BY LEONARD FONG ROKA
BOUGAINVILLE HAS BEEN one of Oceania’s hot political topics since the 1960s.
Renowned leaders like the late Sir Paul Lapun held the wheel of Papua New Guinea national politics as it related to Bougainville for most of those decades.
But people today neglect the fact that the Bougainville nationalist movements were fuelled by lesser known men.
These were community leaders often labelled by as ‘cargo cultist’. One of the better known of these groups, Meekamui, often wrongly, associated with the late Francis Ona, was created and led by Damien Dameng of Panguna’s Irang-Panga area.
Damien Dameng was born in 1930 at his Dong’tare hamlet in Irang. He was educated in various Catholic Mission schools around the period of World War II. In the early 1960s, he did Standards 9 and 10 at Saint Joseph’s Rigu in Kieta. And this is where he came to resent the Catholic Church.
After completing Standard 10 around 1963 he was offered a place at Tsiroge in Buka to train as a teacher. However, having been influenced by movements like the Hahalis Welfare Society on Buka island, he left for his village and shut down a Catholic Mission station at Irang.
Within weeks of bargaining and protesting against CRA exploration, he got himself good following and support. Thus born was his ‘government’, which he called, Meekamui Pontoku Onoring, which I explain in a moment.
He established himself at Irang village and stretched his influence across the Panguna District, closing a number of community schools.
His ideal was that Bougainville’s political structures would uphold the principle outlined by the concept, Meekamui Pontoku Onoring. He believed that being slaves to colonial rule was killing Bougainvilleans by introducing impurities like New Guineans and what he saw as their evil cultures.
The terminology, Meekamui Pontoku Onoring, comes from the Bougainville’s Nasioi language spoken mostly in Central’s Kieta area.
Meekamui is the ‘holy land’. According to Dameng, the island should remain as it was before the Whiteman and Redskins came. To him, all rivers, boulders and like objects have their spirits and intrusion has victimised them.
Pontoku refers to ‘ancestral sacred sites’. A government to be called a Bougainvillean, must be a ‘homage paying’ body of leadership to the holy sites of various clans in Bougainville.
In Bougainville and the Solomons’ Western Province (also jet-black people), the Pontoku are the power base of clans.
And lastly Onoring means ‘we are secure’. This term was uprooted from the old culture which had it that ‘at home I am a master to all strangers’.
The late Francis Ona took up the Meekamui concept in the early 1990s and since then it has greatly affected Bougainville’s politics.