‘Papua’s in Diaspora’

Pig Salon Utrecht, 11 October 2009


Pig salon meeting about the Oral History Project  with contributions by Anke Kamerman (co-ordinator/interviewer of the PACE Project), Albitha Wambrauw (interviewer PACE) and Ron Habiboe (interviewer for a similar project on‘ Eye Witness accounts’ by Museum Maluku).

The Oral History Project  


Nancy opent de VarkenssalonPACE set up the project ‘Papuans in Diaspora’ to accommodate a growing need among the Papuans in the Netherlands and Papua itself to record their life stories. Twenty five people were interviewed, many of whom lived through World War II experiences in former Dutch New Guinea. The interviewed  comprise 21 Papuans, two Moluccans, one Tuganese person and one Dutchman.  Anke Kamerman, Albitha Wambrauw and Nico Jouwe recorded 31 interviews, which amounts to a total of 70 hours of audio recordings. A photo was taken of each interviewee and four of the interviews were recorded on video.

Presentation one: Anke Kamerman

The first speaker, Anke Kanerman, relates the following:
Anke Kamerman was eerste spreker
”The interviewees talked about their experiences during World War II, their childhood and schooling, their traditions, their adult life and migration story.  It has led to a wealth of information which is now available to Papuans, to PACE as organisation and to everyone who is interested in finding out what happened.  The key words for each interview and the transcription itself can be found at two different locations: PACE and the as part of the Archives on War Heritage which is being stored at Data Network Services(DANS), which is a department of de Nederlandse Academie voor Wetenschappen ( Dutch Institute of Sciences).The extent to which and when the information becomes available to the public depends on the conditions of copy right provided by the interviewees concerned.”

The Interviews

The project co-ordinator, Anke Kamerman, outlines the purpose of the interviews.

“PACE Started this Oral History Project  because precious life stories, knowledge of traditions and Mevrouw Van der Velden vertelt over een wieg historical events are in danger of being lost. For example, Mrs Van der Velde–Gebsen demonstrates how a baby carrier is warn from the forehead. This carrier comes from her tribe in the south of Papua, in the vicinity of Merauke. She belongs to the Marid Anim. She knows that the decorations on the baby carrier have a specific meaning but she cannot remember what it is. She went to a boarding school when she was very young and she did not see her parents for 16 years. As she pointed out herself, she did not even know how to beat sago. So the interviews provide us with detailed accounts of the life and migration of these people”.


Anke Kamerman, continues by explaining the following:

” The Second World War influenced the feeling of ‘nation building’, of what it is to be a Papua because through World War II New Guinea became involved in World History. It suddenly had a common enemy and it was confronted with mass murder on a scale that had not occurred before. According to Interviewee Mr Kereway, especially the children and young adults, who had become literate and had learnt about history, became aware of these feelings”

No Means of Communication

According to Anke, it is clear from the interviews that communication happened by word of mouth.

“ There was no proper means of communication. There was no radio, no paper, and only few Papuans could read as it was. The country is inhospitable which hinders communication and the missionaries, Dick Kereway doet zijn relaaswho were able to make radio contact with the outside world, had been deported. Moreover, there was absolutely no historical context in which to place the war. Papuans knew there was a war and that was it.  At times, it was even unclear who the enemy actually was. In addition, major changes happened in quick succession or as Mrs Wenbrauw put it: First there was  the conversion to Christianity, then World War II and the Koperi movement, mainly on Biak, and then the move to self-determination which meant that Papuans were to perform important functions in government and education.  This led to a desire for independence, after which came the departure of the Dutch and the takeover of the Indonesians.”

Excerpts from the Interviews

At the end of her presentation, Anke  provides 5 excerpts to listen to.

“ The first excerpt is from an interview with Ori Hokujoko. He was born on a small island of Lake Sentani. Neither of his parents had primary education. Ori  himself finished A levels and  studied Theology. He describes how he and his parents saw the war and in this way he demonstrates the differences in perception of  war experiences by the younger and older generation.

mevrouw.De Reus vertelt zeer beeldend over Sorong
In the second excerpt, Cathy van der Velde-Gebse can be heard. She is from the Marin Anim tribe and she was born near Merauke.”

Anke chose this particular excerpt because not much is known about Merauke at the time because this area was not occupied  during the war.

“Excerpt number three, allows you to visualise exactly what was happening, which is extremely valuable, there being no photos and video of this time.
Visual artist Barbara De Reus-Gamma describes Sorong after the bombing. She was born on Biak and is the daughter of the renowned minister Freek Kamma, who came to New Guinea in 1931 to be a missionary and a teacher."


The next excerpt was chosen because it demonstrates a phenomena that is particular to the Pacific.

“Remnants of the Second World War, including human remains, are not removed.  Right up to this day, you can still see the wrecks of planes in the landscape.

The following comes from the tale told by Dick Kereway, who was born on the island of Rhoon. He describes his journey on foot  together with his family to Idore, where his father was going to work as a guru (teacher).

