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Tribal Democracy for West Papua Government: A Rough Draft/ Proposal (Open for Discussion) (England, 1999)

NOTE by Current Advocate of Tribal Democracy

This document was produced in 1999, which means that the concept has been further developed by Sem Karoba himself or by others in order to help us understand more about the meaning of

  1. Democracy within tribes
  2. Democracy among the tribal peoples
  3. Democracy for all communities of beings
  4. Non-Party democracy
  5. and other characteristics of tribal model of democracy, inspired by the concept proposed by Nelson Mandela


This draft was presented to a group of thinkers and academia at Percy Street No. 30, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.

The conclusion was the the author must return home to deepen the understanding and if possible to explain the concept to the Papuan peoples ourselves.

This concept was then presented to FORERI (West Papuan - Indonesia Reconciliation Forum) and then to Papua Presidium Council in January 2000. The concept from Dr. Don Flassy and from Sem Karoba two major papers that were spread around and discussed among West Papuan elites and thinkers in 1999-2001.


This “Draft of West Papua Government System” presents an overview and background reasons of what I would like to call “Tribal Democracy” and “Western Democracy” and how they differ from one to another.

It finally ends with the advantages and problems we are will face if we choose either western or tribal democracy. 

The purpose of this is to avoid any political manipulation and collusion that comes from super power nations in this world.


1. We need to be aware that the “Indonesian government” will finally and definitely go away from West Papua. However, we, the people of West Papua will face another “government” called “West Papua government” which will continue the mission and task to rape, torture, intimidate, exploit the human and natural resources, take people away from their homes and families, kill, imprison and many other ways. All of these will become worse when West Papua politicians govern and kill their own people. It will be more inhuman than now to see the celebration for independence turned into suffering because West Papuan government will kill their own people who have fought for the freedom together in unity. It is unbelievable, but definitely, it is going to happen. 

2. We cannot be so optimistic with our own government because our neighbouring country, Papua New Guinea has openly spoken to us all that tension and torture does exist in self-governing nations. Some mountains will rapidly turn into valleys. Some green trees where flora, fauna and tribal people live will be asphalt and cities will be built with concrete walls. Some un-contacted tribes will be quickly reached. In short, “All that are alive will die, and the death will happen because they are killed.” Who will kill them? No one else, nothing else. They are there with you. They are the corporations, aid agencies, religious organisations, and such that directly become the agents from the super power nations that up till now see West Papua as a fertile region for exploitation. 

3. If we look at the world atlas, West Papua is one of at least three regions in the world whose resources are not yet subdued/ exploited/managed by the powerful nations “in the west” There is a concept in this world: “All humans must become the same as those in the west, and the western patters of society, culture, government and such should be applied into any society in the world. They believe that “democracy” is the best and the only way of government in the world. They are trying to make the world to become::
One in its government systems, even only one system will become the system for all governments; 
One in language, English; 
One in religion; most possibly Christianity or those friendly to Christianity; 
One race; 
One thought and feeling. The though is like this: Development is nice, chopping down trees is necessary, killing other humans is a must for security purpose, etc. 
4. For these, they will do all they can in all ways. They will talk any actions, even by bloodshed as we have seen in East Timor and Balkans. All these are not tragedies or incidents. All are very well planned and executed. In West Papua, they are already with us now. They are sleeping and eating with us. They are actively participating in various meetings among West Papua people. They will say, “Let me have your neck, I am thirsty of blood and hungry for flesh after such a long time since East Timor feast!” 

5. Their aims are these:
* Mining in Tembagapura should continue without any hindrance, because when it is stopped, western economy will be in trouble;
* Logging activities will not end because the modern nations have not got any trees left in their countries for their furniture, paper, carpentry and others. 
* Road construction, Mamberamo Dam construction should be resumed because world organisations must take away resources available in West Papua and the best way is by investing into the region, without leaving any single waste at all. 

