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Case Studies

Sentani, Jayapura, Papua

Kampung Sereh

Civic Spaces, Policing, and Neighborhood Identity

Emerging Issues

Left: An entry into Kampung Sereh; Right: A street in Kampung Sereh with shops owned by migrants from outside Papua

Kampung Sereh is one of the oldest urban neighborhoods in Jayapura, the capital of the easternmost and troubled province of Papua of Indonesia. Since the 1940s, the village has become a missionary hub that connects Papua’s coastal areas with the Central Highlands. Located about two miles from the Sentani Airport, Kampung Sereh illustrates several major forces that shape Papuan urban growth. The first is the role of religious institutions, especially missions and churches, in the formation of urban space in Papua. In Kampung Sereh, almost all Christian denominations have offices/churches in this area. Secondly, intensive migration. From the 1940s, Kampung Sereh has become a migrant destination, not only for non-Papuan migrants from other parts of Indonesia but especially from indigenous Papuan ethnic groups from the Highlands. Today, the composition between indigenous Papuans of Sentani (native to Sereh) and Papuans from the Highlands is about 50-50. This composition has changed the village’s character with the massive opening of urban gardens (farms) typical of the Highlands groups. Third, the intensive policing and stigmatization of Kampung Sereh as a red zone (“daerah merah”). As a conflict zone, the Indonesian security forces’ presence has shaped the urban formation in Papua. Yet in Kampung Sereh, the Indonesian military’s presence is even more felt, for instance, through a scheme “kampung binaan TNI” (the Indonesian military’s village partner). Our research project asks several questions: How does migration (inter- and outside-Papua) shape the formation and livelihoods in Kampung Sereh? How are Papuan indigenous identities shaped by Papuans’ encounters with each other and outsiders? How does policing play a role in this multiethnic and multireligious neighborhood? 

 Neighborhood-community-city-state relationships

Jayapura is one of the fastest-growing cities in Indonesia. With the population growth for the whole province is the fastest in the country (at 5.39% since 2000)— mainly due to the influx of migration from outside Papua, Jayapura becomes a microcosm of Papua’s urban problems. Papua has a unique history, tense political situation, and complex ethnic and religious composition. West Papua was incorporated into Indonesia only in 1969 through a controversial referendum (the act of free choice) where instead of a fair referendum, 1,025 community representatives decided to join Indonesia. Since 1965, an active independent movement has been waging what they call an anti-colonial struggle against Indonesia. To respond to this “separatist” movement, the Indonesian security forces have carried out the most prolonged military operation in the province until today. 

An indigenous Papuan woman sells her produce on the street

During the New Order regime (1966-1998), the Indonesian government-sponsored transmigration programs sent thousands of Indonesians from Java and other dense islands to Papua. Currently, voluntary migration is predominant as people are attracted by Papua’s rich natural resources and high economic growth. The migration to Papua has changed the city’s demographic composition, with the increasing number of migrants from outside the island compete with the indigenous population for resources, economic opportunities, and urban infrastructure. With the state’s support, external migrants bring their skills, capital, culture, and religion (for they are mainly Muslim) and dominate political and economic sectors in Papua. A sense of marginalization and resentment is clearly expressed by the indigenous population, which has led to episodic protests and riots, including anti-racism protests in 2019. This conflict indicates that the tension is brewing between different ethnic and migrant groups in Jayapura and between the indigenous Papuans and the Indonesian state. Kampung Sereh lends itself as an optic to examine this set of problems and a site to experiment with possible solutions of empowerment for indigenous Papuans. By focusing on indigenous Papuans’ perspective and experience in Kampung Sereh, we hope that we can understand the experience and impacts of migration on indigenous people and collaborate with them on creating a civic and accessible public space at the neighborhood level. Relevance to SEANNET Collective

The proposed visions in the workplan of SEANNET Collective align with our purposes as researchers and an institution. In Southeast Asia, the impact of urbanization on indigenous people is still poorly understood. With the collaboration across the region, we believe that SEANNET Collective will allow us to develop and carry out this important research. In addition, as a platform, program, and community, SEANNET Collective involves community-engaged research and critical pedagogical approaches, which are in line with our institutional aspirations. The activities under SEANNET Collective will enhance our efforts to better understand urban problems in Papua and contribute to the regional conversations about migration and the place of indigenous people in the city. 

Research Focus and Proposed Methodology  

An indigenous neighborhood with a garden

Three main questions animate our research project: How does migration (inter and outside-Papua) shape the formation and livelihoods in Kampung Sereh? How are Papuan indigenous identities shaped by Papuans’ encounters with each other and outsiders? How does policing play a role in this multiethnic and multireligious neighborhood? 

To answer these questions, we will combine several research methodologies. First, oral history and historical research in the government and missionary archives. This historical research aims to trace the evolution of Kampung Sereh and identify important actors and factors that shape the development of Kampung Sereh. Secondly, participant observation in Kampung Sereh to understand everyday practices of different ethnoreligious groups and their relationship with each other. We will use participatory mapping to identify land uses and ethnic compounds at Kampung Sereh. We will also conduct qualitative interviews with the leaders and members of the community. In addition, we will carry out several focus group discussions, especially with two major targeted groups: first, women farmers (as women have always played an important role in the Highlands’ agricultural practices) and Papuan youths, who are increasingly facing vulnerability to job markets and economic competition in the city and who have been targeted by policing. 


The research in Papua will be hosted by STT Walter Post. STT Walter Post is a Protestant theological school founded by the Kingmi evangelical church of Papua, the second largest church in Papua, in 1997. Combining theology with social sciences in its curriculum, the school focuses on educating indigenous Papuans and creating a community of leaders that will contribute to the advancement of the spiritual and physical well-being of the indigenous communities in Papua. STT Walter Post believes that this research project is important, not only for developing innovative approaches in research and pedagogy at the school but also for developing programs that will improve the indigenous congregations’ situation, especially those living in the cities. 

STT Walter Post will send its faculty member (Frediel Pigai) and students to participate in the research project. STT Walter Post will also involve developing collaborative pedagogy within partners in this network, actively participating in the capacity building programs (especially at the undergraduate and master programs) and SEANNET’s online library, and other relevant programs. STT Walter Post has a good working relationship with other institutions, including the University of Cenderawasih (who will send Albert Rumbekwan to this project), various churches, and local authorities, including the government and customary communities.