In the last excerpt, the suffering of Alex Kipew becomes palpable. It is an experience that can only be communicated by listening to his words and seeing his face. Mr Kipew is in Makkassar, where he is being educated, when the war breaks out. He is totally cut off from his family and there is absolutely no means of communication available”.


Two important considerations need to be remembered regarding these interviews: The experiences of war are those of children and they are very personal memories.

Anke finishes her contribution with these words: “ I have only been able to reveal a fraction of the memories and tales that were told”.

Presentation two: Albitha Wambrauw
Albitha gaat in op migratieverhalen

Albitha Wambrauw starts her presentation by talking about some personal experiences.  She then talks about a number of migration stories: The stories of how the “uncles’ and ‘aunts’ ended up in the Netherlands. ( Everyone of the next generation is an aunt or uncle even though they are not true family.)

“Unlike Anke, I am a Papuan, a second generation Papuan who was born and bred in Holland. I am a member of the Papuan community in this country. So I know just about everyone and I wonder if the latter is in fact an advantage or not, and how I should deal with this. That was the big question for me when I started on this project. I made a conscious decision not to interview the people closest to me.

Stories by ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’


Auntie Doortje Westerbaan, who is not here today, told me how important her faith was, even as a child. For me that was the reason to ask her when she took sidi (went for communion) and what this meant to her. Using a  black and white  photo of her taking sidi in Seroeo, led to a  beautiful story. Uncle Eddy, the son of a guru (teacher), told me that he was the only one of the Korwa family who did not take communion. This is noteworthy. As the child of a guru, he is supposed to set an example!”

Albitha comments that the interviewees looked at her strangely when she asked certain questions because she was asking them about things, she should already know the answer to.

Veel thema's passeren de revue“ Auntie Corry An thought it was strange that I asked her to tell me what Kampong Sawendie  looked like as I had actually been there. So it was a matter of explaining to her that as an interviewer, I had to ask this sort of thing  and that it was important for the story she was telling.”

According to Albitha:

“A number of different themes were touched on: the journey to Holland, the role of the catholic and protestant missionaries, the political situation and the OPM but also things like forbidden love affairs. Uncle Dolf Tompoh talked about his relationship with a Dutch primary school teacher, which was absolutely not on at that time. She was sent home to Holland but he took off after her. His father. Grandpa Tompoh, was anti- protestants and uncle Dolf was therefore sent to a catholic missionary school, and not sent to the protestant boarding school, like all the others. Auntie Doortje told me that she was born in a Japanese prisoner of War camp. Her parent had to work for the Japanese and she and the other children were being looked after by the military”.

Migration Stories


“One of the themes which came back in each story was the individual migration story: How ‘the aunts’ and ‘uncles’ came to the Netherlands. And this varies a lot from one account to the next. Some came before the hand-over (of New Guinea to Indonesia) some came shortly after, but even in the 80’s and 90’s Papuans continued to come in order to settle in the Netherlands. Each individual has his own reason: study, escape from the political situation but also love or family reunification”.

Excerpts from Interviews


Albitha plays two excerpts from her interviews. The first one is from an interview with auntie Lea Kereway-Pawda. The second one comes from the stories told by uncle Eddie Korwa.

“She ( auntie Lea) left Hollandia for the Netherlands on the Southern Cross, together with Renate de publiek heeft veel aandachtReus  in order to go to school here. This is true for many of our parents. It was almost considered normal that she left all of her family behind to get educated.  The second account is more like an exciting boys story with two Papua boys as the main characters: Uncle Eddy Korwa and uncle Toni Rumpaism, who in 1954 decide to go as  stowaways aboard a ship belonging to Rotterdam Lloyd. Uncle Ed explained what he took with him and how he managed to conceal this”.

Albitha’s final comment:

“I hope that I have provided you with an impression of what was discussed. Which choices did our parents make when they came to the Netherlands? What happened when they got here and what were we, the children and grandchildren, lumbered with?  The most important reason for me to participate was that Papuans were finally able to tell  their personal histories. I hope that you will agree that this project is the start of an important source 0f information that will be invaluable for the Papuan community, now and in the future.”

Presentation three:Ron Habiboe


Ron Habiboe is conducting interviews with first generation Moluccans in the Netherlands and with Ron belicht Molukse sitiatieindividuals in the Molucca’s about their memories of the war.  In his presentation, he makes a comparison between the Papuan and the Moluccan situation. He explains that when he was studying History in Leiden, this discipline  was still viewed in terms of a study of handwritten primary resources and archeological findings.

Ron points out that “Oral History was not discussed as an option because this kind of resource was not taken seriously. However, many cultures do not have written records to refer to but have  an oral tradition, an oral history. If Oral History is not respected within the scientific community, then those of us with an oral tradition would not have a history. Moreover, all written records are based on oral accounts at some point. Since the 1980’s Oral History has become increasingly popular in the Netherlands and it is now regarded as an important branch within social science”.

