Tribute to a Real Hero!
We former political prisoners have many things in common – the love for our people, our land, our struggle, and our faith in God are some of them. These are things we shared behind bars and in our journey in life after those dark years. Rev. Aminadab Oropa was a former political prisoner, one of the few activists who served time with Dr. Thom Wainggai – the founder of ‘Nonviolent Struggle’ in West Papua. He passed away at his home in Jayapura, West Papua, on December 15, 2019. His death saddened me greatly in ways this tribute may no adequately express.
Late Oropa – a true pioneer
Rev. Oropa was a true hero and a dreamer – someone, like many pioneer activists who believed that they would live to see the freedom of West Papua. He was an ordinary man from Yapen (Ambai Island) who lived in Jayapura during dictator Suharto’s reign of terror in Indonesia. He was among the first nonviolent activists who spent time in prison and came out in high spirit and continued working and supporting the movement for many years.
I came to know Rev. Oropa as a relative from Yapen and a political activist, and I learned so many things from him that I may not be able to list on this page. For those of us who know him personally, he will be greatly missed for his endless smile and love for his fellow West Papuans.
Behind his smiles was a man of true convictions and tremendous ambitions. He lived in Jayapura during the reign of President Suharto, and a time when Dr. Thom and his followers attempted to establish the first direct “Nonviolent Movement” against Indonesia. During those days, Rev. Oropa was Dr. Thom’s personal courier who understood the significance of the West Papuan struggle and was willing to put his life on the line for it. He used to carry Dr. Thom’s letter to the government authorities, police headquarter (POLDA Papua) and army headquarter (PANGDAM Papua) in Jayapura to let them know of upcoming protests and the justifications for those protests.
On December 14, 1988, Mr. Oropa was one of the men who were arrested at Mandala stadium in Jayapura alongside Dr. Thom Wainggai. He served four years in prison as a political prisoner and absolute brutality in the hands of the Suharto regime. He served his full prison term with honor and pride and never apologized for it.
He inspired us
I came to know him very well when he was working with my uncle Dr. Thom, and he became an inspiration to me personally during my time as a young but inexperienced political activist in West Papua in the 1990s. Before we became political prisoners, he taught us many things. He described what political prisoners went through in prison. I still remember his words. He once said that in prison, political prisoners only eat dried salt-fish. He said “salt and fish” is all you’re going to eat. Sometimes a tiny amount of rice, other times two beans or two spinach. When I became a political prisoner, I ate the same things, esp. the salt and fish. Nasty stuff!
Another thing he taught us was to never leave Indonesian police or government in the dark when it comes to planning public protests and other activities. This is something he’d learned from our mentor Dr. Thom. He explained that declaring our intention was a good way of telling Indonesia we weren’t planning some clandestine activities against the state. Thus, every time we planned a public gathering, we notified the police and it worked.
Before I became a political prisoner in 2002, he came to our house, and we met – a meeting that turned out to be our final one. I knew I was under the Indonesian government’s radar, and he was just the right man to meet at the time. “Dr. Thom had passed and I want you to continue with what you’re doing, you are the next Wainggai – take the zeal of your uncle, and hear me out – don’t give up regardless of the dangers ahead,” he said to me. He also said these sweet words with a huge ear-to-ear smile – “Tuhan adalah Gembala Kami (The Lord is my Shepard), let him lead the way!” This is West Papuan motto, inspired by the writings of King David in Psalms 23. His last words to me were these, “KEEP THE FAITH!” His words are still ringing in my head!
The happy man
Mr. Oropa lived a normal life in Jayapura till he passed but his influence, from my point of view, will live on forever. His political activism days were over many years back, but his love for the movement never died, and he often lit up in joy when he talked about his experience as one of the pioneers of our Nonviolent Movement. His love for his people, his cultural identity and the spiritual well-being of his people were, in my opinion, among the things that kept him alive all these years. He gave four years of his precious life to the struggle, and lived for decades serving the God he loved, and worked to guide the spiritual journey of his people in the last decades of his life.
One thing I know he never stopped saying is that ‘WE, West Papuans, are Melanesians, and we should never forget it.’ He dedicated three decades off his life for the struggle, something that we political activists should emulate!
My sincere condolences to his family in Jayapura, may he find eternal peace with our Lord. And to those who looked up to him as a leader and a mentor, please keep his words and keep his memory alive.
I leave you with his final words to me – KEEP THE FAITH! One day, we will be liberated and these words will be uttered that day in his honor!
May his soul rest in peace with our Lord
West Papuan Human Rights Center