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Cargoism in Irian Jaya today.


Today cargoism is all-pervasive, even rampant, in Irian Jaya. Throughout the province movements have broken out, and are continuing, on a scale that is without precedent, except perhaps for the World War II period.

A survey of salvation movements in Irian Jaya from the middle of the 19th century until the late 1970s was presented by Godschalk (1983) at a Seminar on Melanesian Movements, held in Pyramid, Irian Jaya in 1980. It incorporated, but also augmented, an earlier overview by Kamma (1972:283-298). The original history of movements in Irian Jaya in Strelan (1977:14-15, 21-22, 28-29) was completely rewritten in Strelan and Godschalk (1989) and updated to 1988; this study, however, is in Indonesian and is, therefore, less accessible. In this paper we present data that are even more contemporary.

We wish to limit ourselves to activities reported from four areas in Irian Jaya; they seem to represent a bewildering variety of responses to outside influences. The four groups are the Me, Western Dani, Hupla, and Dr. Wainggai with his followers.(1)

After a brief descriptive account of the relevant events, we will look into some of the factors that cause the movements to surface.


The idea behind the movements among the Me is the same, but the cargoistic aspirations in the Paniai region have centered upon three different terminologies or concepts over the last 25 years. They are: Pabrik (from 1964 onwards), Alam (from 1983) and Batu delima (1989 to the present).

1. Pabrik

The word pabrik means 'factory' in Indonesian and is derived from the Dutch word fabriek. But according to the Me the idea of pabrik is related to a spirit being who is believed to hold or to be the source of all Western goods. With the help of this supernatural being the Me people can have access to Western goods without working for them or being involved in the manufacturing process.

The first Me leader who came up with this idea was Paulus Tebay, born in the village of Okaitadi on the west shore of Lake Paniai. Paulus was a man highly respected throughout the Paniai region, because he was one of only about ten Me students who had graduated from the Teachers' Training School in Serui (Yapen Island). After his return to the highlands he eventually became a school teacher in Emaibo. Early in 1964, he claimed that he had discovered the key to unlock the gate of the pabrik that would give access to the Western goods stored inside the Kiuto hill on the west shore of Paniai lake. How had he found this key?

A few days before his death, his father Yimouyawi Tebay, while in a state of ecstasy, had told his son that he would receive seven keys. He had said to him, 'I will give you further information later, after I die. Be strong, even if you are suffering and starving now. One day you will be free from all this misery and bitterness of life.'

A week after his father had died, Paulus found a seven-tailed python; he killed it and kept its tails in a wooden box. The following night a beautiful white lady, called Nabai(2) by Paulus, appeared to him in a dream; she was tall and had long hair. She instructed Paulus to go to his father's grave. He did this and found the key under a tawaya tree. He inserted it into his father's hip which was already rotting. Suddenly, there was an earthquake and the door to the underworld opened. Paulus entered the gate and there he met his father, who had become a young man. He saw all the riches of the Western world: abundant food supplies, clothing, cars, airplanes, hotels, restaurants, huge stores, paved streets, etc. He walked around and also saw some of his relatives who had died long ago, but now had become young men and women. Then he was directed to return to the land of the living. But before Paulus left this place, Nabai instructed him to slaughter a number of pigs and sacrifice them to her; certain parts should be presented to her. She in turn would release the goods.

Paulus returned to his village and told the people that he had discovered the pabrik under the Kiuto hill. He said that if they sacrificed their pigs and presented the heads to Nabai, she would release the riches, and the Me people (and Irian Jaya people as a whole) would be flooded with western made goods which until now had been enjoyed only by the Australians, Europeans and Americans: 'We will be like the Westerners.'

The people responded by bringing Paulus pigs and chickens to be sacrificed to Nabai; those who did not have pigs brought money so he could buy pigs. At first the contributions came primarily from his immediate relatives. The expectation behind the response was that, if Nabai released the goods and Irian Jaya became an independent state, they would receive a share of the goods or a position in the new government.

Paulus and his followers held pig feasts every month to meet the demands of Nabai and cause her to release the goods; but Nabai was not moved, in spite of her promises to Paulus. On the contrary, she now demanded that Paulus kill seven tonowi bagee (well-respected and rich leaders), cut off their heads and bring them to her. This scared Paulus to death. During the week that he thought the matter over, sixty people, young and old alike, died suddenly. Paulus insisted on pursuing the idea, and he organized a final pig feast in Emaibo in August 1964, to which he also invited the Head of the Paniai District. This official promised to attend the feast and later donated rice, sugar and salt. Many men and women from far and wide came to Emaibo to see the goods be brought out of the Kiuto hill by Nabai. But she was not satisfied with the countless number of pigs sacrificed to her and insisted on human heads being presented to her, before she would deliver the goods.

Despite the failure of Nabai to help Paulus deliver the people from poverty, he continued to spread his claims about the pabrik and occasionally organized pig feasts. He died in 1979, without realizing his cargo expectations.

In 1966, a man from the village of Kemogepa in the Tigi District claimed to have received a kunci (key) of a pabrik. The spirit being sponsoring him was said to supply the Me people with tinned food, in the production of which this pabrik specialized. This man went on claiming this until June 1967; after that his fame dwindled. Another shortlived pabrik movement took place in the village of Madi, near Enarotali, in that same year.