6. We need to be aware that the problems in West Papua are not only originated from Jakarta, but they are from far away countries. They are relaxing, eating and sleeping in a relaxed situation. Meanwhile, Indonesian army is paid to kill West Papua people for the sake of supplying the needs of those far away countries. Here is how Jakarta is foolish. Jakarta is not clever or sensitive anymore to its problems. It is already the puppet of the western powers since New Order government came into power. Until now, it is obvious that foreign governments are intervening into internal affairs of Jakarta. What is being done by those intellectuals educated in foreign nations? They are all under the control of “Mind Control Policy” far away. They are being controlled by remote control from far away. Just like you can control revision channels from distance, the mind-control is happening in the same way. Is this a dream? It is a reality my brothers and sisters. 

7. That is why we should be clever in judging the situation in West Papua people and in trying to help ourselves to get out from the problems. We should not continue supplying the demands, in which way we will be continuously killing our own people. We must stand for our own selves and problems. We should avoid committing suicide in our political decisions in these days. We must reach our goal “Save the people of West Papua and all the resources in the island from any colonialism” and not on the contrary.


1. The concepts of “nation” and “government” are close friends to murder, torture, rape, disappearance, exploitation, and environmental destruction, the home of tribal people. We have seen these since the Dutch was colonising us, after German came some hundreds years ago. What is happening now is the development activities based on outsiders’ principles and theories. These means exploitation will continue, rape will not stop, disappearance will become unavoidable. Intimidation will be a must. Imprisonment of Melanesian people in their own land will not end. All things will go on. Their banner will say “Business as usual!” 

2. In relation to no. 1 above, I would like to express my view that we need to know from now on in forming a modern style way organising people called “government.” We need to be aware that we do not need to COPY the governmental systems that work in outside Melanesian community. We have learnt from PNG and other Pacific nations as our Melanesian brothers and sisters that some of the principles copied from outside Melanesia and tribal contexts do not work at all. Even they create tribal wars among us. Therefore, creating a new nation (West Papua) by refusing another nation (Indonesia) is an unwise action because both still have the same principles and philosophies. When both governments have the same ways of governing the people, then should we say that we will not kill our own people anymore? It us highly unlikely. Most probably, the processes of exploitation, tribal war, road construction, dam construction and other problems will be accelerated. These will not solve fundamental problems that we have now. In particular, more violations of human rights will be committed by West Papua government. More destruction of the environment will happen. 

3. Some are suggesting that all Indonesia provinces become federations of Indonesia with full autonomy to each federation. The purpose is to build a “democratic government” in Indonesia. If we choose this, then it is impossible to create a “democratic government” per se. Jakarta itself is already a corrupt government. Its people are under full control of some people outside Jakarta. They have been in harmony for a long period of time, since the New Order government came into power. “Definitely, the harmony could not be let go easily!” They are already too close to each other. To take our gold, silver, trees, gas, copper and others in West Papua, Jakarta has been made unconscious of what it has been doing biased and will be so for ever. Megawati herself is obvious to us. They are already in the “mud” of super-power nations. A year later, their sense of humanity will totally disappear. It is typical, once someone gets power, the control of feeling as human beings disappears. They will forget what they had been saying for more than 30 years to their people on their political platforms. This is not only for Megawati, it is the way this world is controlled. “It does not matter if you fulfil you promises or not, the important thing is winning the votes NOW!” Therefore, do not get confused if Megawati and Gus Dur allow or even support the killings of people in West Papua and further exploitation all we have in West Papua. A clear example is the Mamberamo Dam Project, which is “ON” now. 

4. There is a significant tension between “Western Style” of government being exposed to use now and “Native Style” which existed in our life since centuries ago in Papua. Actually Jakarta has this “native style of government”, but it has been destroyed by themselves. They may feel sorry about it, maybe not, that is their business. From these mistakes, we should be able to establish our own system that can work for ourselves. We need to anticipate further problems in our government. If we do not, we are more foolish than those in Jakarta are, because we will repeat their mistakes even though we know which ones are the problems. 

5. To balance the tensions between “western style government” called “democracy” and our way of governing ourselves, we need to think about combining the two (democracy and tribal way) become a “Tribal Democracy” government. It is neither federal system nor guided democracy as being considered in Jakarta and in the liberal world generally. The “Tribal Democracy” has the following characteristics.


