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Arfak mountains


Papuans elsewhere assured us that the people in Manokwari were special, because they had been the first to “accept” Christianity. It was here, in 1855, that the first missionaries arrived to convert the natives. Two Germans, Ottow and Geissler, landed on nearby Mansinam Island, quickly became sick and died, having saved no one. The conversion process continues to this day. With small planes, missionaries provide the only communication and transport infrastructure in remote areas. Over 17 churches compete for converts in Papua. There are many positive aspects of their work: writing, education, health and medical care, the cessation of tribal warfare and the elimination of cannibalism. Papuans affirmed that the Christians brought them peace, making it safe for them to travel between villages that formerly might have been at war. On the other hand, the areas with the strongest Christian influence were also the ones that had lost many outward signs of traditional culture. Papuans in these areas no longer wore traditional clothes nor slept in traditional houses. Integrated into a market economy with no way of generating cash, some became even poorer than before. Missionaries often broke up the traditional family structure to make it easier to gain converts. Those who refused might be ostracized from their villages. How could missionaries, descending from the sky bearing advanced technology, not succeed in impressing the stone-age natives? How could they not encourage, by sheer example, Papuans to abandon their traditional culture?

Our first task, after finding a hotel, was to report to the regional police to get our surat jalan stamped. The young man at the police station, who did not look like much of an officer, started questioning us. Where did we want to go? What for? He repeated the same questions again and again. He was not the boss, so we left the papers with him and went to look for food. At the market was a line of outdoor stalls, where we ate a delicious meal of a fresh slab of grilled fish with vegetables, rice, soup and spicy sauce. Back at the hotel, our police friend returned with one of his cronies. They wanted to ask all kinds of questions. Where? How long? We told them that until we talked with the WWF and the Cendrawasih Bay Marine Park offices, we had no idea what our plans were. Only when we promised to bring a permit from the WWF office to the police station the next day did they leave us alone.

The next day, we rushed to find the WWF office. It turned out that the area we wanted to visit, the Anggi lakes, was outside the park, and no permit was required. (Permits are usually a tongue-in-cheek affair in Indonesia, but government officials take them very seriously.) Eric went on his own to the Cendrawasih Bay Marine Park office. After two visits, replete with polite handshakes, formalities, small talk and answering probing questions from the arrogant boss, Eric found out that we needed extra locations on our surat jalan to visit the park. He rushed off to find Anne to get it sorted out. With another freshly-stamped surat jalan he rushed back to the park office to get our permits before it closed. Anne, with discreet pressure, had managed to get our new papers issued right away without having to pay a bribe. Now it was Eric’s turn. Even though the park office was officially closed (at 3 o’clock), they managed to put one of the bureaucrats to work. He typed all of our information into the computer with one finger while asking his colleagues for advice and trying to read the details printed on our surat jalan. Eric had to give dates and an itinerary, so he made up what he could. It was plain to see why only 20 people had visited the park last year. The office lackey finished typing up the information, and proceeded to make printouts, one for each park station, printed in duplicate with carbon paper. With 6000 Rp (about 40 cents) for an official-looking stamp, Eric was handed four envelopes, one with our copy and three others for the substations. Relieved not to have to pay a bribe, Eric hurried off. The director had set himself up nicely in a white house with a bright blue roof and a view of the bay, right down the hill from the large, brand-new park headquarters. Only later did we notice that they had forgotten to include our last names on the permit!

On the way back to our hotel we met a local guide who gave us the name of a man in Ransiki, the nearest town to the marine park, who could arrange a boat. We ran into Dan, whom we had met in Wamena, and invited him along. Although there were only permits for the two of us, we didn’t think it would be a problem to include him as well. We rushed around town, buying food and supplies, then headed for the bemo terminal. The truck, packed full of Papuans and supplies, trundled down the winding, bumpy road to Ransiki.