Then another leader arose, from Gakokebo in the Tigi District. He made similar claims. He had been educated at a Teachers' Training School in Merauke and -- in 1966 -- was my |BG~ school teacher. In 1968 he went to Jayapura for further training, and got sick with (presumably cerebral) malaria. After he ran away from his dorm, some Me students had him sent back to the highlands. He got well some time later, but then began revealing his dreams and visions. A spirit being was visiting him. She had given him the key, which was a small round stone. He told the people that he had some difficulty in using it to bring the goods out of the ground. This spirit being also demanded some sacrifices to be made to her. The leader organized a number of pig feasts, but she asked for more and more even though she failed to keep her promises. Later the leader blamed the village people for the failure, for they had built their sweet potato gardens around her dwelling. He is still teaching in a village school. He has not given up his ideas about the pabrik and knows where the goods are. According to one of his close relatives (studying at the Cenderawasih State University in 1986), he is trying to find the right method to placate the spirit being who is just waiting for the right time to deliver the Me people from their poverty and backwardness.

Early in 1983, another leader, a member of the Pigome clan and also from Okaitadi,(3) told the people that he had found a sparkling stone on the bottom of Lake Paniai, where he had been fishing. He brought the stone to a Canadian missionary working in the Paniai area and showed it to him.(4) The missionary asked the cult leader to bring the stone over to his house in Enarotali. There he said a prayer to confirm whether the stone was from God. After he had finished praying, 'miraculously the stone had its two eyes wide open and was looking at both of them.' This convinced them that it was God who had sent the stone to help the backward people of Irian Jaya.

The missionary took the stone with him to Canada where he was going for a short furlough, untuk disuntik,(5) lest the spirit demand human sacrifices and fail to keep the promises she had made to the Me pabrik leaders. After his return from Canada the missionary told the cult leader not to remain in Enarotali, for the Me people would be jealous of him and he would be killed through sorcery. He left straightaway for Wamena and entered high school. But after two years he left school to assemble a 'cabinet'; in June 1986 he told the people that with the help of the stone Irian Jaya would become an independent state (West Papua) by 1988. Occasionally he would visit the Paniai area. When he returned there at the end of 1986, he was involved in some evangelistic trips around Lake Paniai, visiting many local churches and ordering the people to burn their traditional religious objects. He said that 'we have to cleanse (membersihkan) this region of our sins before we inaugurate political freedom. Before we launch the Christian holy state of West Papua (negara Kristen Papua Barat yang suci), we have to keep ourselves away from old traditional practices.' But he failed to realize his claims, because 'the spirit had rejected him.' At the end of 1987 he went to Nabire, a coastal town, and became a person endowed with power to heal the sick and to reveal the sorcerers suspected of killing many people in Nabire. His influence waned, however, when he decided to take another woman as his second wife.

In June 1985, a man from the village of Onago in the Tigi district claimed that he had discovered the key of the pabrik. He was the son of one of the richest men in the Tigi district who was believed to be sensitive to the world of the supernatural and to have obtained his wealth with the support of Manita, a madou (water spirit). He told the people that he had had an encounter with a white person, who charged him to bring him sacrifices of pigs and chickens, after which he would receive the key of the pabrik, where guns and airplanes were produced. The animals were contributed by mostly young people and several feasts were held. Two fenced-in houses were built on a small hill to store the goods. But they were not delivered. In June 1986, his wife claimed to have received a revelation from a spirit who manifested itself through seven white people, two men and five women. They were given new names. The two houses had to be relocated and improved, and another three had to be built in addition. Feasts were held to encourage the spirits to fill the houses with guns and other goods, but the houses remained empty. Another man was invited to plead with the spirit beings. However, there were too many obstacles, so that the pabrik which was there right under the houses could not appear. The movement floundered, although the cult leader and his wife continued to believe firmly that the promises made by the 'white people' would come true.

2. Alam

Since 1983 cargoistic activities have become known in the Mapia district, to the west of the Wissel lakes. Here the ideas are known as alam ('nature' in Indonesian). The idea is that there is a spirit being behind these expectations who is responsible for taking care of alam. The first and most influential leader of this movement was told during an encounter with the spirit being to build a house in the forest and offer sacrifices there. Access to the house was limited to him alone. He left his job as a public servant in Moanemani (Kamu district). Before he did so, he collected funds, raised through monthly donations, from Me policemen and others working in government offices. After that he instructed the people not to draw drinking water from rivers or creeks, for that water 'is alam ka pipi (nature's urine). If you drink it, the spirit will not deliver the goods and help us gain our political freedom.' The Indonesian army considered the activities to be related to those of the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka 'Free Papua Organization') and suppressed the movement by taking the leader and his followers into custody. Those who were not arrested but remained supportive of the program were heavily fined in November 1989; in some cases it was demanded that pigs from local people be handed over. The leader of the movement was released shortly afterwards.

3. Batu delima

The leader of the Batu delima movement is a young man. A few years ago he discovered a valuable stone (batu delima) in a small creek near the west shore of Lake Paniai. He presented the stone to a Roman Catholic priest in Enarotali who told him to keep it. After finishing junior high school he left for Merauke to enter senior high school. There he met two Australians and showed the stone to them. They were surprised, because 'they too had come to search for it.' They asked him to go with them to Australia, where experts who inspected the stone said to him: 'You are the 154th richest man in the world.' With this assurance he came back to Irian Jaya and went straight to Jayapura in April 1989.

