Colonialism is often treated as a shameful segment of a bygone era, something we can look back on with a mournful shake of the head, and congratulate ourselves on the progress we have made. However, the lingering effects of colonialism can still be found everywhere you look, and people throughout the world are still suffering and dying under the colonial machine.
The motive of colonialism was the primary accumulation of wealth in order to fuel empires and industrial endeavours, and it's what the wealth of many Western countries is still built on to this day. This accumulation involved the looting of resources, artefacts, and labour in the form of slavery. By violently acquiring these commodities, countries such as the UK, the US, and The Netherlands were able to bankroll their industrial processes, giving us the capitalism that we know today.
An example of this process can be seen in the massacre of the Bandanese exactly 400 years ago in 1621 by the Dutch East India Company, a trading company backed by the Dutch government. The Banda Islands, located off the coast of Indonesia, were rich in spices, so the East India Company massacred the local population, estimated to be over 15,000 people, and sold the few that survived into slavery. They then stole the natural resources of the island to further fund their future conquests.
Compare this to modern-day West Papua, a country barely 500km to the northeast of the Banda Islands, where history is very much repeating itself. Over 500,000 civilians have been murdered and many more imprisoned and tortured by the Indonesian government in what's being called a 'silent genocide' – so called because foreign journalists are not allowed to set foot on the island, the voice of the local population is being quelled through intimidation and violence, and the governments of the world refuse to comment on, much less condemn, the human rights abuses occurring there on a regular basis.
In fact, many governments are actively complicit in this Silent Genocide. The Australian government signed an agreement of non-interference in Indonesian matters and, along with the British, US, and other world governments, provides funding and training to Indonesia's 'Detachment 88'– an alleged anti-terrorist task force that is responsible for the majority of the terror inflicted on the people of West Papua.
Just like the Bandanese massacre hundreds of years ago, the motive behind the Silent Genocide is a financial one. West Papua has vast gold deposits, as well as valuable timber and palm oil resources, which are being exploited and looted by corporations such as the US mining company Freeport. And just as the East India Company committed genocide in the pursuit of profit, so too does Freeport hire the Indonesian army, including Detachment 88, as 'protection' from the locals – which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands.
What happened to the Bandanese and what is happening to the West Papuans is barely the tip of the iceberg of violence and exploitation and brutality that has happened and continues to happen to indigenous people across the world. The Wet'suwet'en people in Northern Canada are still fighting against oil companies for the rights to their own land, while the Amazon rainforest sees the near-constant murder of indigenous people by loggers, to the point where the Brazilian government released footage of the last survivor of a tribe massacred for access to timber. Many, many other instances of modern colonial violence occur every day all over the planet, all for the pursuit of resources.
Colonialism isn't just a part of our history, it's a shameful reality of our present. It never left, but rebranded and shrouded itself in the illusion of progress given off by modern-day capitalism. It is as brutal and repressive as it has ever been and it exists, as ever, with the full support and funding of the same governments that have been fuelling the colonial machine for hundreds of years and will continue to do so if allowed.
It is truly saddening to see how little has changed in 400 years, and to see the same tactics once used by early colonisers now employed by modern capitalists. The pursuit of profit should never be used to excuse the violation of the most basic human rights, because human rights exist whether or not it is convenient to corporations or corrupt governments, and after 400 hundred years, it's about time that the world's corporations understood that.
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