Anak Maluku budak Nederland“On the Moluccas, information is passed on through stories about your family tree, special historical events (such as the origin of a village or a tribe, brave actions by individual heroes ) and personal life stories. This happens in the form of reciting oral texts at special occasion, either in the form of pela (accounts related by an individual) or kapata (stories through songs sung while rowing boats, at festivals or when they are going to war) For example, according to Dutch sources from the 17th Century, the name Ambon originates from the village Kailolo on the island of Haruku, which is actually a neighbouring island of Ambon. Such stories are recounted by special story tellers: either a bangsa raja( a family elder) or a tuan tana (eldest of a clan). This depends on what kind of story it is. So we can definitely say that we have a History all of our own”.

Interview excerpts explain place namesJonker krijgt het aan de stok met VOC

Two excerpts from interviews are presented to listen to. The first one is about the name of the island of Ambon. In the 17th century, the VOC had a Moluccan in its army by the name of Captain Jonker, who accrued too much power after a number of successes for the VOC on the island of Java.  A number of things happened and it eventually led to a violent confrontation between Jonker and the VOC.  Captain Jonker, a Moluccan hero in the eyes of his own people, lost out in this confrontation.  The excerpt makes clear that the island of Sai Guru, where this event occurred, was renamed after Jonker’s defeat. It became known as Ambon, which is an abbreviation of the Indonesian version of the following phrase: Moluccans are  slaves of the Netherlands.

In the second excerpt one learns how the village of Hila on Ambon got its name.  During the battle between the VOC and the inhabitants of Ambon, some of the Moluccan fighters managed to kidnap  the daughter of the Dutch admiral, Steven van den berg.  His daughter Nurlina ends up marrying one of the fighters names Tulukabesi. According to the account of the interviewee, Nurlina, who is a  Christian, asks her Islamic husband to build a church.  When the admiral, looking for his daughter, actually came to this village, Tulukabesi took off. From that time on, this village acquired the name Hila, an abbreviated version of Hadji Lari, the Islamic (Tulukabesi’s) retreat.

luisteren naar interviewfragmenten  Project ‘Eye Witness Accounts’

“From July 2008 onwards we recorded about 45 interviews with Moluccans in the Netherlands, in the Moluccas and elders in Indonesia. We have recorded their experiences from World War II.

The Moluccan community in the Netherlands is predominantly Christian and they come from the Island of Ambon and some of its neighbouring islands.  Moslems  among the Molluccans are in the minority and they come from the more southern Kai Archipelago. The Christians of this community were faithful to the Queen and the Dutch flag and they are in fact the ones that eventually ended up in the Netherlands. Their experiences consisted mainly of forced labour in concentration camps. Women had to watch out for  the Japanese.  The interviews reveal that some of the Moluccans cooperated voluntarily with the Japanese and that some women lived with Japanese of their own free will as opposed to Ona-Ona( forced prostitution).”

To Illustrate his points, Ron plays an excerpt from an interview. It is about a woman who had a relationship with one of the Japanese soldiers who was stationed in the village. To prevent complications, the soldier marries the woman. The soldier visits her father to ask for permission. As the soldier speaks no Japanese the father agrees with the words: dioto.

When asked if she was forced she replies: “No, after all he officially asked me to marry him, didn’t he?”  After the marriage she flees into the forest because she is pregnant. When the Japanese surrendered, the woman and her mother did not know this. The Japanese soldier came to find them of his own accord. He brought food and washing powder, a whole kain full.  He picked up his child and named it Josiko and he renamed the woman calling her Oriki.  “ Her father’s name is Osako. So that is the story you can take home with you”

Ron Habiboe explains that they were still working on the transcription and translations of the interviews. If all goes according to plan, the project will be concluded by April 2010.  Ron hopes that the interviews will provide a broader view of  Moluccan history.

Follow-up Discussion

During the second part of the Pig Salon Meeting, Nancy Jouwe, the director of Pace, leads the discussion between the presenters and the public.

Happy to pass on their history

The interviewees present indicate that they are really happy that their history has been recorded conclussie: samen sta je sterkerfor subsequent generations. They also think that it is important to interview the younger (second and third) generation of Papuans. One of the interviewees comments that it was quite scary to answer all the questions, others indicate that they were emotionally affected. But all of them are glad that they can now share their stories with the new and upcoming generations of Papuans.

A project such as this, also brings out sensitivities. Not everyone wanted to participate because of political differences that exist in the Papuan community. Those present thought it was a pity that some people still adhere to a clan mentality based on these differences.

Why work with Moluccan  group?aandacht voor discussie

One of the persons interviewed, wonders why there is co-operation with the Moluccan group: “It’s about the heritage of us Papuans, isn’t it?”
Nancy  points out that the majority of work done by PACE is not  linked  to the Moluccan situation, but that there are several reasons why an exchange did occur. First of all, it enabled the interview teams to swap valuable tips and experience during the oral history projects. Further more, strong historical ties exist between Moluccans and Papuans because the Moluccans had a clear presence and played an important role during the Dutch period in New Guinea (1949-1969) as guru, minister, soldier and inhabitant of the region. The same argument is true regarding the Dutch, as they played a very dominant role in Dutch New Guinea and for this reason they were also included as part of the Papua Heritage story. Someone in the audience adds that it is also a good idea from a strategic point of view: Together you make more of an impact.