Dr. Thom Wainggai is undoubtedly the father or founder of the ‘Nonviolent Struggle’ against colonialism in West Papua. He earned his education in West Papua, a law degree in Japan, a Master’s Degree in New York City, and a PhD at the Florida State University. He was the first indigenous West Papua to study abroad in prestigious universities and that got the attention of Indonesia.
After returning from the US, he continued speaking out against the Indonesian government and encouraged his indigenous to speak out and challenge the Indonesia government peacefully to public dialogue. He modeled his form of resistance movement after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr – the leader of the American Civil Rights Movement in the South. And also espoused the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, two of the world’s renown anti-colonial nonviolent leaders of India and South Africa who led their countries to freedom from colonial rule.
At the time of his campaign against colonialism, Dr. Wainggai was a lecturer at the Cenderawasih University in Jayapura, the former capital city of West Papua, and a tribal leader in his own right. He taught his indigenous students and his people about their true roots, which is – West Papua is part of the Melanesian Family in the Eastern Pacific, and that their true identity is Melanesian and not Indonesians as many indigenous people thought or believed.
Independent State of Western Melanesia
1988, Dr. Wainggai rallied his tribal leaders and declared West Papua an Independent state at Mandala stadium. The Indonesian police arrested him and later sent to prison in Jakarta, Indonesia. There was no proper explanation as to why Dr. Thom was transferred until we found out later.
In 1996, just eight years into his prison-term, Dr. Thom died at Cipenang penitentiary where he was being kept as a ‘political prisoner’. His death was heralded by Indonesian journalists who covered his story as the “Death of the Nelson Mandela of West Papua.”
Though he had passed on for more than two decades, his teachings lingered, and are the basis of the ‘Nonviolent struggle’ in West Papua today by his own follower, Edison Waromi, and his own nephew and former political prisoner himself Herman Wainggai who now resides in the United States and currently working as a ‘Visiting Scholar’ at the George Mason University.
His teachings inspired a new generation of peaceful activists!