1. The Form of Government: Tribal Democracy 

2. The Place of Each Tribe in the Tribal Democracy System. Each tribe, either big or small tribes, primitive or modern tribes, developed and undeveloped tribes, educated or illiterate, all will have THE SAME AND EQUAL STATUS in the Tribal Council within each tribe. The Tribal Councils will govern their tribes without any single disturbance or intervention form other tribes around or far away from them. For example, if Bade tribe in Mamberamo do not speak English, Lani people should not go there and stand as prophets and priests for them and expose Lani values on them. There is no need for Lani people to bring in aids, Bible, education, or whatever into the Bade people. It is none of other tribes’ business. Of course, Bade Tribal leaders will be invited and will have an equal position in the government but the tribe itself will make its decisions for whatever they need and they want. All depend on them. There should be no single tribe or nation or organisation from outside Bade to become their priest or prophets or apostles. They will develop or change in their own time and pace. One thing for sure is that they will definitely grow and develop according to how their needs, wills, wishes and wants. 

3. Management in Each Tribe: Each tribe will organise in their own community and villages. There is no need for other tribes that are regarded as educated, elite politicians, and such to expose their expertise or knowledge or degrees and regard their fellow tribes lower or less educated or less civilised. All tribes should treat others as the same and equal. In other words, West Papua as a tribe/community, we do not need to create elite politicians or new order of politics in our society. The danger is that the new order or new elite groups will become the good targets for exploiters, head-hunters, oppressors who do not have human values or moral values in their businesses, who only work for profits. They have no moral or cultural responsibilities to West Papua and its people. What they want are the resources to be taken away from us. That is why the way of managing each tribe should be under the control of each tribe. By this way, we will be strong against any wills and plans to exploit us.

4. Economy: Economically, a tribe is 100% (fully) responsible for the management of all resources in, on and under the land they inhibit. We do not need to create a system where only a small number of people plan the development and dray maps for logging, mining and killing activities; and then come to the people and give instructions to move out, to comply, to obey and such. If a tribe wants to turn a mount into valley as it has been happening in Timika, it is the right of people in Timika, it should be the decision of the five tribes in the region. If lakes should be filled up to make settlement areas, it should become the decision of tribes who own the area. If dams should be established from some rivers (like Mamberamo Dam case), that depends on tribes related to the land. Of course, other tribes can give suggestions and opinions, but the decision is on the hands of the tribes related to the land. 

5. Administration of the Government: The administration of the government will be centralised in an office. It can be called the Central Administration Office (CAO/KPA). Geographically, it is logic if the CAO/KPA is based in the central highlands. (CAO/KPA) will organise administration activities and tasks as well as documentation. The CAO/KPA is the place where all educated people from West Papua be based. They are not to make decisions, but they are to listen to and give advice or suggestions to their tribal leaders, to formulate and reformulate the opinions of Tribal Councils so that they can be presented to the international community. The staff of CAO/KPA will be chosen by each tribe (tribal council) to represent each tribe in the CAO/KPA. Each decision will be made at tribal council level and then submitted to the CAO/KPA for further administrative handling. 

6. The CAO/KPA Leadership: The CAO/KPA will be chaired by one Head Office, with General Secretary, General Treasurer and other experts and specialists in various sectors. Office administration tasks are under the head of the CAO/KPA. The head office will be changed after certain period of time in turn and each tribe should have a chance to be the head of the CAO/KPA. The head of the COA/KPA will chair the administrative tasks and the head will be in turn replaced by each tribe after certain period of time. In this case, we do not need President, Prime Minister, MPs and such. We are tribal people and we live in tribal ways. We have our own Tribal Leaders. If the world demands us to have a government, then it is called Tribal Government. If they want a “democratic” government, that it is called “Tribal Democracy”.

