary-General Leo Imbiri of the Indigenous Papua Council (DAP). In his office hangs an old newspaper report about the flag and national anthem of Papua, with a photo of Jouwe. Imbiri believes that the special autonomy that Papua was granted in 2001 is not working. According to him, the legalization of the Morning Star flag is being thwarted by Jakarta.

Fighting spirit

Nico Jouwe only discovered the fighting spirit that characterized his father at a later age. ,,I'm also more introverted than him. As a teenager and in my twenties I was mainly busy building a life and family here.” The search for his identity was revived when grandfather Nicholas announced that he wanted to return to Papua, and also wanted to die there. Nico: ,,It was too dangerous for him for a long time; Indonesia still saw my father as a troublemaker.” Nevertheless, the inner urge won: after the publication of the documentary King without a country, Nicolaas traveled with son Nico and daughter Nancy, and surrounded by security measures, return to his beloved Papua.

On the one hand, that felt like a warm bath, says Nico. The Papuans welcomed the great leader of the past with open arms, but it also opened Nico's eyes: the Papuan population is systematically discriminated against in their own country. “The Indonesians, especially the Javanese, have the higher management positions and the best jobs. An example: just like in the rest of Indonesia, there are modern shopping centers in Jayapura (the capital, the former Hollandia, ed.). In the shops are the Javanese and Sumatran people. Outside the Papuans are sweeping the streets.”


On her first visit in 2017, Julia also experienced how the Papuans are oppressed and the land is being plundered. And where Grandpa Nicholas sometimes jokingly shouted, referring to Julia's medical training, that she should found a hospital in Papua, she now has a higher goal. She is co-founder of the youth movement Young Papua Collective, and fights in a contemporary way for a free Papua and a fair referendum. Julia, averse to the internal division among the Papuans that stems from the past, sees herself as a connector. One that loudly and clearly denounces discrimination and economic exploitation, also citing the Black Lives Matter movement. Julia: ,,I want to emphasize what unites us. That we listen to each other. You recently saw that the hashtag #papualivesmatter went viral: not only the Papuans, but also more and more Indonesians support our cause. And I want to play a part in that.”

Then something has to change in the Netherlands, she thinks. An example: when the Netherlands apologizes for the violence during the police actions, the Indonesian rulers 'forget' that they themselves use violence today to keep the Papuan population small. Julia, looking at her grandfather's flag: ,,Quite hypocritical, isn't it? That is also why I see it as an assignment to continue to tell the story of my grandfather and the Papuans.”

Granddaughter Julia Jouwe (23) sees it as a mission to tell the Papua story

Julia Jouwe made a trip to the country that would radically change her life. She became acquainted with relatives and saw the abuses to which the Papuans are exposed on a daily basis. Returning to the Netherlands, she and Samuel van Voorn founded Young Papua Collective, an organization to unite young Papuans in the Netherlands.


Julia has now been to Papua three times. She tells enthusiastically about her first trip: “That was super important. Until then, I had hardly thought about my origins. But the introduction to family I had never seen before and who welcomed me more than hospitably, made a lot of sense. I now study journalism and feel like a storyteller. I see it as a mission to tell the story of my grandfather and the Papuans.”

freedom struggle

In 2019 Julia made a third trip to Papua. This time with her parents and brother. Once again she thoroughly enjoyed the overwhelming nature, but also experienced how the Papuans are treated as second-class citizens: “The Javanese have the best jobs; Papuans are sweeping the streets. The Indonesian authorities commit many human rights violations against Papuans. In protests on September 23, 2019, soldiers intervened and dozens were injured and killed. Amnesty International is paying attention to it, supporting peaceful activists and protests in Papua.” In the Netherlands, Julia tries to unite the Papuan youth: “People of the second generation all know each other. With us – the third and fourth generations – it is different. Hence the initiative to reach the community of 3,000 Papuas through Young Papua Collective and to exchange stories with each other. Connecting is important to me, and I like to write about my own quest. Like in the blog I wrote for Tracing your roots, in which young people aged 15-35, who have roots in the Indies/Indonesia, look for their family history.”

Talking to Jakarta, better than struggle

Where others took up arms to reinforce their ideals, Jouwe continued to preach the non-violent struggle. He truly believed that diplomacy would lead to self-determination for his people. In the end, Jouwe envisioned a merger of West Papua with its eastern neighbor Papua New Guinea, which did gain independence from Australia in 1975. It could work for a viable nation. What didn't work in their favor was that the Papuans were divided among themselves. For example, Jouwe himself soon came into conflict with his old companion Marcus Kaisiëpo, who had also emigrated to the Netherlands. Their strong egos got in the way of fruitful cooperation. Neither of them managed to create a strong organization that could achieve success on the international stage.

Two visits and a year later, Jouwe decides to return permanently and stop his struggle. Many Papuans, also here in the Netherlands, do not thank him for that. They see it as betrayal. But Jouwe was tired of the fight after nearly fifty years. He was convinced that by working with the Indonesian government he could achieve more for his people, who needed better care, education, infrastructure and prosperity. What also played a role in his considerations was that Jouwe, wanted to be able to lay his head to rest one day in his native village of Kayu Pulau.

Last resting place

On his return, in 2010, Jouwe was appointed symbolic as special adviser to the minister who had Papua in his portfolio. The Indonesian government promised him a brand new house in Jayapura, which was almost finished. But he stranded, in a neighborhood of Jakarta. The Indonesian authorities found it too risky to return the striking Papua to New Guinea. When he breaks his hip due to a fall, he ends up in a wheelchair. In Jakarta he does receive regular visits from relatives from Papua, but he himself only travels once to Jayapura.

After his death, the authorities wanted Jouwe to be buried at Pahlawan, a plot for national heroes. His family, however, insisted that Nicolaas has his final resting place on 'Jouwe Island', near his native village. And so it happened.

The Morning Star flag should have been on his coffin, but Indonesia would have taken that as a provocation. Still, Jouwe's struggle has been valiant, noble and tenacious, but has yielded little tangible. "Except", says son Nico, "that my father's struggle has been an incentive for new generations to continue to work for the fate of the Papuans."

Nicolaas Jouwe went back with the conviction for self-determination, according to his daughter Nancy Jouwe in a radio interview a year after his death. He believed he could talk to the Indonesians when he returned.He had not renounced his faith for independence for Papua.
In his experience, he thought he had found an opening by having a direct line to the president of Indonesia. 

And so Indonesia remained in control of this western part of New Guinea. This new colonizer even proved himself a cruel oppressor, who brutally crushed peaceful protests. Human rights organizations reported genocide practices. It is still illegal to hoist the Morning Star, the Papua flag that Jouwe designed in 1961. Anyone who ignores the ban is immediately arrested as a provocateur. 

The original population has never felt Indonesian and knows that they are inferior to the many 'compatriots', especially Javanese, who have ended up in their province as a result of the transmigration policy.

Translation of newspaper article in Trouw

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