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 Friday, 10 January, 2003, 00:23 GMT
Indonesians see Papua in new light
Scene from I want to kiss you just once, with Octavianus R Muabuay and Lulu Tobing
The film tells of a Papuan boy and woman from Java

A film recently released in Indonesia has been causing a bit of a stir.

Written and directed by one of the rising stars of the Indonesian film industry, the movie, entitled "I want to kiss you just once", is a love story set against the backdrop of the separatist struggle for independence in the Indonesian province of Papua.

It aims to confront issues of race, religion and political identity - sensitive material in a country wracked by internal conflict.

Scene from I want to kiss you just once
The Papuan boy keeps the rosary of the woman he has fallen in love with
Especially since it was released as the trial began of a group of Indonesian special forces accused of killing a Papuan pro-independence leader, Theys Eluay in 2002.

The film is a far cry from the diet of action and horror which usually tops the billing in Indonesia.

Set in Papua, it tells the story of a dark-skinned Papuan boy and his obsession with a mysterious, fair-skinned woman from Java.

All but one of the actors are Papuan and the backdrop to the love story is the contemporary separatist struggle for independence from the government in Jakarta.

It tells the truth about what's happening in Papua


Writer and director Garin Nugroho said he wanted to entertain his audience but at the same time communicate something of value.

"In a feature film I can put my vision. This is the important thing. People can laugh because one of the actors do make people laughing. They can get the romanticism. But some people can get the political statement. This is the importance of this film," he said.

The message he is trying to get across is that both the people of Papua and their political differences with the Indonesian government are more complex than many people understand.

The film is beautifully shot, with images of lush green forest and blue-painted fishing boats.

And the audience in Jakarta certainly seemed to enjoy it. The jokes were well received, but was the political message lost in the laughter?

"I really liked the film -- the scenery was beautiful," one woman said.

"I think the film was great because it showed that although Papuans are oppressed they are still able to love other people," another said.

One man from Papua said: "I think that everybody should see this film because it tells the truth about what's happening in Papua".


The film's reception highlights a widespread ignorance of the rich diversity of cultures which make up Indonesia.

Very few people have travelled to the extremes of the sprawling archipelago, not even many Javanese, who dominate Indonesia's political and military establishment.

Selo Sumardjan, a professor of sociology at the University of Indonesia, said the prejudice against Papuans in particular is deep rooted.

"How many young people from Java have been in Papua? They understand the Papua people only from newspapers, from pictures and the image that they have from them is that the Papua men walk around naked - underdeveloped, uncultured and wild," he said.

Challenging such stereotypes is exactly what the film sets out to do.

Director Garin Nugroho said his aim was to try to promote the idea that Indonesia is a multi-cultural country and if it is to hold together it must embrace all its different people as equals.

Given the continuing political instability in the region, it is unlikely that many non-Papuans will chose to visit Indonesia's easternmost province.

But at least through Garin Nugroho's work, a little bit of modern Papua can come to them.

See also:

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