7. Tribes and Tribal Leaders: West Papua has 245 tribes. That means it is logic and acceptable to say hat West Papua government will have 245 Tribal Leaders as the heads of the tribes. At least 2 persons from each tribe will represent each tribe (2 X 245) to run the office in the CAO/KPA. In addition, the academics, experts, specialists will have special status in the system, but they will not have power to make decisions.
Some deputies, such as War Chief, Food Chief, Chief of Farm will assist tribal leaders, etc. as we inherit in generations. All deputies are responsible to the people, not to the Tribal Leaders. 
However, for the coastal areas, the “kingdom” system will be applied because that is the way the organised the community. 

There is no absolute democracy “from heaven” on this earth. There is no democracy with the truth like the Bible as the standard for government. All systems of government in this earth are imperfect and some principles only appropriate for certain groups of community on this planet. In other words, for instance, not all principles that work in the states should work in West Papua and visa versa. The principles applied in each society should be adapted to the existing systems. 
That means the western democratic principles and organisation systems should not become the absolute ways of governing West Papua people who already have our own ways. This is similar to the issue of Christianity. There has been a view that “There is only one way to heaven!” Similarly, there is a belief that “There is only one way of government system that is good for all humans and culture, that is democracy.” We need to think about these concepts as results of wishful thinking.
International relationship: West Papua people need to have our representatives in foreign countries and organisations like the UN. That is why we need to think about how we will be represented in the international forum. I propose that each tribe will have their own representative abroad, channelled through the CAO/KPA by each tribe concerned with the foreign nations. For example, if Mee Tribe has a contract with Freeport MacMoRan Inc in New Orleans, the USA, then a Mee tribesman/woman should represent West Papua in the states. If some tribes are related to the mining, then they tribes concerned will talk about it and then they can decide in their final meeting to nominate and appoint people to represent their tribes. This representative will carry out ambassadorial tasks. The CAO/KPA will handle the administrative tasks of the offices abroad.

8. The Equality in Managing Natural Resources: If some geographically some tribes have more natural resources than others, then it is the basic rights of those who live in the are to decide what proportion they would like to share with the rest of the tribes. For example, if there are five tribes in Timika, then five tribes should discuss the shares for them. Here are some mechanisms of co-operation:
Principally, we, the tribal people are not selfish people; we are not individual beings like in the modern society. We put society first, and then individuals later. Naturally, tribal people will treat each other better than modern society. The most important characteristic of tribal community is “We share what we have!” 

The tribes who have the land will have some meetings to arrange the shares in each tribe. Then they will meet in general meeting for final decisions. 

Final decisions will be submitted to the CAO/KPA and will be processed and presented to investors. 

In the minutes of decisions, the proportions of shares should be stated clearly and understood by each tribe.
9. Relationship with Foreign Investors: If no 8 is the principle of operations, all businesses of contracts, investments, development plans etc that are related to private and public organisations in and outside West Papua, should be thoroughly discussed inside each tribe. Then each tribe will have separate contracts or agreements with the investors. Also tribes affected by the investment have the right to veto any agreements made. All tribes have veto on the investment processes. For example, if Mamberamo Dam is to be built, in Mamberamo and the roads should be built through other tribes in Arso and Genyem areas, then it is not only the rights of Tribes in Mamberamo to make the decisions. The tribes whose lands will be affected by the Dam will also have the right to approve or disapprove the plan. 

10. Law and Order: Traditional law is the prime law for each tribe. As it is happening now, each tribe has its own norms and traditions. We are all Melanesians, therefore, the norms and traditions are similar (with a few differences) The important thing is that each tribe has its own laws and each tribal people understands what they mean to them. There is no need to impose any laws from anywhere in the world. Most of the modern laws are in fact used to justify certain elite groups and capitalists to further exploit the world and to justify and defend for their brutal actions. These should not be allowed in West Papua. 

11. The Armed Force: Tribal people do not have a separate armed force. The separation of legislative, jurisdiction, executive and security forces is a modern concept. They are good and very effective for modern society. It does not mean that they are also effective and work very well for Melanesians in West Papua. Tribal community knows that all males are members of the armed force, without exception. There need certain regulations inside each tribe when women want to become members of the armed force. This needs to be consulted to the husbands or parents of the females. All members of the tribe are the members of the armed force. The people only can apply to the War Chief if they do not want to be listed as members of the armed force for the tribe. In this case, they need to show their preferences of roles to play within the community if the tribe is in war.


