'Desecration' in a Place of Refuge

Diana Glazebrook


In this paper I explore two related questions: how does a particular site come to be perceived as sacred, and what is the impact of the destruction of something sacred when it occurs in a place of ‘refuge’? This study is situated on the island of New Guinea, in the experiences of West Papuan people from the Indonesian Province of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), living as refugees across the international border in Papua New Guinea. The inquiry is grounded in two instances involving a refugee population in a place of refuge. The first instance involves the burning of a church built by a refugee congregation, and the second involves the large-scale occupation by a refugee population of another people’s land. A doubling effect is intended here. Forced migration can simultaneously render refugees vulnerable to the violence of others, and in the process of resettlement, refugees may have no real choice but to engage in actions that violate the land of others.


refugees; relocation; sacred land; violence; New Guinea; Papua New Guinea

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/csr.v11i1.3449