The Life and Death of a Papua – Martyr And Hero, Theys Hiyo Eluay



There was always some ambiguity in the role of Theys Hiyo Eluay. He clearly had a background of co-operation with the Indonesians. In his home area, Sentani, he did not have a large amount of support as the memories were still vivid of the largew number of people killed through his intervention with the Indonesian army. Some victims of his role before and after the Act of Free Choice (Pepera) of  1969 are still in hiding in PNG.

The struggle of the Papuans for freedom and independence came fully into the open with the fall of Soeharto on 21 May 1998. Habibie had soon after taking over as President promised East-Timor a referendum. The Papuans were promised a “dialogue.” Theys Eluay played a minor role in these first public efforts  of political mobilization of the Papuan people. His day came after the mass mobilization of the Papuans had already taking place, in the form of a “dialogue” and the “socialization” of this dialogue. In February 1999 a Team of One Hundred, led by Thom Beanal,  went to Habibie and asked for independence for the Papuan people.

Only after the rise of Thom Beanal Theys appointed himself to Great Leader of the Papuan People or also Great Leader of West-Papua,  Pemimpin Besar Bangsa Papua (PBBP). There was then always the suspicion that his conversion from Red-White (Indonesian Nationalist) to a Papuan Freedom fighter was not sincere, but that he was manipulated by the army and by the kopassus. Up to the evening where he met his death Theys was very close o the army, police and kopassus commanders. However, by his violent death he clearly redeemed himself. He was now in the line of other Papuan martyrs like Arnold Ap (killed in 1984) and Thomas Wangai (died in prison in 1996).

Whatever the motivation of his murderers it is difficult to imagine that they anticipated the mass mobilization after his death and at his funeral. The worldwide media attention for his murder. The setting up of several investigation teams and the open acknowledgement that all the evidence pointed to the Kopassus as the murders of Theys Eluay and to all probability also his driver.


Theys Eluay was educated in the Advanced Primary School (Jongensvervolgschool) of Yoka, Sentani, He followed then a course in meteorology and worked as a meteorologist assistant. He is from the Sere village and comes from a family of traditional leaders (ondoafi). He became ondoafi, probably because of his relatively advanced education, though he was not entitled to the responsibility as it follows a strict order of seniority. In After 1963, when Indonesia tried to eliminate Papua protest against its integration into Indonesia, Theys assisted the Indonesian army in pointing out people who were pro-Dutch and/or ant-Indonesian. These caused, in the smaal community of Sentani people (at that time probably around 15,000) a large number of victims. Theys was a member of the small number of Papuans selected to vote for integration with Indonesia in 1969. He helped to conduct a campaign in favour of  a positive vote. Most of the Sentani people at that time did not agree with what Theys was doing. In 1971 he became a member of the “gotong royong” (co-operation) parliament. By 1980 the influence of Theys had already declined, which made him feel frustrated. He then joined the Lembaga Musyawarah Adat Papua, translated as the Papuan Customary Council Assembly, first of the Sentani area, then of the province. In 1990 he became chairman of this Council. Only in 1996 this Council became more politicised, with its highpoint in the period 1998-2002.

 The role of Theys in the freedom struggle since 1998

The rise of Theys Eluay started soon after the Team of One Hundred had gone to Jakarta and had publicly announced, with not a single dissenting vote, that the result of the dialogue, initiated by Habibie was that the Papuans wanted to be free. This had not been planned. On the contrary. The government had dome everything it could to block any real expression of opinion. At all the regencies petitions had already been prepared that the religious leaders, the leaders of adat (traditional law) and the leaders of society humbly would ask Habibie to divide the province into three parts in order to be governed more effectively. It would also mean that for two Papuans a position  as a provincial governor would be made available. The population got the wind of  this and they demanded everywhere that this letter would not be send, but another letter instead which demanded freedom/independence. They demanded that the regent (bupati) or the head of  police in the districts (kecamatan) would sign the letter too and that he would stamp it with the official government stamp. This was the first time the people came out into the open with their opinion with disregard of the consequences for their personal safety. They just signed these petitions with their name and function. Not long before this, the ones signing such statements would get dismissed, imprisoned or worse. People no longer were afraid as they saw the offer of dialogue as their last chance to gain their freedom.

Part of this mobilization as done by an ad-hoc organization, Foreri,  which took up the offer of Habibie. Foreri, the Forum Rekonsiliasi Rakyat Irian Jaya, was an initiative of church leaders,  who were joined by the adat leaders, and the student  and women organizations.  Theys was one of the adat leaders, together with Tom Beanal and Gaspar Sibi. Theys, it seems, was only asked to give the requests of Foreri some legitimacy. This was the Trinity of ordebaruism: society, i. e. women and students (tokoh masyarakat or tomas), the adat leaders (tokoh adat or todat) and  religion (tokoh agama or togas) As  chairman of the Papuan Customary Council Assembly Theys’ support was off course important to augment the legitimacy of the activities of Foreri in mobilizing the people to express their  opinion freely.