With two other people (one of them his mother's brother who was a university student) he made preparations to set up a legal organization called 'Freeport Indonesia Yawudi Nota'.(6) During a meeting in Jayapura in May 1989, he told the Me leaders present that the governments of Australia, the United States, Canada, France and Holland had seen the batu delima and had donated 900 billion rupiah (approximately 450 million US dollars) to the organization. After they heard this, those who were present prepared plans for the office facilities and housing projects of Freeport Yawudi Nota. A supporter working in the governor's office in Jayapura offered to sell a piece of land in Obano in the Paniai area to Freeport, but church leaders present at the meeting objected, because it had already been sold to the church by his father. This supporter, however, was able to convince the other people to accept his point of view.

In November 1989, the university student left for Paniai to make preparations for the launching of the program. On the way he told the Me people in Nabire that the funds that had already been donated would be used for exploring for gold in the Paniai area; he also collected donations from the Me community. With this money he went to Paniai and was received with traditional dances in some of the villages. Later he organized a feast, where he explained his plans; those participating in it were asked to pay 2000 rupiah per person. In December 1989, the cult leader left for Obano and held similar propaganda meetings, saying that Freeport Yawudi Nota was about to start working so as to meet the socio-economic needs of the people and that it was going to supply the guns to drive out the Indonesians. In February 1990, the Indonesian army learned of his activities and his programs and arrested him. He was beaten up and almost died.


Douglas Hayward (1985, 1992) has documented a consistent pattern in the history of cargoistic beliefs and activities among the Western Dani and confirmed the concept of nabelan-kabelan as the basic motive underlying the flow of events. We will briefly summarize the three themes (or phases, 1985) that Hayward has identified, then report on some contemporary events.

The first one is the religious theme. The phrase nabelan-kabelan which literally means 'my skin -- your skin' in Western Dani, reflects a concept, woven into the Dani culture, of rejuvenation or eternal life enjoyed by humans long ago but since lost. According to a widely-known myth, a snake and a bird engaged in a race (or an argument). The snake, able to shed its skin, knew the secret of immortality, but it lost to the bird (pirikoobit); since that time mankind is destined to die. The story reflects the attempt to explain the mysterious reality of human death as well as expressing a longing for the return of nabelan-kabelan, life without death or misery.

The first white missionaries (who were not the first whites in each and every place) arrived in Dani land in the 1950s. They built small airstrips, constructed simple houses and moved their families in. They began learning the local language and had a message to share. They also brought an inconceivably great amount of wealth in by plane. At first, the Dani adopted a wait-and-see approach, and in fact their western neighbours, the Me and Damal, initiated the chain of movements in the highlands. But soon they responded with great enthusiasm, burning traditional objects (both sacred and utilitarian), thought to be incompatible with the conditions of the new age. They embraced the teachings of the missionaries, who were obviously pleased with their great zeal, although some of them expressed concern as to whether the Dani understood the essence of the Christian faith. The Dani did, but within the framework of their own worldview. To this day the Dani believe that at that time nabelan-kabelan had arrived or was within reach.

In 1962 the Dutch left the territory. The Indonesian administration moved in soon after that and extended control over the highlands. In the course of time, however, the Dani became thoroughly disillusioned with the Indonesians. Many promises were made, usually prior to elections, but they were never fulfilled. Inflation went out of control, and prices went up while wages stayed level. Development programmes introduced did not meet the Dani needs. They resented being treated as inferiors and manipulated by outsiders. When the 1977 elections were due to be held, the Dani believed that they could vote the

Indonesians out of power and the Dutch back in. This, of course, did not happen, and they rose up in revolt, particularly in the eastern sector of the Western Dani territory. The uprising was quelled by the armed forces. Moreover, in some places Dani rebels turned on their own people with a vengeance. In the end the situation returned to normal, more or less. Although the concept of nabelan-kabelan was not apparent, and today the link is not clearly acknowledged by the Dani themselves, Hayward (correctly in our opinion) puts this concept forward as the underlying force moving the Dani along on their way to seek a satisfying way of life. According to him, the uprising reflects the political theme of Dani cargoistic aspirations.

In the late 1970s, community development projects, introduced by the Protestant mission organizations and underwritten by World Vision International, an American-based relief organization, got under way, beginning in the Mulia-Ilu area. By 1982 there were five-year projects in progress throughout Dani land, focusing on health care, agriculture, training and creating new sources of income. From the point of view of the outside agents these programs were quite successful, for the Dani embraced them with great enthusiasm; in contrast to these, the various government projects (schools, roads and bridges mainly) did not fare nearly as well. But today the Dani are not entirely happy with the end results of these development schemes which, from their perspective, have not fulfilled their real expectations. Once again, the underlying current moving the Dani to this conclusion appears to be caused by the concept of nabelan-kabelan, but this time operating in the economic sphere.

In July 1987, the American Ambassador to Indonesia visited Mulia to inspect some projects. A crowd of some 3000 to 4000 people was awaiting him. Most of them had been dancing the previous night, and many were dressed and decorated in traditional fashion. Their spokesmen, two church district leaders and a traditional leader, explained that as interior people they had special needs, but that they were also committed to peace and progress. They wanted more missionaries to come or return to Irian Jaya. The ambassador responded to the statements and requests with discretion. Hayward (1987), who was present at the meeting, reported that soon after the ambassador had left rumours circulated that he would return, together with the President of Indonesia, to announce that the U.S.A. would take over the administration of the province. Moreover, word spread that 150 mission workers would be coming. Church leaders in the Swart area also emphasized the need for missionaries a year later.

