LEONARD FONG ROKA | Supported by the Jeff Febi Writing Fellowship
HAVING LIVED ALL MY LIFE in Bougainville, and travelled extensively around the island, and growing up with the Bougainville secessionist conflict since 1988, there are certain things I have gleaned about my island.
Bougainville has 27 or more languages, which means there are 27 or more nations
each having its own culture and independent way of behaving and thinking.
But there are also certain shared cultural traditions that bind these peoples in the geographic unity of Bougainville, uka and the Solomon archipelago.
My view is that the bloodshed since 1988 was the result of the long denial by the state of Papua New Guinea of Bougainvilleans’ rights in their own geographical setting of the Solomon archipelago.
Colonialism - forced annexation by the Germans and British - had far reaching impacts in the Bougainville psyche. The acculturation since 1768, the year of the island’s discovery by Louis De Bougainville, embedded certain significant characteristics that affect the political processes today.
In a geo-political interpretation, I could claim that, in Bougainville, North Bougainville has a population of ‘feigning’ people, Central Bougainville has a population of ‘talkers’ and South Bougainville has a populace of the ‘practical’.
Many people, looking at Bougainville’s problems, see the situation through Papua New Guinean lens, which to me is not the way to find an amicable solution. People must see the problems in a Bougainvillean way because we are struggling with Bougainville nationalism, not a Bougainville longing to be in PNG.
Bougainvillean resistance to foreign intruders was in evidence back in October 1768 when locals in north Bougainville marked their dislike of the navigator Louis de Bougainville and his men by shooting an arrow at them from a retreating canoe after an onboard gesture discussion with the European sailors.
This resurfaced in our conflict against Bougainville Copper Limited and the PNG government after 1988.
The 1979 book, Bougainvillean Nationalism by Alexander Mamak and Richard Bedford, said that in the 1960s the Napidakoe Navitu independence movement of central Bougainville claimed to have run a referendum for Bougainville independence.
South Bougainville claimed that secession for Bougainville was too early and the north
Bougainvilleans sided with the south.
This contradicted the fact that it was the north that birthed the idea of Bougainville independence with movements such as John Teosin’s Hahalis Welfare Society. The north denied the fact that it was it who influenced the central Bougainville resistance.
In the recent 1988-90 conflict, the problems caused by the ‘opportunist rascals’ in the name of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army was concentrated in the vicinity of areas around Buka town.
But the people in the far off Haku area of Buka island were quick to sail to New Guinea and forge an agreement in New Ireland to re-invite the PNG government back into Bougainville.
The north pretended that they could not address the situation in a Bougainvillean-to-Bougainvillean dialogue or resist the rascals in a collective north Bougainville coalition. So the north went ahead to seek help from the PNG government.
Culturally, north Bougainville is populated by people that hide the truth of their living standards. On the island of Buka, most village standards are similar to the squatter settlements of PNG’s urban areas. Yet people act so westernised.
This can be also seen in the Bougainville’s top cocoa producing district, Tinputz, which continues to produce the highest percentage of cocoa, but the money earned has not brought positive developmental to the villages as can be seen in central and south Bougainville in post crisis times. In Tinputz, despite the high cocoa generated income, housing standards are yet to be improved.
When travelling along the Kokopau-Arawa highway’s Salau to Tinputz section, or around the island of Buka, it is noticeable that living standards are not economically consistent with the value of cocoa and copra produced.
Since the north is now the gateway into Bougainville, the development rate should be the highest. But in my analysis all key development in the north is controlled by the south Bougainvilleans with little doses from central Bougainville.
In Central Bougainville where the Kietas are politically and economically dominant, I see a lot of ‘big mouths’ that just cannot stop talking. Central ougainvilleans are creative in exporting their dreams without testing the practical outcomes of those thoughts. But this population also readily absorbs change and adapts change to create results.
In Central Bougainville, nobody looks before leaping. There is also extreme stubbornness in this mountainous land that even the peace process or the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) has not yet eradicated.
Before PNG independence in 1975 it was the Central Bougainvilleans that created a lot of anti-PNG noise with ideas they imported from the north. Through such organizations as the Napidakoe Navitu, they attempted to change Bougainville politically once and for all.
All this effort was done without proper strategizing. And in the 1989 conflict, this flawed approach was repeated by the late Francis Ona.
In today’s Bougainville politics, Central Bougainville is where most hot politics is played with great spill-over effects.
From the mountains of central Bougainville the 1989 crisis was created; the problem of Meekamui was created and even the cult of UV-Stract and the Twin Kingdoms of Papaala, now based in Siwai, got start-up fuel from Central Bougainville.
Central Bougainville is blessed with dreamers with loud voices without any practical
application of their thoughts.
