The Morning Star Flag or the Bendera Bintang Kejora is a cultural symbol that has been used in West Papua since early 1960. The flag has 13 horizontal stripes of blue and white on one side, and a vertical red banner on another side with a white star in the middle of it.
The Free Papua Movement organization believed that the stripes symbolize the 13 planned provinces of West Papua. The white star upon the red banner is a symbol of the rising sun, or what the Papuan believes as a sign of a messiah.
The first design of the flag was very similar to the Netherlands’ flag – red, white, and blue stripe with a star on one corner of the red stripe. This model of the flag was used as the Netherlands prepared Papua as one of its federal countries with the name of Netherlands New Guinea.
The Ideology of the Flag and the Koreri Movement
The history of the flag cannot be separated from what the natives believe about the morning star. The myth began in Biak, where a man named Manarmakeri went to the West to find a secret of enlightenment and immortality called the Koreri. Manarmakeri promised to give the people the Koreri once they are leaving their current way of life.
The spirit of Koreri was believed to be a morning star which symbolizes a new hope for a new day. In the Indonesian language, the morning star is also known as “bintang kejora”. Literally, Koreri means “to change or renew”. This myth has been the foundation of the movement of the people.
While waiting for Manarmakeri the Messiah to come, the people need to reconsider their way of life. This includes creating a society that lives with sincerity, fairness, integrity, and peacefully. Indeed, the messianic movement of Koreri has been the root of nearly every struggle of independence in West Papua.
Through the myth of Koreri, the morning star was chosen to be the symbol of the movement. It represents a hope for a better life and society.
The Use of the Flag during the Netherlands New Guinea
After the Indonesian independence on 17 August 1945, the Netherlands’ colonial still tried to bring Papua within its government. They were promising West Papua its own independence and prepared the flag, merchandises, and national anthem. The flag was also redesigned and recreated to welcome the so-called independence.
It is later known that the Netherlands would never create such sovereignty for West Papua but keep them under its government instead. The promise of independence was created to spark an attitude towards the Republic of Indonesia among the people of the West Papua. However, the issue was resolved by the United Nations through the New York Agreement in September 1962.
In the transition of the region, the United Nations formed UNTEA which is the shorthand for United Nations Temporary Executive Authority. The UNTEA governed West Papua from 1 October 1962 to 1 May 1963 – using the flag as a symbol. The transition period lasted seven months. During that period, the Netherlands officials were replaced one by one.
On May 1963, the authority of UNTEA in Papua ended and the government was transferred to Indonesia with Elias Jan Bonai as the governor. This made West Papua the last province to integrate with Indonesia and was named Irian Barat. At this point, The Morning Star flag was officially changed to red-and-white flag as West Papua is a part of Indonesia by then.
The Morning Star Flag Raised: A Cultural Symbol
It is true that The Morning Star flag seems to be associated with the outbreak of separatism in West Papua who has been demanding their own independence. The separatists are raising the flag in all around the world on 1 December each year to mark their so-called independence.
However, to some people of West Papua, the flag is a cultural symbol. It is the sign of the unity of Papuan people who came from different tribes, ethnicity, and languages. The flag is a representation of their movement towards a better way of life.
While there have been disputes over the raising of the flag, under the presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid, the flag was allowed to be raised as long as it has a lower height than the Indonesian flag. The fourth president of Indonesia saw the flag as a cultural symbol instead of a political movement.
The consent of the flag was also written in the Papua’s Special Law of Autonomy in 2001 which stated that The Morning Star Flag is allowed to be raised under the height of Indonesian red-and-white flag. The autonomy law had actually given a positive impact in taking the sympathy of some of the separatists.
However, under the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the raising of the flag was forbidden once again. The symbol of the morning star was prohibited as it was related closely to the political movement of the separatist.
Essentially, to some Papuan, the spirit of The Morning Star remains inside their hearts as they hope for the Messiah to come and bring the enlighten