In November 1987, the tribal leader mentioned above (who claims to represent the entire Western Dani tribe, although this claim was certainly not acknowledged beyond his immediate sphere of influence) sent a letter to a missionary pilot, asking him to pick him up with three other men on that same day at the strip built near his village, so they could travel to America to discuss the development of the highlands with two missionaries who had previously lived among the Dani people.

In June 1988, he sent a letter to five missionaries. He requested that all pabrik found in Australia and America be sent to the people living in the interior of Irian Jaya. At the head of the letter he had listed the kinds of factories he felt were needed -- thirteen altogether. The goods included rice, sugar, beef and canned fish, cooking oil, plates and spoons, batik cloth, clothing, watches, zinc/aluminum (roofing sheets), nails, cement, kerosene and finally money.

Early in 1989, some Western Dani in the Mulia-Ilu area were reported to have had dreams during which they received money; some of them had also gone off into the forest. Our informant, a Dani himself, commented: 'Kami cari sesuatu' ('We are searching for something').

A different stream of events developed in the Ilaga valley, which is inhabited by members of two tribes, the Western Dani and the Damal. In the course of 1988, a healing movement broke out under the leadership of a Damal evangelist (Larson 1989). In the early 1980s he had been deeply influenced by a charismatic Western Dani evangelist while attending a Bible school. He was not able to finish his training, left the school in 1985 and went back to Bela across the range, south of Ilaga. Inspired by his mentor's life and ministry, he built himself a shelter, called a house of prayer, in the forest to pray and fast. There he had a vision of angels hovering over waterfalls. He heard the Holy Spirit say to him (in the form of a song) to put on the 'armour of God' (a reference to Ephesians 6), then go and preach. He went and travelled from valley to valley among the Damal, preaching and healing with phenomenal results.

In October 1988 he crossed the range again and arrived in the Ilaga valley. A sort of wind storm had preceded him, blowing off roofs and destroying gardens and trees. People first thought that the storm was caused by certain evil forest spirits, but then said that it was evidence of God's power emanating before the evangelist's arrival, to authenticate his messages and acts of healing. Many were healed of serious illnesses, delivered of lesser troubles, and some who had 'died' were raised up. Meetings were held in the eastern half of the main valley and downstream on both sides of the Ila river, among both Damal and Western Dani. The usual pattern was first to have prayer sessions in the forest for one or two days. This was followed by several days of teaching and confessing sin. Some people destroyed magical objects belonging to them. The meetings concluded with acts of healing, many of which were accompanied by the appearance of an animal, such as a bird, snake or frog, said to be coming out of the sick person and considered as evidence of healing. The local church responded very positively, and so did the local government, apparently after one of its workers had been healed. At the time that Larson wrote his report (July 1989), the movement was still in progress.


Early in December 1988, Ms. Sue Trenier, a missionary nurse at Soba, received a radiogram from the deputy chairman of the Assembly of Representatives (DPRD) of the Jayawijaya Regency in Wamena (although it later became clear that he had acted privately). The message was addressed to another missionary who had worked in Soba before but had since moved to the coast for a new assignment. He was requested to provide information at the earliest opportunity as to whether gold was found in the Soba area. Ms. Trenier duly passed this message on to her colleague at the coast. The gist of the radio message, however, was overheard by a few people who knew Indonesian, and so word spread around.

Over the next few weeks Ms. Trenier learned little by little of what was going on. Apparently the Soba people 'knew' that her colleague knew the secret and had the key to the gold. Why else would he have been asked by the government to provide the information? A pabrik would be found in Soba. The occurrence of a strong mountain wind (siyelu) twice in the previous year was an indication that the pabrik was about to appear. The people had accepted the Gospel all along, all the church buildings had been completed; so now the time had come for the secret to be revealed. Some claimed already to have found money and medicines at the source of a nearby river.

Word spread quickly to other valleys as well, and excitement rose. In the meantime, the missionary in question arrived in Soba to spend his Christmas vacation there. He was immediately met by many Hupla people, including church and tribal leaders, and was questioned about what he was supposed to know. He denied having the key or knowing whether there was gold or not, but he was not believed.

On December 30, a new church building was dedicated in a village in the Kwik valley. Hundreds of people arrived from far and wide. The atmosphere was filled with an acute sense of expectancy, that now the secret would be revealed. The visiting missionary preached a sermon, but he did not reveal anything. People left very disappointed, and 'many tears were shed.' A few days after this he met with a large number of people again and long discussions ensued. He was almost prevented from leaving Soba.

By then it had become apparent that several kepala suku (tribal leaders) had taken charge of the movement. Some of them came to Ms. Trenier to talk to her. They recounted some amulik wene 'origin stories' handed down by the ancestors. The essence of them was that in the past the ancestors of both the whites and the blacks lived together in harmony and peace; there was abundance of everything and it was a golden time. But somehow or other this changed for the worse because of wrongs committed. So when the time came for the people to appear out of the hole near Seinma in the lower Grand Valley, the whites and the blacks separated; the whites came out first and disappeared, or they were pushed back to stay underground. But now at last they had returned to restore the golden age. They were well received by the Hupla people. The time, however, had come for them to reveal the secret of wealth that was about to arrive, wealth which had belonged to the Hupla all along. Another factor mentioned was that tourists had come to the valley time and again to look for gold; why else were they there?