Across many villages of Central Bougainville politics is present in every mouth of all ages. Bougainville political chit-chat is replacing the old tradition of myth telling in the night. Men and women discuss and condemn politicians—both Bougainvillean and Papua New Guinean.
This culture lacks the ability to heal political divisions. This is the problem for the loud talkers in—they lack the capacity to be practical. The late Francis Ona was a talking machine who lacked the capacity to navigate to create physical change for the benefit of the Bougainville people.
It can also be seen today in Central Bougainville’s realm of politics: a Kongara man dreams of a Kongara influenced Central Bougainville; a Panguna man wants a Panguna controlled Central Bougainville; a Nasioi (Kieta) man envisions his Nasioi area to be masters of Central Bougainville.
A significant case can be seen with the Morgan Checkpoint to the old copper mine which is controlled by the rebel Chris Uma from Nasioi, who longs to have a say in all things happening in the Panguna District.
Central Bougainville is the home of ‘big mouths’, people with selfish hearts who do not
have the knowhow to achieve their dreams. I believe that this attitude developed because the area was the centre of the pre-crisis and post crisis Bougainville politics and pre-crisis economic development.
Because of this, people began to have the feeling that Central Bougainville is the
Central Bougainville today is host to many developments that have the whole island and the ABG aching. People with characteristics of ‘careless leaping’ are inviting people into illegal business partnerships. They care nothing for who is the authority but fight for what they see will bring betterment to themselves.
In South Bougainville, the story is a bit different. The Napidakoe Navitu conducted a ‘referendum’ for independence in the 1970s and the voters in South Bougainville did not turn out. People in the south saw that Bougainville lacked skilled people to drive it forward but most in Central Bougainville were not bothered by this
In most literature about colonial Bougainville, it can be noted that colonizers regarded South Bougainvilleans as people, especially the Siwai, with practical capabilities.
This was the direct result of two reasons: (1) the land in south Bougainville is not so fertile or productive; and (2) economic development came late to the region.
In so many political events of historical significance for Bougainville, it was the South Bougainville men who stood behind the ‘big mouths’ of Central Bougainville to bring about the wanted impacts.
For example, the 1970s Napidakoe Navitu group was effective because of leaders like the late Sir Paul Lapun from Banoni and, later, the shutting down of BCL’s Panguna mine spearheaded by the late Francis Ona in 1989 was effective because of the direct involvement of South Bougainville leaders such as the late James Singko from Nagovis.
There is a trend here; problems are created in Central Bougainville and spill over to South Bougainville. For example, we have had the recent Konnou Crisis in Buin and the ongoing cult of the Twin Kingdoms of Papaala and the UV-Stract scam in the Siwai district.
In the economic arena, Bougainville is controlled by South Bougainville businesses. The Siwai people are now in charge of most business operations in Buka and a
growing investment in Arawa. This is also the situation in non-urban settings.
Many South Bougainvilleans are sweating their guts to earn money for Bougainville or th ir own bread and butter as Central Bougainvilleans are occupied by the talks of reopening the Panguna mine and the north Bougainvilleans just relax to collect development as a by-product of their region being the current gateway into Bougainville.
One crisis event that should support my theory for the south Bougainvillean nature is the killing in Panguna of the late Anthony Anugu from Siwai.
In 1990 when the PNG government and the BCL left Bougainville, the late Francis Ona was in the hills of Panguna blinded by the joy of winning a confrontation with the PNG troops and BCL.
With his ‘big mouth’ he was not interested in the practical burden of providing the goods and services for the shattered people of Bougainville.
In the anarchy that was unfolding, the late Anthony Anugu from South Bougainville responded by creating the South Bougainville Interim Authority (SBIA) for the sole purpose of providing for basic services to the people whilst Ona was in Kieta ordering his BRA to persecute his enemies instead of bringing development.
This act of providing some service to the people was a threat to On,a so he had Anugu killed.
With these observation I see that South Bougainville is where the practical people are. I can pinpoint this fact from the Konnou crisis in Buin. Here Damien Koike of
Meekamui and Thomas Tari with his Freedom Fighters who are pro-ABG got into
This spirit of putting into practice what comes into mind cannot be seen in Central Bougainville and North Bougainville.
In summary, thinkers in the ABG should consider Bougainville along the lines of geo-politics when planning the
development of the island: North Bougainvilleans as ‘pretenders’; Central
Bougainvilleans as ‘talkers’; and South Bougainvilleans
as the ‘practical’ people.
Through such observation and understanding of our people, I believe we can create realistic policies in government and also bring tangible development and positive change on the ground.
Furthermore, I see that my thoughts can be a resource in addressing many issues affecting Bougainville today.