As the Merauke dancers waltzed into the Goethe-Haus theatre, the people who turned up for the Bakar Batu Papuan Voices Launch knew they were in for an evening of West Papuan culture which was filled with more than just the usual sad stories, but more so with hope and inspiration.
Master of ceremony and Papuan Voices filmmaker Cyntia Warwe welcomed the audience, giving a bit of a philosophical explanation of the event.
“Bakar Batu (literally translates to earth oven in Indonesian) or ‘barapen’ is an event where Papuans gather for a special occasion,” said Cyntia. “And this is a special event indeed, we’ve cooked up nine videos proudly, and we want to serve them to you, our friends.”
The theatre was packed. The Sisir Bambu acoustic group followed the dancers. Lead singer Sem Awom sang his work and also Mambesak songs to celebrate the cultural struggle of Papua.
“Years ago, there was a guy named Arnold Ap who worked very hard to keep the Papuan culture alive through the group Mambesak,” Sem said. “Unfortunately, his great work was deemed separatist by the then regime, and in the end he was arrested and killed.”
The award-winning filmmaker Wenda Tokomonowir kicked off the film screening with the acclaimed “Surat Cinta Kepada Sang Prada’ (Love Letter to the Soldier). There were a total of 11 films screened. It was an emotional roller coaster as the films showed the tough lives many Papuans have to face, but encouraging as the same peoples are also not back down and fighting hard for survival. A video called ‘Salam Bilogai’ about a traditional Bilogai click handshake lit up the theatre with laughter as the audience demonstrated the handshakes with one another.
Papuan Voices co-producer, Wensi Fatubun, said that even though the project that ran since 2011 was a video initiative, both EngageMedia and Church group JPIC MSC have encouraged the participants in Jayapura and Merauke to design and use the videos for change.
“Papuan Voices is a cultural struggle,” said Wensi. “We want people to see Papua through the eyes of the Papuans themselves.”
“Winning accolades was not the intention, but we are grateful of that. But to change and inspire is a lot more important.”
The evening was also about the unveiling of the dedicated Papuan Voices website – www.papuanvoices.net. This particular site compiles the nine Papuan Voices videos, along with various background information about the places and issues raised in the videos, a study guide that teachers/educators can use to trigger discussions, a screening guide and a take action page that provides information on groups to join and resources to read more about West Papua.
At the end of the screening, the audience were led outside to eat the sago and betel nut made by the indigenous market traders in the video ‘Awin Meke’.
One audience said: “Thanks for letting me take a peek to the window of lives in West Papua for the first time. I hope folks in the TNI (the Indonesian Armed Forces) and the Government can have the opportunity to take a look at the videos also.”
More pictures from the launch here.
The Papuan Voices Compilation DVD can be purchased here.