Ms. Trenier had the impression that the Hupla had expected, and were expecting, the missionaries to share the secret, but that they felt let down at this critical juncture. She herself was not suspected of hiding the key, for she had only passed on the message (Trenier 1989).

The excitement died down just as quickly as it had started, but the people continued to talk about the affair. Except for the local church district leader (and a few others) who was promptly blamed for the fact that nothing had happened, almost all people, including church members and their leaders, appeared to go along with the flow of events. Their expectations did not seem, in their perspective, to be in conflict with the Gospel.

In March 1989 Godschalk went to Soba for a brief visit. There were no obvious cult activities, but the expectations had not died down. The situation was overshadowed by (a threat of) imminent warfare, triggered by a connubial conflict between the people of Lilibal near Soba and those from Pasema (and the Wet valley), representing the Kaio and Pasema confederacies respectively. This local conflict, however, was 'tacked on' to a much more intense state of war between two traditional enemies, the Husage and the Siep confederacies of the lower Grand Valley.

In the early morning of August 1, 1989, the Soba area was struck by a devastating earthquake. It caused extensive damage to villages and gardens, and resulted in the death of about seventy people in the Woso valley (and more elsewhere) and the immediate dislocation of the population of the entire valley. During the first two days the survivors were evacuated to safer ground by missionary helicopters. These efforts were soon followed by government rescue and assistance operations.

It was not long before the government decided that the Hupla people were to be relocated to a presumably uninhabited area across the range, far to the north and at a much lower altitude. The majority of them refused to leave at all. They simply wanted to make a living in their homeland with the help of relatives and friends. A small group, however, volunteered to go and assist with opening up the site selected for them, being attracted by the promises, made by government officials, of good life, health and wealth they would soon enjoy. The same kepala suku who earlier in the year had actively promoted the millenarian ideas in Soba now strongly urged the government to proceed with this development project. Their spokesman apparently exhibited the features of a prophet; for example, he dyed his hair black (trying to induce youthful vitality) and began to marry off young people (an act necessary to ensure the arrival of the new age). In some villages gardens and valuable trees were destroyed (J. P. Wilson, personal communication, 1990).

Given the prevailing cargoistic expectations, the people heard a message entirely different from what the government representatives intended to convey. On the other hand, without apparently being aware of the implications of their promises, these officials succeeded in absorbing and channeling such expectations in their attempt to realize the objectives of the government. The result: a form of cooperation which, while cordial, was nonetheless marked by total mutual misunderstanding.

The expectations are not being realized. Many people became sick in the new location, mostly from a combination of malaria and hookworm. Several of them died, relatively more at this time than as a result of the earthquake itself. This heavy toll on life and health has been rationalized by some of the cult leaders as a price one should be prepared to pay. Wealth has failed to arrive; middlemen are now being suspected of withholding it. Feelings of disappointment with and distrust of the government are surfacing. The question is raised why the promises made by its representatives do not become reality.


On December 14, 1988, a group of about 60 people, most of them from the small island of Ambai off Yapen Island in the Cenderawasih (Geelvink) Bay, assembled at the Mandala sports stadium in Jayapura. They were led by Dr. Thomas Wainggai. At the meeting a manifesto was read out proclaiming the independence of the state of West Melanesia. This was followed by the raising of the flag of the new nation. The ceremony came to an abrupt end when the authorities moved in and took about 35 participants into custody, including Dr. Wainggai and his (Japanese-born) wife Teruko. They were tried on charges of subversion and related crimes. Dr. Wainggai was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment; his wife received a sentence of six years, allegedly for her part in making the flag; and the others received terms ranging from two to eight years.

Dr. Wainggai was born in Ambai on December 5, 1937. He had been a civil servant since July 1959, working first under the Dutch government, then under the Indonesian; his most recent post was on the staff of the Planning Board of the Province of Irian Jaya. He earned a degree in Law at the Okayama State University in Japan in 1969, and a degree in Public Administration at the New York State University in 1981, and received his Ph.D. degree in Public Administration from Florida State University in December 1985.

Dr. Wainggai was highly critical of the development programmes of the Indonesian government in Irian Jaya. This is reflected in his comments on the assistance by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and the Dutch government, prepared at the request of the UNDP consultant and representative for Irian Jaya in 1986. Dr. Wainggai expected his report to be used by the present government as a meaningful guide to design a better development programme. He was convinced that the development in the area of public administration, such as organization, law, administration, politics, justice, finance, security and defense has shown many good results although it is still far away from what is desired. But in the fields such as education, culture, social welfare, religion, health, manpower or human resources, the development programmes have brought about very few changes. He observed that, in respect to economic development, the government has made some progress, particularly in the areas of agriculture, fishery, forestry, gardening, animal husbandry, commerce and energy, but the majority of the indigenous population still does not have a permanent income, as it is the case elsewhere outside Irian Jaya. The indigenous people of Irian Jaya still maintain their traditional systems of earning a living by utilizing traditional methods and tools handed down by their forefathers. Physical development, such as housing units, resettlements, utilities (drinking water, electricity and gas) and roads, has been improved from time to time, but the output is far below the desired level. To give one illustration, there is no highway from coast to coast or connecting one city with another.