1. Advantages
These are some of the advantages of “Tribal Democracy” government:
The centralised and oppressive policy making where all plans for exploitations (logging 
concessions, mining contracts and such) will disappear significantly; 

The feeling of being oppressed, manipulated or cheated by one tribe to the other or one group to the other will not exist in this kind of democracy; 

One or some tribes will have chances to become elite politicians and then become oppressors of their own people in West Papua; 

Tribal conflicts and wars will be minimised. This is the main concern of the modern community. They think, “Tribal people will have tribal wars if they have their own governments!” They point out what is happening in PNG and some African nations. They do not know the real problem underneath all the conflicts in tribal community. “It is not because we live in Tribal community!” The reason is because the modern countries expose their principles and systems of government to the tribal communities. They expose “Western democracy” and this is the problem. This is the same as asking Moslems to eat pork. And when they refuse it, we brand them as “primitive.” If western democracy does not work well in tribal communities, then it is not because tribal life is wrong. It is because we are forcing the western democracy that works well in the UK and the states to the tribal people. It is, of course, perfect for the modern society, but is it also so for us tribal people?

We will live in harmonious relationship with fellow tribal people, inside each tribe and also with the international community as human beings and with all other beings on this planet. 
This pattern represents our real life as tribal people. This kind of idea is rarely discussed by us, tribal people because we are manipulated by other powers beyond our consciousness. This is the most appropriate pattern of government for tribal people world wide.
2. Some problems in this system
We have already being “brain-washed” by the capitalists in the modern world with a view that independent means having a President, Prime Minister, Ministers, Governors, Ambassadors, etc. Therefore, even tribal people will see this idea as “a weird concept.” Actually this capitalist system is a danger and disaster for the whole world of humanity and nature.

We already have plans to establish cabinets by copying modern types of governments; therefore, even tribal leaders may view this proposal as unrealistic. If this happens, they are the ones who will regret sometime later. 

Modern capitalist world will find this idea as a threat to them. They will do whatever they can do, either by destroying the idea, manipulating the view or even by obliterating the people who support such an idea. This is definitely going to happen. They have done so all over the world. This is not a secret anymore. The capitalists will approach, promote and help West Papua people who can finally give opportunities for them to further exploit and destroy all the resources in the land of West Papua. 

They will use any means they have, even by selling and supplying guns, jet fighters, giving training to intelligence and many others. 
The modern community will create and provoke tribal wars within West Papua people. They will finally say, Tribal Democracy is inappropriate!” They will say, “Let us establish a democratic government!” which means a democracy that allows capitalists to exploit and kill the people. 


1. Each tribe in West Papua should claim their leadership roles from the hands of politicians and other leaders being exposed to us from outside our community. 

2. Each tribal leader in West Papua should act as the elders for all of us, youths, intellectuals and politicians from different groups to give directions and guidance towards the life that agrees with the tradition and culture of people in West Papua. 

3. Tribal leaders should conduct regular meetings and have open communications so that political gangsters from inside or outside West Papua community cannot provoke and manipulate the politics in West Papua. 

4. Intellectuals and elite politicians from West Papua should realise that we are basically the Melanesians from West Papua and that we are tribal people. We are tribal community in this modern world. We are modern people in our tribes. We need not to be biased by various theories, knowledge, philosophies, patterns and systems as well as expertise from outside our tribes, which look good but basically nothing inside them. 

5. Let us continue the National Dialogue Phase II under the co-ordination of FORERI (West Papua political organisation) and PGI (Indonesian Council of Churches). This dialogue will give more chances to Tribal Leaders to say what they want to say for their people and to avoid further manipulation from Jakarta.

These are all my personal views. I believe tribal people of West Papua will agree with me. If not, those who disagree will be “modernised Melanesians” which will not suit into the existing systems of tribalism.
Author: Sem Karoba
Email: semkaroba@gmail.com
Centre for International Education and Management
United Kingdom

Source: https://skaroba.wordpress.com

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