At the end of a long day’s trek, fried chicken with rice and veggies can be a mouth-watering dish, but in truth it demands a cold beer or two to wash it down.
Unfortunately that’s impossible in the highland villages of Indonesia’s remote Papua province. Even Wamena, the main town of the Baliem Valley, at an altitude of 1,700 metres, is bone dry.
There is a slight caveat: Foreign visitors can take two cans of beer when they head up to the mountain valley from the provincial capital, Jayapura – assuming they can find somewhere that sells it, which ain’t easy.
And it’s even more difficult during the just-concluded Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
You may say it is a trivial matter, and on one level it is. For, while a beer would be nice after a six-hour trek up steep slippery trails to a remote Dani village, it is better not to add alcohol to the travails of the native people.
On another level, however, it is more disputatious. For remember, distant Papua has more Christians and other denominations than Muslims, so why should Islamic rules be imposed on them?
After all, in Jakarta there is no problem buying booze or cavorting with bar girls or engaging in other decadent vices – even during Ramadan. So if it’s fine in the capital, why not faraway Papua?
Well, for a good reason, and one which is worth supporting despite the double standard and the inconvenience to thirsty visitors.
The Dani, Lani and Yali tribal folks in the Baliem Valley, despite undeniable advances, are still unused to “civilised” ways.
Many forego clothes, practice polygamy, eat an unhealthy diet of sweet potatoes and yams, and having been introduced to cigarettes, now smoke furiously from dawn to dusk. They would do the same with booze.
So the beer ban is sensible, as the fate of aboriginal people in North America and Australia confirms.
What is inexcusable is the way meretricious proselytisers have exploited the isolated Papuans and filled their heads with religious cant.
Few places in the world are as remote and sparsely populated as Papua, and yet at the same time have as many churches and mosques.
And the way priests and mullahs have plied the tribal folk with guff about heavenly redemption and everlasting paradise grates far more than having to stay teetotal for a few days.
Even more grating is the way this kind of thing has spread to big cities like Bandung and Makassar, where it is tough to buy pork and liquor.
Worse, neighbouring Brunei’s Islamic Religious Council banned daytime eating, for everyone, in Muslim-owned restaurants during Ramadan.
It’s shocking. No religious group should be able to impose its doctrinal beliefs on others, whether in Papua, Brunei or elsewhere.
Last week, Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono spoke out in parliament against this growing trend.
Said SBY: “I am very concerned about the continuing incidents of intolerance and communal conflict we see, which are often violent.”
Likewise, Aqil Siradj, chairman of Indonesia’s biggest Muslim body, the Nahdlatul Ulama, urged the government to punish the Islamic Defender’s Front for raiding bars and nightclubs.
When the Front, which seeks to repeal the 20th century, mounted an attack last month, it led to a car chase that culminated in a pregnant woman being killed.
This must stop. Not only so non-Muslims can enjoy a beer in peace, but because it is bigoted and brings yet more disrepute to Islam.
Indeed, the intolerance is getting even worse among different Islamic sects, as shown by the brutal clashes between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Sampang, East Java, recently.
SBY’s Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, a Sunni, exacerbated matters by saying the Shia should convert “to the true teaching of Islam”.
In other words, my way or the machete, you heretics
We don’t need any more of that, in Papua or Java or elsewhere across the region.