After exposing these developmental problems Dr. Wainggai raised two critical questions. First, how much longer should the indigenous people of Irian Jaya whose province is so rich in natural resources (i.e. petroleum, copper, nickel, timber, shrimp, crocodile skins, cocoa, coconut oil, etc.) have to undergo this traumatic tragedy of underdevelopment? Second, who should plan and develop this province with its indigenous people? By raising these questions Dr. Wainggai expected that the government of Irian Jaya would wake up and introduce development programmes more oriented to the local people. But his cry for the struggle of the local people went unnoticed. When he saw that the socio-economic gap between the indigenous people of Irian Jaya and the outsiders widened more and more, he and others concluded that the only solution would be political independence, which was expressed by raising the flag of West Melanesia on December 14, 1988.

The only way to help raise the standard of living of the local people was to be free from Indonesian political domination. To achieve this goal, Dr. Wainggai and several other Irianese formed the Committee for the Independence of West Melanesia (Panitia Kemerdekaan Melanesia Barat), of which he became the chairman; most of its members were pastors of Pentecostal churches in and around Jayapura and all of them were from Ambai, the home village of Dr. Wainggai. The main objective of the committee was to prepare for the independence of the new state by designing a flag, setting a date for the proclamation of independence, and forming a prayer fellowship.

One characteristic feature of this movement was the emphasis on prayer and fasting, and on relying on God for strength and courage to face the army. Many hours were given to sharing, praising God and confessing one's sins to Him.

It was during one of these sessions that a lady living in Jayapura had a vision, in which she was told that the proper date for the proclamation of the independence of West Melanesia should be December 14, because 'according to the Holy Bible it was on the 14th of the month of Adar that the Lord God delivered the Jews as a nation from the calamity brought upon them by Ham' (see Esther, chapters 7-9). This vision confirmed the conviction of Dr. Wainggai that December 14, 1988 was to be the day that the government of Indonesia would transfer the administration of Irian Jaya to the government of West Melanesia. According to him one of the points of the agreement between the Republic of Indonesia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1962 was that 'after 25 years of Indonesian rule representatives of the United Nations would visit Irian Jaya and evaluate what the Republic had achieved with its development programmes during these 25 years.' These officials had visited Irian Jaya, according to Dr. Wainggai, and had evaluated the development programmes and concluded that 'the government of Indonesia had made no improvements in terms of the socio-economic welfare of the local people.' Due to this failure, these officials were willing to arrange the transfer of the seat of government to the West Melanesian leaders, and this was to be completed on the day referred to, December 14. Dr. Wainggai also consulted more than 350 Christians, among them three well-known American Pentecostal church leaders, as to whether the political independence of West Melanesia was against God's will or not. All of them agreed that it was God's will that Irian Jaya should be separated from Indonesia.

Another objective of the Panitia was to design the West Melanesian flag. For several reasons, it had to differ from the one of the OPM. First, the OPM flag was made many years ago and, therefore, it did not necessarily reflect the current socio-cultural and political sentiments or represent the struggle for freedom of the Irianese today. Second, the OPM did not have its roots in the Bible or in Christianity, and its flag was made by non-Christians. The colours of the flag of West Melanesia were received through a vision and related to some Bible verses. One of the participants in the prayer fellowship had a vision in which an angel came and told him to read verses from Revelation 6 (which refers to horses coloured white, red and black). He shared this with the other participants when the Panitia met again. The flag had three horizontal bars on the right hand side and a field covering the left third. The upper horizontal bar was coloured black, symbolizing blackness (of the Melanesians); the middle bar was white, which represents holiness or purity; the lower bar was red, which stands for bravery. The field was green-coloured, symbolizing fertility; there were also fourteen stars in this field, to represent the districts into which West Melanesia was going to be divided.

Why did Dr. Wainggai initiate and lead this movement? He knew that with this program he would be sent to jail, or he could even be shot to death. He had, however, a firm conviction that the Lord God of the Bible would be on his side. He would guide him and, as he cited again and again in a letter written from jail, 'Tuhan adalah Gembala kami' ('The Lord is our Shepherd'; Psalm 23:1), a Bible verse upon which Dr. Wainggai stood through-out his trial. He is very much a Melanesian. If religion has any role to play in the life of a Melanesian (or for that matter an Irianese), it should be now, not in the future in the world to come.


We realize that several of the movements described above are still going on in some form or another and are, therefore, 'open-ended'. This holds all the more for what we may term the ambience of cargoism, which like a heavy fog is enveloping the human landscape of Irian Jaya, yet is in flux. The fluid situation in Irian Jaya, coupled with the fact that most of the events we refer to have not (yet) been reported in the anthropological literature, also calls for theoretical restraint. We are at this point more concerned about presenting as fairly as possible a reasonably representative overview of what is going on in Irian Jaya today. With these limitations in mind, we offer a few preliminary observations.

It appears that the (chains of) movements have had long and consistent histories, marked by recurring waves of cargoistic expectations and activities. This has been well documented by Hayward (1985, 1992) in the case of the Western Dani. Among the Me, too, we perceive this trend. In the 1950s Wegee-bage movements held sway in the Paniai area, but they seem to have ebbed away. A similar movement, the Utoumana movement (Aliran Utoumana), broke out in the Kamu valley in 1963 and it spread to other areas in the following years. Almost at the same time the Pabrik movements began to occupy the minds of many Me. From the point of view of the local missionaries, the response of the Hupla people to a seemingly innocuous radio message appeared out of the blue. From the perspective of the Hupla themselves it was the culmination of a process that had started long before, when the first white people arrived on the scene, or even prior to that.

