IN JANUARY THIS YEAR, in my home area of Panguna’s Tumpusiong Valley, a group of Bougainvillean students from the University of Papua New Guinea, with backing of officials of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, executed an awareness program on current issues such as autonomy and education.
Later talk spread throughout the valley that these future leaders of Bougainville had some difficulty answering the village people’s questions. Some of the students frankly stated they had no idea how to respond to questions. Others, in responding to questions, showed the villagers they were not aware of the issues affecting the valley.
Another of these students angered the people by stating that ‘when we graduate, we don’t feel like returning to Bougainville because pay rates are too low’.
Gossip in the valley also had it that the team was very much into drinking (a friend of mine from Muguai told me he was touring with them because they provided free beer). Sad to say, but alcohol is now a problem in Bougainville.
It was also said of the team that many were lovers courting each other and not touring for the good of Bougainville’s 15,000 lost lives in the civil war.
As I write this, I am reflecting on the words of Francis M Deng, who wrote in 1997: “Deprive a people of their ethnicity, their culture, and you deprive them of their sense of direction or purpose”.
I believe we are suffering under this curse. Maybe we’ve forgotten that there is a place in the Solomon Sea called Bougainville. Maybe there was not a crisis we failed to contain politically which turned into a civil war costing the lives of thousands of our brothers and sisters.
If you think that the terrible conflict was instigated by me, a Panguna fellow, you ought to change that mentality. Bougainville colonialism created a crisis in the hearts and minds of our elders and we inherited this. The seeds of conflict were sown long before hostilities broke out.
Panguna’s icons of secession, the late Francis Ona and the late Joseph Kabui, were not there when John Teosin began the Hahalis Welfare Society. They were not present in demonstrations in Kieta and Arawa by Napidakoe Navitu led by the late Sir Paul Lapun. They were not there on the mission led by current President John Momis in the mid-1970s which went to the UN in New York campaigning for Bougainville independence.
They weren’t there, but they were children who grew up in that aura of conflict.
Be that as it may, Bougainville is now our common problem. The old people originally involved in the protests against our Papua New Guinean masters did not carry the freedom campaign in their hearts, so, when finer economic pastures sprouted, they forgot their fight and sucked on PNG’s breasts.
As Bougainvilleans, we ought to accept that we are all victims of what our 1960s and 1970s elders left unnourished, neglecting that already they had made their children see, hear and feel the Bougainville problem created by colonialism.
Mr Deng’s idea of cultural deprivation did happen in Bougainville, and the Bougainville crisis of 1988 gave a venous sting to it. We know who we are - we know we are Solomon people - but our problem is irresponsibility to our homeland.
We have our tails firmly glued to our bellies in fear. In the open, we talk PNG; we talk Bougainville only in the safety of cyberspace. We have to act out for the world that we are Bougainvilleans.
I feel sad seeing all this. The more we drift, the more Bougainville will suffer.
Every year Bougainville exports students to be educated, hopefully to serve Bougainville in return. But away from home, they are here running after New Guinean penis and vulva and don’t want to be the true Bougainville light to self-determination and progress.
A fundamental reason why the United Nations supported a referendum on Bougainville independence was because of the prospect of cultural genocide of Bougainvilleans as a marginalized people in the hands of an irresponsible Papua New Guinea government and people.
Bougainville today has a bunch of people that talk Bougainville away from home; but, when in their village, they are the problem to the community.
I regularly, meet people coming home from New Guinea, loading beer into PMVs because they want to drink all the way to South or Central Bougainville; or booze all the way to Haku or to Nissan Island. Does this, make sense? Are we doing any good for our village relatives?
This also shows that we don’t respect ourselves as Bougainvilleans and those who died during the conflict leading us to become empty drums that lack vision and thoughts worth contributing to the good of Bougainville.
Where do you stand?
We claim we are way behind in terms of development. For those of us who travel beyond Bougainville, it is of paramount significance that our homecoming ought to be a source of positive thinking so our respective communities can improve and Bougainville can be a better place.
Leonard Roka is a mature age student at Divine Word University in Madang. He was a participant in the civil war, in which his father was killed