First feature film set in Papua tackles separatism, racial issues

by AFP/Ian Timberlake, Jan 16, 2003 | Destinations: Indonesia

In a mainly Muslim nation dominated by Javanese culture, few Indonesians know much about the remote and mainly Christian province of Papua beyond the stereotype of tribesmen living in the forest. Now Javanese film-maker Garin Nugroho has made what he calls the first feature film made in Papua, a love story set against the separatist movement in Indonesia's easternmost province.

Aku Ingin Menciummu Sekali Saja (I Want to Kiss You Just One Time) confronts issues of race, religion, cultural identity and human rights which Nugroho said are important for the whole country, not just Papua. The film opened in Jakarta cinemas December 27, 2002.

"We have a problem with multiculturalism," said Nugroho, who wrote and directed the movie which he dedicated to the murdered Papuan separatist leader Theys Hiyo Eluay. Black Papuan faces fill the screen. Just one character has the paler skin common in Java and the western Indonesian islands of the world's largest archipelago.

"This is the first feature film set in Papua and the main actors are Papuan," said Nugroho, 41, in an interview with AFP. Four Indonesian special forces soldiers accused of killing Eluay in November 2001 went on trial Friday in a military court. Three others were to face trial shortly.

Eluay led the pro-independence Papua Presidium Council which favors dialogue with Jakarta. His rise to power, subsequent arrest on subversion charges and then his murder and funeral are told through news reports televised at the home of Arnold, the film's central character.

"You must know what is going on in your land," his mother tells him in their roughly-built wooden house. Arnold, played by Octavianus Muabuay, is obsessed with an attractive, pale-skinned young woman played by Indonesian soap opera actress Lulu Tobing, who arrives in the Papuan capital Jayapura for unknown reasons. She is unnamed and tormented, her eyes filled with tears that Arnold later confesses he wants to kiss. He ignores the advances of his pretty school friend, Sonya, who confronts him about his obsession.

"You feel inferior, Arnold," Sonya says, and asks him what is wrong with a Black woman. Catholic symbols and church scenes figure prominently and in one scene Sonya confesses to her priest, "I hate the other color."

Arnold's father flees to the panoramic hills above Jayapura after he witnesses the beating of separatist supporters carrying the Papuan Morning Star flag. The flag is now banned in Papua but Nugroho said he made 200 of them for use in the film. He said government intelligence agents visited him during the 12-day shoot but did not interfere in his work with the actors, none of whom except Tobing is a professional.

"In this film the background is more contemporary, in the city," said Nugroho, a Muslim who attended a Catholic high school.

Formerly a Dutch possession, Papua came under Indonesian control in 1963. Separatist sentiment is widespread in Papua, based partly on what many see as a plundering by Jakarta of the vast, jungle-clad province's mining and other natural resources, as well as years of human rights abuses by Indonesian security forces. Jakarta granted Papua special autonomy one year ago to give the province a much greater share of resource revenue and control over its affairs.

"I say no to violence by the military," said Nugroho. "My nationalism is humanitarianism." A key message of the film, he said, is that love gives courage. Indonesians too often get their courage only from revenge and hate, he said.

In the end Arnold kisses Sonya, not the light-skinned visitor who smiles only once -- when she is about to board a boat to leave Papua. Nugroho said he is not making a statement in support of Papuan independence but if others believe in separatism they should be allowed to express it, "and my film is room for that expression." He said he himself prefers Papua to remain part of what he calls Indonesia's multicultural family.