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Kirsch, notes on Hyndman

June 7, 2011

There are few writing about Papua on either side of the border that explain the social dynamics of bodies as well as Stuart Kirsch. One particular text, untouched in my thesis (it was one thing I inexplicably failed to stumble over) is reproduced at length below. While the process of transformation of facts and rumors frequently occurs when these are taken from specific Papuan contexts and placed in alien locations or contexts, cogeneration frequently occurs.

[223] “I argue that political and critical discourse often marginalize and dehumanize the refugees in the process of enhancing their own rhetorical power.”

[228] “In 1987, an article by David Hyndman in the Cultural Survival Quarterly was partially reprinted in a national … Jaya with the tapeworm Taenia solium, a parasite that can cause cysticercosis in humans, leading to convulsions and death. Hyndman, an anthropologist, argued that the tapeworms had been deliberately introduced into Irian Jaya as a form of biological warfare against indigenous Melanesian populations. He made these assertions despite the research of a parasitologist sponsored by the World Health Organization (Desowitz 1987) who concluded that the parasites had been inadvertently introduced into Irian Jaya when a number of pigs were brought as gifts from Bali, where the parasite is endemic. Hyndman further suggested that the domestic pigs raised by the refugees were hosts to the parasite, even though there is no medical evidence to support this position (Fritzsche, 1988; George Nurse p.c.). The original article, cleverly titled: “How the West (Papua) Was Won,” made quite a splash. Had its speculative claims been true, endangering the refugees as well as their neighbors in Papua New Guinea, the situation would certainly have provoked international intervention.

In other examples of critical discourse about the refugees from Irian jaya, the attempt to present the strongest possible case against Indonesia sometimes leads to false or exaggerated claims. Such assertions may have the unintended consequence of striking fear into the hearts of the very proponents of the argument claim to support. sensationalist reports about helicopter gunships and armed river trucks patrolling the [230] Fly River (Nietschmann and Elev. 1987) or phantom OPM operations blockading the shipment of copper and gold from the Ok Tedi Mine along the Fly River (Matthews, 1992) do little to calm the refugees.

More than simply inciting terror however, such discourse also encourages the refugees to seek a military solution to their predicament, a strategy that must be regarded as millenarian. Yonggom members of the OPM sometimes boast of magical techniques that enable them to transform themselves into crocodiles at river crossings to evade capture, or rites that permit them to withstand a volley of Indonesian gunfire without harm. Encouraged by outsides, the OPM train in the rain forest along the border with their bows and arrows, machetes and vintage weaponry.

Not only is the hope for a military solution to the problems in Irian Jaya unrealistic, but this perspective also discourages the refugees and OPM from pursuing alternative political strategies. Political moderates among the refugees even risk denunciation as traitors. Thus the conspiracy theories and millenarian solutions of critical discourse are promoted at the expense of any possible rapprochement between the refugees and the Indonesian government. Proponents of critical discourse often overlook refugee interpretations of events and ignore the impact of their discourse on the refugees themselves.

[229]”given that Hyndman’s argument has not been substantiated however, … Thus Hyndman’s claims about biological warfare were directly transformed”

None of these should be simply discounted; there is valuable truth value in each of these rumors, which give us considerable information about how people understand themselves and their relationships with others. Self-aggrandisement is a common strategy in the face of existential threats, and the idea of genocidal power being exercised is itself instructive. Hyndman’s claims would not float if there was not a receptive environment in which they could exist. The disease cysticercosis, ruptured the social world in which the Yonggom and refugees live(d), and was a deadly, previously unexplained source of death. Otherwise healthy people would lose their sanity, fall into fires, and have seizures and fits. Like HIV/AIDS in the two decades subsequent, it recontextualizes relations through its inexplicability.

What is less explicable, and less worthy of sympathetic analysis, is the relationship that these refugees claims had with those outside Papua. In turning their suffering into a political instrument, without direct regard for their immediate (rather than future) wellbeing in the face of military repression, foreigners took advantage of rhetorical positions that held no cost and which positioned them as the saviours of those in need.

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