Theys took initially a conservative viewpoint. He considered it too extreme to ask for independence. He did not join the Team of One Hundred. This changed, however, when the Team came back to Papua in triumph. They were the heroes. The delegate of Serui, Yusuf Tanawani, was carried on the shoulders of  people all the way from the harbor to the Assembly Hall, with outstretched arms as blessing the multitudes. In the Assembly Hall he explained to the enthusiastic masses what had been achieved. Independence was immanent. All this was completely ignored by the only province wide daily, the Cendrawasih Pos. It is published by Jawa Pos, but its contents are controlled by the army. In almost in every issue there is news about some events in the army and police complete with a number of picture of these dignitaries in uniform. There is much reporting on events in the army and police, like transfers, promotions or just opinions. C-Pos has hardly any any Papuans as journalists. The focus is on the migrants. When the Team of One Hundred had made its point to Habibie Cendrawasih Pos dared to ignore this fact, but instead interview one Papuan, who had nothing to do with the Team or with Foreri, who explained that he was not in favor of autonomy. This seemed very ridiculous and the paper lost then all its credibility. That was also the time that Theys Eluay, Don Flassy and two  students were arrested charged with organizing a meeting to discuss Papuan independence. When Theys was freed after a week he appeared on the front page of the Cendrawasih Pos with a picture, stating that West Papua did not need to ask for Independence as it had been independent all the way since 1 December 1961. Independence had illegally been usurped by Indonesia.  It had just to be given back. The contrast with the previous editorial policy could not have been greater. This reporting definitely increased the circulation of Cendrawasih Pos. It was now only Theys who appeared in the paper. Other leaders in the struggle, like Tom Beanal or Herman Awom hardly ever appeared. There were weeks that Theys appeared almost every day with a picture on the frontpage. “Theys is weeping”, “Theys is angry” or rather “wrathful” (murka), “Theys is sick and has to go to Singapore,” “Straightaway friends” (after fetching the new military commander from the airport in Sentani!). This increased Theys’ popularity. He had the courage (or was given the opportunity) to say things other people were afraid to say in the open. All the time Theys remained very close to the top of the security apparatus. He was the adat leader and now also the Leader of the Papuans and as such he was part of the small and select group of the most powerful in the province.

Theys was a self-appointed leader. He got much of his support because of the publicity C Pos gave him. He began to call himself the Great Leader of the Papuan People and also the Great Leader of West Papua. In February 2000 there was a large gathering of Papuans in a so-called Musyawarah Besar to discuss the future of West Papua and to determine a strategay of the struggle. By this time the army made overtures to the OPM. There was to be a dialogue between the Indonesian army and the OPM. These were from now on free to go where they wanted.  The OPM was also present at the Mubes, which took place in Sentani Indah Hotel. By that time Theys had already formed a large group of so called Taskforce (Satgas) Papua. These were responsible for the security at the Mubes. Though a majority at the Mubes  was in favour of Tom as chairman of the movement, with the great number of satgas close to the place where the meeting was held, Theys could definitely not be ignored. A compromise was struck and both became “Great Leader of the Papuan People”.  At the follow up of this Mubes the Congress or rather the Second Papuan Congress, as the first Papua Congress was held in 1961, Theys stood up at the beginning of the meeting and said: “I am the chairman, isn’t it, Tom, while you are the vice chairman?” Tom had no other choice then to agree as he did not want a quarrel at the beginning of such a crucial meeting where very conflicting opinions about the strategy had to be accommodated and the unity of the movement had to preserved at all costs.

The Congress took place in May – June 2000, just to remember the first of May 1963 when Indonesia came in full control of West Papua, after the UNTEA period. The PDP or Presidium Dewan Papua, elected at the Congress of 2000, is fairly representative if we look to its composition with people from Biak, Sentani, Paniai, Merauke, Fak Fak   and Wamena present. Also various churches, mainline protestant, evangelical and Roman Catholic,  and even the Islam is represented.

The PDP formed a group which the local and the national government and the heads of army and police were prepared to take seriously as they were recognized as representatives of the Papuans in general, when dealing with issues as public security, the issue of the raising of the Independence flag, illegal demonstrations etc. In this way the PDP was given a considerable legitimacy. At the same time as the new government, and especially the new president Gus Dur, was building up a relationship of trust with the PDP, the army reacted with aggressiveness and violence on the raising of the Morningstar flag in the various districts and regencies. Each time there was a considerable number of deaths. Papuans began to speak about Bloody Biak, Bloody Timika, Bloody Sorong, Bloody Nabire etc.

As chairman of the PDP Theys was not known for consulting his fellow PDP members. Usually they had to read in the papers what Theys was doing on behalf of the PDP and by extension the Papuan people. For one PDP member, Tev Benny Giay from Paniai, this became too much to stomach when without consultation Theys honored the departing commander of the army by elevating him to the rank of “Great Warrior of the Papuans.” Papuans from the highlands said that they objected to raise funds and pigs for somebody who had a reputation of killing Papuans, as in the many incidents mentioned above. Benny Giay left the PDP saying that he was now too busy at the college, where he worked as a lecturer. Moreover there hardly had been any meetings of the PDP.

Whatever his shortcomings or his real motivations by his violent death by those he at one time in his life may have considered his friends he immediately after his death became an icon in the continuing struggle of Papuans against an oppressive Government.
His grave with a huge monument at the football field the Eluay family owned, close to Sentani airport, remained a place of pilgrimage and a memorial for the desire of Papuans to be independent from Indonesia.