What are the factors that trigger such responses? The range of such causes is wide. It may be rumours swirling through the villages that healings and exorcisms of evil powers have taken place across the range. It may be a radiogram about gold, coupled with talks that a pabrik has already appeared in another valley. The dominant triggering point in our opinion, however, appears to be a widespread sense of unhappiness and dissatisfaction experienced day in day out in the social, economic and political areas of life. A recurring theme in the interviews and reports is that many development programmes have not brought the anticipated benefits, because services and materials lack quality or simply because of persistent corruption that drains away allocated funds. Often projects are introduced, perhaps enforced, which do not seem to be appropriate to the local circumstances or meet the people's needs. There is also the fact that their land and its resources are encroached upon or simply taken away, or conversely, that they are 'persuaded' to leave the land of their ancestors for reasons that make no sense to them. And beyond this, many people, in the interior as well as along the coast, are grieved and hurt, because they are not respected by the other Indonesians as mature adults -- real people -- but treated as 'backward' people(7) not worthy to be (effectively) consulted on matters that have a vital impact on their lives and future. Almost without exception the Indonesian administration is being blamed for this state of affairs. The conclusion people reach is that the Indonesians should be tolerated as long as governments from other countries (e.g. the U.S.A., the Netherlands, Australia or Papua New Guinea) are invited to assist them in the development efforts, or they should leave Irian Jaya. The banner of independence as the only viable alternative is sometimes raised, symbolically and -- with tragic results -- literally.

This leads us to a consideration of the basic motives that underlie the movements and cause them to break out, keep going, and even re-emerge in yet other forms. It is our thesis that such motives are to be found within the religious dimension of traditional or 'acculturating' culture, and are reflected in motifs threading through mythical stories. The classic example from Irian Jaya is that of koreri as exemplified through the myth of Manarmakeri/Manseren Manggundi in Biak-Numfor culture (Kamma 1972). A similar concept is found among the Me in the Western Highlands, where it is called ayii. Among their eastern neighbours, the Damal or Amungme, the word that represents and embodies the longings and expectations is hai; among the Moni it is the similar term hazi. The context in which it is illuminated is similar to the one encountered among the Western Dani, the Grand Valley Dani and the Yali: a race between a bird and a skin-changing snake (Ellenberger 1983); the phrase used in these latter societies is nabelan-kabelan or a cognate term. The Hupla at Soba confided to the resident -- female -- missionary, who had gained their trust, some of their origin stories, perhaps for the first time, to 'explain' what they hoped would take place.

What are we to think of the West Melanesia movement? On the surface it appears to resemble a political movement, with aims not unlike those of the OPM: independence and freedom. The fact that Dr. Wainggai was tried on charges of subversion indicates that the Indonesian authorities take a similar line and consider him and his followers a threat to the security of the state. Nevertheless, we venture the claim that the West Melanesia movement is in essence a religious movement, because it is driven by a religious dynamic, which also provides its blueprint. The choice of the date on which the movement came out into the open, and its rich religious symbolism and significance, namely to thereby appropriate and re-present the meaning and purpose of the Purim feast, is a clear indication of this. It is not surprising, therefore, that another protest was organized a year later, on the very same date. We do not know, though, whether the participants in the West Melanesia movement, most of whom are from Ambai, root their movement in themes found in traditional Ambai world view.

Thus, we recognize in all these movements the presence of a deep-seated imperative, the knowledge and certainty that a time of wonder is at hand, when people will be able to regain what has been lost in the past, a quality of life that incorporates health, longevity, wealth, happiness, self-esteem, or freedom, in short all the things they miss today. In order to bridge this gap between the ideal and reality, many Irianese turn to religious movements based on traditional expectations. This is, with few exceptions, not thought to be in conflict with the Gospel message or with Christian articles of faith. Hence, a jump from one worldview to another does not seem to be required.

These few observations may warrant the conclusion that cargoism, the Melanesian version of the universal quest for salvation (cf. Strelan 1977), is very much in evidence in Irian Jaya today. More could be said about the (ritualized) means used to attempt to realize the expectations; about the leadership of the movements; about the attitude towards non-participants and the outsiders; and about the responses to the movements, their leaders and followers. We have focused primarily on the causal factors. What is going on today is not likely to disappear overnight; on the contrary. Neither can it be 'wished away' or ignored. It is deplorable that within certain sectors of the Indonesian administration there seems to be a lack of knowledge and understanding of such movements and their basic motives in Irian Jaya. This may explain why the attempts to deal with them are frequently misdirected and create yet more feelings of frustration and disappointment. This in turn causes further friction, leading to the opposite of what is intended, not the cessation but the continuation of cargoism as a coherent and fundamental perception of life and the proliferation of movements that result from this.


