By Dan McGarry, media director of the Vanuatu Daily Post
“We are all Melanesian,” says Vanuatu Deputy Prime Minister Joe Natuman. “We are family. We regard it as an obligation to help one another.”
Natuman recounted the history of West Papua from post-World War II days at the Morning Star flag-raising ceremony in Port Vila on Friday, remarking at the end that the struggle for independence was not only a struggle against colonialism, but a struggle against corporate and commercial interests too.
Papua’s Morning Star and Vanuatu flags flying together at the Crow’s Nest in Port Vila. Image: Screenshot/AWPA
“It’s not just Sukarno and Suharto, it’s also American big business that’s involved,” Natuman said. “We’re not just fighting colonial powers. It’s big business too.”
This is the first time a senior figure in the Vanuatu government has publicly criticised the United States and its mining interests in relation to the issue of West Papuan independence.
The nation’s sense of duty in helping to make all of Melanesia free was made manifest when the government of Vanuatu on Friday officially transferred the historic Crow’s Nest building to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).
Friday, December 1, marked the 56th year since the Morning Star flag of independence was flown for the first time in 1961 while Papua was still a Dutch colony.
The ULMWP building will be shared with local creative collective Further Arts.
Natuman is a lifelong supporter of West Papuan independence.
He was the first speaker in the ceremony marking the official opening of the West Papuan mission in Vanuatu.
He was joined by Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, Lands Minister Ralph Regenvanu, Parliamentary Secretaries Johnny Koanapo and Andrew Napuat, as well as the President of the Malvatumauri, the head of the Vanuatu Christian Council and dozens of Vanuatu-based independence activists.
This week also marked the annual conclave of the ULMWP leadership, along with senior militants as well.
Internationally known figures Octovianus Mote, Benny Wenda and several other independence leaders were also present. Some declined to be identified or photographed due to fear of retaliation by Indonesian authorities or their proxies.
The day was nonetheless a happy one, and a few drops of rain were insufficient to quench the spirits of a movement that, for the first time in two generations, finally has a place to call home.