SEE NO EVIL: New Zealand's Betrayal of the People of West Papua.

AuthorRogers, Damien

SEE NO EVIL: New Zealand's Betrayal of the People of West Papua

Author: Maire Leadbeater

Published by: Otago University

Press, Dunedin, 2018, 310pp, $49.95.

Maire Leadbeater's latest book shows why the writing of history is much too important to be left in the hands of the politically powerful. Contributing to a rich and varied tradition of revisionist historiography, See No Evil: New Zealand's Betrayal of the People of West Papua refrains from offering another pious rendering of official truths. Moving beyond the often-sanitised version of past events preferred by those in positions of authority, Lead-beater critically examines New Zealand's foreign policy not only by revealing the evolving conditions that give rise to that policy and continue to shape it but also by illustrating that policy's on-going consequences.

Yet Leadbeater's book is not a sustained critique of the entire historical record surrounding New Zealand's diplomacy within its own region. Rather, its focus is more specific: namely, the evolving relationship between the New Zealand government and a collective of Melanesian people, now estimated to include 4.5 million individuals, living in a place known to many as West Papua, but to others as Irian Jaya. Indeed, the contention over naming this area and its inhabitants not only reflects, but also helps constitute, the central problematique under consideration in this book.

While See No Evil is more or less ordered chronologically, beginning 50,000 years ago and finishing up with the present day, the story told by Leadbeater is multifaceted. The book describes the local people who reside in West Papua, the pristine beauty of that place and the precious bounty of its flora and fauna. Its story then reveals how other political entities have re-imagined those people as a population, that place as a territory and that flora and fauna as natural resources before seeking to exert control over that population and territory, and those resources. This story necessarily highlights the important role played by Dutch colonialism in particular, as well as the lasting significance of rival European empires from the 16th century onwards. It also necessarily sheds light on Indonesia's nationalistic struggle for political independence and that country's own subsequent positioning within the international system. This story features the United Nations as a stage upon which newly emerging developing countries could cluster together under the...

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