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Keywords:

  • the state;
  • constitutionalism;
  • nation-building;
  • Christianity;
  • sovereignty;
  • West Papua;
  • Melanesia;
  • Indonesia

Abstract

Clashes over the status of West Papua and the political future of the territory proliferated markedly following the end of Indonesia's New Order regime in 1998. Amid a wide variety of demands for justice and independence, and a series of demonstrations, mass gatherings and prayers, only a few Papuans mused on how Papua could become a state and what would constitute its nature as being distinctly Papuan and/or Melanesian. One exception is the work put into the Constitution for West Papua entitled Basic Guidelines, State of West Papua, a document edited by Don A.L. Flassy, a bureaucrat, writer and thinker, with a preface by late Theys H. Eluay, then chairman of the Papuan Council. In this article I analyse this Constitution to show how a combination of Christianity and local customs, and a mimicry of elements of Indonesian nation building and symbols of the Indonesian nation-state are reshaped to oppose Indonesian nation-building agendas. The Constitution shows that when Papuans imagine an independent state, forms of vernacular legality play a central role. ‘The state’ has journeyed to Papua and encouraged faith in ‘the law,’ and Basic Guidelines is partly the effect of this growing vernacular legality. My analysis shows that it is essential to see how legal mobilisations and imaginations of the state articulate with other normative systems and practices – in particular Christianity and custom (adat) – and how they mutually allow for and invite strategies.