Decolonising thinking about HIV/AIDS in West Papua: colonialism, sexuality, and HIV prevention among Kamoro people

Author: Els Rieke

Rieke, Els, 2019 Decolonising thinking about HIV/AIDS in West Papua: colonialism, sexuality, and HIV prevention among Kamoro people, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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HIV is a growing epidemic in West Papua, eastern Indonesia. It is spread mostly through heterosexual contact, followed by mother-to-child transmission, concentrated in the younger generation and among rural Indigenous West Papuans. This research aimed to identify norms of masculinity and femininity, and sexual culture, and examine how history and cultural aspects formed sexuality. It also examines the ways in which these understandings of gender and sexuality shape the roles and sexual behaviour of women and men today and discusses ways to redefine the currently hegemonic concepts and values about these characteristics and the values of gender and sexual behaviour and to apply these to possible changes in thinking about HIV prevention.

This thesis does this by focusing specifically on the experiences of the Kamoro people, a group of Indigenous West Papuans, the shaping of their sexual culture, and HIV prevention efforts directed towards them and their responses to these.

It is argued that Kamoro sexual culture and HIV prevention programs cannot be understood without grasping the impact of colonialism, both the Dutch colonial period and the imposition of Indonesian power and culture and the impact of globalisation. The presence of the Freeport gold mine on land adjacent to Kamoro land is particularly significant.

The thesis’ author identifies as an Indigenous West Papuan scholar, although not a Kamoro person. Thus, the thesis includes a discussion of the researcher’s status as both an insider and outsider among Kamoro through an elaboration of the principles of an Indigenous research methodology.

In-depth interviews, focus group discussions and field notes were used to generate data from Kamoro women and men, who were purposively selected from three categories of geographical landscape; remote, semi-urban, and urban.

The first chapter of original findings of the research discusses the changing Kamoro sexual culture presenting communal memories of past cultural norms, practices and values that governed Kamoro life, fertility and sexuality in the past, and Dutch and Indonesian colonial ideology and practices toward the Kamoro way of life.

The second chapter of original findings discusses the young Kamoro people, revealing that Indonesian and global norms of sexuality, and Freeport’s presence have influenced their contemporary life.

This study also found a lack of appropriate cultural engagement with Kamoro in the HIV prevention programs based in Timika, the regional administration centre for Kamoro people. It finds persistence of discrimination and judgmental attitudes, approaches and practices on the part of the agencies which deliver the programs. Colonialist images of Kamoro people and culture and their health remain embedded in the AIDS programs.

The thesis concludes that the cultural and historical circumstances of the Kamoro, and by implication other Indigenous West Papuans, should be considered in designing and implementing HIV prevention programs. Cultural engagement means Indigenising HIV prevention programs through the acknowledgement of Indigenous knowledge including concepts of health and sexuality. This also means allowing the Kamoro people to discuss and design their own HIV prevention protocols and train staff who will deliver such programs with cultural competence.

Key Words: Gender, Sexual Culture, HIV/AIDS, Postcolonial, Indigenous Knowledge, West Papua, Indonesia, Kamoro.

Keywords: Key Words: Gender, Sexual Culture, HIV/AIDS, Postcolonial, Indigenous Knowledge, West Papua, Indonesia, Kamoro.

Subject: Public Health thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2019
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: A/Prof.Barbara Baird