There are Indonesians who identify themselves as Melanesian. Those Melanesians can be found in East Nusa Tenggara, Papua, West Papua, Maluku and North Maluku. It is not an expression of political ideology nor citizenship It is actually a human race which all indigenous people who are living in those said provinces, belong to. Since Melanesia constitutes a race, they are not subject to discrimination, no matter their religious or political affiliation. They are honorary Indonesians with legal Indonesian citizenship.

Talking about Melanesians, Papua and West Papua are probably what’s first came to mind. However, history tells us that their Melanesian identity remain unclear by the government from 1963 to 2001. The Melanesian identity in Indonesia was a challenge for the previous administration. Indonesia was already a large and diverse nation back then. Their motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” was the cry for diversity. The government must address the situation while upholding their principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The government recognized Papuan’s Melanesian identity through Law No. 21/2001 on the Papua province special autonomy. They are considered to be a part of the culturally and multi-ethnically diverse nation of Indonesia. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest and most diverse. There is no such thing as stereotyping people based on what they look like. They are all Indonesians and they are all equal before the Indonesian law. In short, the Melanesian identity was a blessing to Indonesia’s Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.

Hence, it does makes sense if we are to point out Indonesia’s membership to the Melanesian. Indonesia did not join the MSG with associate member status because 5 (five) provinces in Indonesia are Melanesians. Indonesia became a member of the MSG because the country simply is located at the Asia-Pacific region and wants to develop harmonious diplomatic relationship with the countries in the region. It is only logical.

In almost a decade of existence, MSG has shown its potential to be “the strong man of the South Pacific”. It is making the region more economically integrated while sustaining its Melanesian cultural identity. However, one issue threatens the very foundation of MSG. They will consider the United Liberation Movement for West Papua’s (ULMWP) application for full membership.

ULMWP’s presence is dangerous for MSG. Their lone agenda of taking territories away from a sovereign country sets a grave precedent. By approving their membership, and with some member countries doing the sam, the MSG is unintentionally sending the wrong message. It is saying that it is okay for a hostile political organisations to join the group. It is saying that it is fine to betray the Agreed Principles of Cooperation of the MSG: “the principles of respect for each other’s sovereignty.” It is also saying that it is acceptable to alienate a significant portion of the Melanesian population in the Pacific. The group’s intention is not be considered in an easy matter.

It is an undeniable that the demographic and geographic reality of 13 million people of Melanesian ancestry live in
the five Indonesian provinces. But what’s more undeniable is that Indonesia itself is a diverse nation since the beginning. Melanesians in Indonesia does not exclusively belong to the earlier said 5 provinces. Melanesian is Indonesia. To point out differences or diversity in Indonesia is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip, it serves no purpose.

And just like any other ethnicity or cultural groups in Indonesia, it is time for the government in the region to shift its focus back to what matters: cultural solidarity and development of the Melanesian people. With an inclusive approach that welcomes the Melanesian population living in the eastern parts of Indonesia, the MSG can truly engage in initiatives that strengthen the bonds of cultural solidarity among Melanesians. MSG and the Indonesian government must work hard to prosper their people in the region and uphold their principle of respect for each other’s sovereignty.

The stakeholders of MSG, its members, the Melanesian people and the region will be better off when the Group refocuses its energy on what matters. On locking cultural solidarity for all Melanesians. On prospering the region while creating beneficial diplomatic relationship.
Sources:

Bimantara, S. (2016, July 14). The West Papua wrecking ball? Retrieved from New Mandala: https://www.newmandala.org/west-papua-wrecking-ball/

Elmslie, J., & Webb-Gannon, C. (2014, November 16). MSG Headache, West Papuan Heartache? Indonesia’s Melanesian Foray. Retrieved from The Asia Pacific Journal – Japan Focus: https://apjjf.org/2014/12/47/Jim-Elmslie/4225.html

Firman, T. (2016, Agustus 29). Ribuan Tahun Orang Melanesia di Indonesia. Retrieved from Tirto.id: https://tirto.id/ribuan-tahun-orang-melanesia-di-indonesia-bEYN

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