Two West Papuan Authors You Should Read

Blog / People


August 11, 2018 — by Bonnie Etherington

Last updated on August 11, 2018 at 8:51 am




Many of you have probably seen or read about Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” In sum, she argues that if we only hear one story about a place or a group of people then we risk stereotyping, misunderstanding, and reducing that place or people. People outside of West Papua have been telling a single story about it for a long time. In the Indonesian context, news articles often reduce Papua to a story about conflict and isolation. In the international literary imaginary, West Papua exists mainly in military narratives about the Pacific War, the diaries of early naturalists and missionaries, and the descriptions of anthropologists and art collectors. Many of these writings are rife with racialized stereotypes about Papuans and perspectives from Papuans themselves are seldom published. As a result, many people outside of Papua do not know that it has diverse literary histories of its own.

The two authors we want to draw attention to in this post challenge the single story of Papua in their works. Their stories and other writings draw on long histories of dynamic creative traditions and suggest that there is an exciting future ahead for Papuan writers.

John Waromi

Ambai author Waromi, who lives in Jayapura, has a wide artistic range that includes time spent with the theater troupe “Bengkel Teater,” poetry, children’s stories, and his novel Anggadi Tupa: Harvesting the Storm (2015). His publisher, the Lontar Foundation, describes Waromi’s novel as “the first ever novel by a Papuan author.” Both his novel and poetry often deal with ecological issues alongside social issues. His novel personifies animal characters from Papua’s waters to explore ongoing issues of resource management and advocate for greater awareness about ecological change in the region. Waromi is adept at reimagining stories he heard as a child in contemporary contexts and he uses these to explore some of the complexities of what it means to be Papuan today. He has also written many poetic works, though most remain unpublished. Before the Lontar Foundation published his novel, many of Waromi’s works were not easy to access, even though he has appeared at multiple high profile national and international writing events. With the success of his novel, there is hope that his other works, especially his poetry, will receive greater attention.

Aprila Wayar

Also hailing from Jayapura, and described as Papua’s “first woman novelist,” Wayar is a prolific writer and already has three published novels: Mawar Hitam Tanpa Akar (Rootless Black Roses) (2009), Dua Perempuan (Two Women) (2013), and Sentuh Papua: 1500 Miles, 153 Hari, Satu Cinta (Touch Papua: 1500 Miles, 153 Days, One Love) (2018). Wayar started her career as a journalist for Tabloid Jubi in Jayapura before focusing on novels. Her books foreground human rights issues in Papua, historical and contemporary, particularly through the perspectives of female characters. Mixing romance and stories of political repression is no easy feat, but Wayar achieves this mix seamlessly, especially in her latest book, which fictionalizes the travels of a Dutch journalist in Papua, the woman he falls in love with, and the obstacles they encounter.

Reading Waromi and Wayar’s excellent work is just one way to challenge the myths of Papua’s “single story.” To dispel the notion that Papua has only a single story we need to read more writing by West Papuans, and learn about Papuan-created artistic texts in other forms.

But the future of Papuan writing in publication also depends on publishers. It is no coincidence that both Waromi and Wayar call Jayapura home—as Papua’s largest city, authors from Jayapura have more opportunities to get published, even though these opportunities are still few in comparison to other Indonesian cities.

It is our hope that publishers, across Indonesia and in translation internationally, will make more Papuan-authored texts accessible to readers in the future—from Jayapura, from Wamena, from Kobakma, Mulia, Sorong, and from all the other parts of Papua that are so often overlooked.

 

 

Bonnie Etherington. Editor at Large at IDWRITERS. Originally from New Zealand, but grew up in West Papua. Her debut novel, The Earth Cries Out (Penguin Random House NZ, 2017), is based on her experiences in West Papua. It was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize and long-listed for the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Guernica, Hawai’i Review, Landfall, Meniscus, and Headland, among other publications. 

 

 


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