Research upon which this paper is based was carried out over a number of years. We thank the institutions with which we were affiliated for part of that period (Giay at the Theological Seminary 'Walter Post' and Godschalk at the Irian Jaya Study Centre through the Cenderawasih State University) for allowing or assigning us to conduct this research. We interviewed very many people, and wish to express our gratitude to them for their willingness to share their knowledge and insights with us, either as participants or as 'outsiders'; we are especially grateful to those 'in the field'. We appreciate the fact that Douglas Hayward, Gordon Larson and Sue Trenier gave us permission to use unpublished materials written by them. We thank Professors Jan van Baal (who passed away in 1992), Dorothy Counts, Pim Schoorl and Dr. Andrew Lattas for commenting on earlier drafts of this paper. Responsibility for facts and opinions rests with us.


1. Our findings are based on our own observations, or on interviews with, and reports by, persons who were either participants in, or close observers of, the various events. Our data were, for the most part, gathered in the late 1980s.

The Me people (formerly known as Kapauku or Ekagi) live in the Western Highlands, around three lakes (Paniai, Tage and Tigi) previously known as the Wissel Lakes, and also further to the west. Populations are reported to be between 70,000 and over 100,000. The principal ethnographer of Me culture is Pospisil who did fieldwork in the Kamu valley.

The Western Dani number approximately 150,000 people and constitute the largest society indigenous to Irian Jaya. They inhabit the Central and Western Highlands, from the northern tip of the Grand Valley to the Ilaga valley, situated halfway between Wamena and Enarotali at Lake Paniai. There are several ethnographies available of the various groups of Dani; fieldwork was (or is) carried out by O'Brien in the Konda valley near Karubaga, by Ploeg among the Wanggulam close to Bokondini, by Hayward in the Mulia-Ilu area of the Nogolo river system, and by Larson in the upper Ilaga valley. There is no ethnographic account of the North Balim Dani (Tiom, Pit River, Makki or Danime).

The Hupla people are a small society of about 2500 people, living in the Kaio and Woso (where Soba is located) valleys and on the west flank of the Kwik valley, just north of the Balim gorge. Their language is closely related to Lower Grand Valley Dani (Hetigima). They form the last confederacy on the (south) east side of the Balim river of the series of confederacies found in the Grand Valley.

Most of the participants in the West Melanesia movement are originally from Ambai, a small island off Yapen island in the Cenderawasih (Geelvink) Bay.

2. Nabai means 'my older sister' or 'my grandmother' in the Me language. The word also refers to any older woman and is then used to show respect. But here it is used as a proper name for the spirit being who promises to deliver western goods to Paulus.

3. Paulus Tebay came from the same village. In 1987, the two clans were at odds with each other; the relatives of Paulus accused this person of stealing their kunci pabrik (key to unlock the pabrik).

4. This missionary in turn told us that this person had indeed shown him a stone once, but that he had handed it back to him. After that the cult leader told the people that this missionary had stolen the real stone and given him another one.

5. Suntik (menyuntik) means 'to inject, inoculate' in Indonesian. The idea is that the whites possess goods, because they know how to deal with the spirit being; they know the right method, so she does not demand human sacrifices but keeps on delivering the goods to them.

6. 'Freeport Indonesia' refers to the company operating the copper mine at Tembagapura in Damal territory and is used here with the intention of preventing the loss of socio-economic benefits experienced by the Damal. The leaders of this movement do not want the Me to suffer the same fate as the Damal who were driven out by the whites and the Indonesians, whose land was taken over and whose mineral resources were taken away. Yawudi means 'to distribute (food or something else) free of charge' in Me. Nota means 'sweet potato', but refers here to food and wealth. Thus the name of the organization reflects the nature of its mission, i.e. to distribute wealth that will be acquired through the use of the batu delima free of charge. Nobody has to buy; everyone is entitled to have access to wealth.

7. The terminology one comes across reflects this attitude; 'code' words commonly used are suku (bangsa) terasing or terkebelakang 'isolated/unacculturated or backward tribal groups'.


ELLENBERGER, J.D. 1983. A Century of 'Hai' Movements among the Damal of Irian Jaya. In W. Flannery (ed.), Religious Movements in Melanesia, pp. 104-110. Goroka: Melanesian Institute.

GODSCHALK, J.A. 1983. A Survey of Salvation Movements in Irian Jaya. In W. Flannery (ed.), Religious Movements in Melanesia, pp. 52-101. Goroka: Melanesian Institute.

HAYWARD, D.J. 1985. Cargoism among the Western Dani of Irian Jaya. Unpublished paper, 25 pp.

-----, 1987. Another Cargo Movement from the Mulia Area: A Report on Events which Took Place in July-August 1987. Unpublished report, 3 pp.

-----, 1992. The Cargoistic Nature of Movements of Conversion, Revitalization and Revival among the Western Dani. Unpublished paper, 28 pp.

KAMMA, F.C. 1972. Koreri: Messianic Movements in the Biak-Numfor Culture Area. The Hague: Nijhoff.

LARSON, G.F. 1989. Revival Meetings under Mesak Mom. Unpublished report, 2 pp.

STRELAN, J.G. 1977. Search for Salvation: Studies in the History and Theology of Cargo Cults. Adelaide: Lutheran Publishing House.

STRELAN, J.G. and J.A. GODSCHALK. 1989. Kargoisme di Melanesia (Cargoism in Melanesia). Jayapura: Irian Jaya Study Centre. (An augmented translation into Indonesian of Strelan, J.G. 1977.)

TRENIER, S. 1989. Cargo Talk at Soba. Unpublished report, 6 pp.
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Author:Giay, Benny; Godschalk, Jan A.
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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