The Development of Literature in West Papua

West Papua
Source : Siedoo

Nowadays, literature is nothing new to many people in the land of Papua and West Papua. However, Papuan people’s literacy rate is rather low. Therefore, the regional government in both provinces needs to cooperate with Indonesia’s central government to improve the aspects of economy and education in the regions to feel the development of literature there. 

Another problem is the local Papuan languages that are facing extinction. Some actions should be taken immediately to save and preserve the unique languages as they show the identity of the speakers to the world. Below we will see how far the literature develops in the land of Cendrawasih birds.

West Papua
Source : Phinemo

The Literary Works Written by Papuan Authors

Historically, literature in Indonesia was born from the old Pujangga generation. Then, since the old Malay literature generation, Indonesian literary works were produced between 1870 – 1942 developed in the Sumatran community, such as the book Langkat Tapanuli, Minangkabau. 

There were several prominent literary works by then, including a work by Hamka entitled Tenggelamnya Kapal Van der Wijck (The Sinking of the Van der Wijck Ship), telling us a story about love and struggle. The Malay literary work era became learning materials and still a desire to write by the youth of Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, several other islands, and Papua.  

Thankfully, in the last few years, the development of literature in both Papua and West Papua has grown rapidly and steadily. One of the most prominent Papuan authors Sesilius Kegou recently released his book Jejak Darah (Blood Trail). He began writing the book in 2018, and it was when there was some issue raised among Papuan youth who did not understand the struggle against failure and poverty. The book also tells us about the reality of Papua, which was ‘decorated’ with blood and tears.

Another Papuan writer, John Waromi, also recently published a Papuan ecological novel entitled Anggadi Tupa and has it translated into English. According to him, if young Papuans don’t write, it is the same as burying the history and stories of the Papuan people themselves.

The Problems of the Literary World in West Papua

The existing regional languages ​​in West Papua are threatened with extinction because the users/speakers have been decreasing. Unless immediately documented and preserved, at least 10 regional languages across 14 major tribes in the province are nearly extinct.

The Head of the Center for Language and Culture Research at Papua State University (Universitas Papua), Andreas Deda, said that there were 50 local languages ​​in 11 districts or cities in West Papua. Unfortunately, the community has actively used not more than 40 languages ​​. Meanwhile, the status of the other 10 languages ​​is endangered and dead. 

“A dead language means that the language remains there and people know it, but no one uses it. Meanwhile, an extinct language means the language has never been used anymore for long because people have forgotten it and/or no one knows it,” Andreas explained.

The threat of extinction is due to economic, educational, and political problems. Indigenous Papuans, especially in West Papua, who transact in the market have to speak Indonesian as many buyers or sellers are immigrants. Furthermore, the need for Papuan children to use the Indonesian language and the lack of understanding of the teachers in schools about the local languages make those children rarely forget to communicate in their mother tongue.

Meanwhile, the lack of interest of Papuan youth in literature is due to their unfamiliarity with writing and reading activities. According to the data of PDDIKTI (Pangkalan Data Pendidikan Tinggi), in Indonesia, let alone Papua, reading enthusiasts are only 00.02% in number.

The Efforts to Deal with the Problems

A group of young people in Manokwari, West Papua, declared a formation of their community back in 2017 in the Hall of the Faculty of Letters, University of Papua (UNIPA). The community’s concern is to be a creative forum for everyone interested in various types of literary works.

“Literature can be enjoyed by anyone, not only by literary people. We want to promote literary products. Seeing the condition of the surrounding environment, this community can become a forum for various types of literature,” said the head of the community, Merry C. Rumainum.

Merry believes that the emergence of various positive activities can prevent young people from the negative ones, such as alcohol and drug abuse, bullying, and other juvenile delinquency. Moreover, it is to save the young generation today from illiteracy and poverty

Separately, the Dean of the Faculty of Letters and Culture of UNIPA, Andreas Deda, stated that he strongly supports the presence of the Manokwari Street Literature Community and anyone, including students who are willing to document and preserve local Papuan languages. The development of literature in both Papua and West Papua is expected to increase soon. The same expectation goes for the interest in the documentation of several Papuan local languages.