Frans H. Peters, Vervlogen verwachtingen: De teloorgang van Nieuw-Guinea in 1961-1962.
Vervlogen verwachtingen (Expectations long gone) is the story of a senior government official in Netherlands New Guinea about the transfer (or loss, teloorgang) of the territory to the Republic of Indonesia. The narrative is a carefully balanced fusion between the typical government servant's nostalgia, a critical political analysis, and accounts of the behavior and thinking of the Dutch to whom this colony suddenly became a liability. In sixty chapters Peters narrates the final months before the end of Dutch rule with an immediacy of feeling for place and people. He manages to bring alive a period in West New Guinea's history that is unsettling for all involved.
The regional focus is Hollandia (now Jayapura) where Peters worked as District Head during the teloorgang. Peters' New Guinea experiences, however, date back to an earlier period when development work in New Guinea came with more certainty, starting in 1952. He worked in Enarotali at the Wissel Lakes in the highlands and among Muslim Papuans in Kamaina at the west coast. Being posted in the capital of Netherlands New Guinea gave him access to Dutch decision-makers and members of the small group of Papuans that were preparing for independence or integration with Indonesia. The focus on Hollandia is also welcome because most of the narratives of administrators, patrol officers and missionaries that we have so far are about typical out-of-the-way regions such as Asmat, Digul, Merauke, Ayamaru and of course valleys in the central mountain range. And the tone of Peters' narrative (p. xii, my translation) is different:
When we first arrived in Hollandia August 1961, the Dutch government of New Guinea became a declining business. Actually we did not want to know this and we hoped against all odds. The deteriorating political situation became increasingly precarious, but that was not something we talked about every day. You did your job, without having to worry too much about the future.
Indeed, Peters' narrative is essentially a portrayal of how the Dutch in New Guinea passionately continued development work in an atmosphere of growing political instability. While frantically preparing a Papuan elite for self-governance and establishing related institutions after decades of neglecting West New Guinea, few wanted to realize that they were fighting a losing battle. Seemingly tireless, most Dutch civil administrators developed a kind of comradeship, though often still unequal, with educated Papuans, while regional and global political forces began to support Indonesia's nation-building efforts.
Often with vivid detail, Peters' story gives the reader a good sense of the level of denial of these politics and the subsequent disillusionment when the Dutch had to go home and leave their New Guinea business unfinished. The few Papuan voices included show appreciation for the Dutch efforts. Peters' story suggests that there was often a kind of mutual understanding between Papuans and the Dutch. But Peters does not exclude voices of resentment towards the Dutch and often acknowledges that most officials had little comprehension of sentiments amid the Papuan population. The following quote from Permenas Joku and Samai, both members of the Regional Council Dafonsoro illustrates Peter's careful narration of the increasingly tense situation in 1962:
Most of our people are only silent, but if you could look into their hearts, you may find that more than fifty percent is pro-Indonesian (p. 153).
Few observers then or today would analyze the transfer of Netherlands New Guinea to Indonesia from the perspective of pro-Indonesian Papuans. Also, Peters' careful representation of the sentiments among the Dutch makes for some good starting points for more critical research on Dutch governance in New Guinea. Such research would then complement the impressive volume Besturen in Nederlands-Nieuw-Guinea 1945-1962 (1996) edited by Pim Schoorl and to which Peters also contributed.
Overall, this is a great book that should be read by those who are keen to challenge the often too polarized views on the transfer of West New Guinea to Indonesia, and those interested in applying a more phenomenological approach to critical political transitions in the modern history of this region.
Schoorl, Pim (ed.) 1996 Besturen in Nederlands-Nieuw-Guinea, 1945-1962: Ontwikkelingswerk in een periode van politieke onrust. Leiden: KITLV Uitgeverij.
Macquarie University Sydney
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|Publication:||Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2011|
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