AFTER being invited by the Lowy Institute to participate in its PNG New Voices Conference in Port Moresby last week, I reached into my writing project, Bougainville Manifesto (being published in PNG Attitude), to put my talk together.
I’ve been working on this project since 2013, exploring and commenting on the past, present and future of Bougainville Island. I hope to eventually bring this information to Bougainvilleans as a book.
At the conference there were many people with more professional know-how than me into the issues raging in PNG politics, economics culture and society.
Having the late afternoon session, New Political Engagement, provide the platform for my presentation, Prospects for Bougainville, was a challenge. By now this time of the day my audience was facing exhaustion.
My panel consisted of Douveri Henau, executive director of the Business Council of PNG, as chairman; Arianne Kassman, Youth Against Corruption coordinator for Transparency International PNG; Martyn Namorong, commentator and blogger; lawyer Serah Sipani; and me.
For a bushman like me, a unit of professionals like this is a scary bunch, so I went straight to the Bougainville reality to feel immune from their professional scrutiny.
Aided by PowerPoint, I began by saying that, whenever we want to talk about Bougainville, we must talk about three problems that face the Bougainville people: exploitation, indoctrination and genocide.
Since the earliest colonial days, especially after the Germans took over in the 1886-1899 period, traders and planters flooded Bougainville and alienated land for cocoa and copra plantations for their own benefit, not the owners of the land.
They exploited Bougainville outright and, later, the creation of BCL’s Panguna mine in the 1960s and the birth of PNG in 1975 advanced exploitation to the skies for us Bougainvilleans.
Adding to exploitation we were indoctrinated by the law, religion and education that degraded the Melanesian Way as evil or barbaric or insane. But these so-called bad cultures of course sustained Melanesia for ages before colonisation. PNG and Bougainville must not let go of this fountain of dignity.
Together, exploitation and indoctrination led to genocide; Bougainvilleans losing their culture, race, identity, dignity and resources.
Next in the talk I quoted Ghanaian writer Francis M Deng’s words from Ethnicity: An African Predicament. Deng states that ethnicity is more than skin colour or physical characteristic and more than language, song, and dance.
Ethnicity is the embodiment of values, institutions and patterns of behaviour, a composite representing a people's historical experience, aspirations and world view. Deprive a people of their ethnicity or their culture and you deprive them of their sense of direction and purpose.
In Melanesia we cannot advance without holding to our epistemology and by empowering every little ethnic group. Here it is clear that PNG is not a ‘nation’ as we love to say it; but it is a country of some 800 ‘nations’.
PNG will never get anywhere by celebrating the umbrella where all 800 nations are packed into a bucket where the strongest keep aloof and the weak struggle for breath, causing political, economic and social chaos.
So here is the logic that explains why we Bougainvilleans, being Solomon Islanders, recognised our fate under PNG and struggled for self determination since the 1960s.
Under PNG our identity and dignity is fast eroding but our Bougainville Constitution is the finest set of laws that upholds our identity and dignity.
We now have the challenge of effectively and efficiently implementing that fine set of Bougainville laws to free our island and people.
As I see it, exploitation and indoctrination are high in post-crisis Bougainville. PNG ignores the way it keeps negating the Bougainville people of Solomon Islands in the name of strengthening unity of PNG.
For example, as it was with pre-crisis Panguna, in post crisis Bougainville the Cocoa Board of PNG exported on average 10,000 tons of Bougainville cocoa between 2002 and 2006.
It could have earned Bougainville about K300-500 million but farmers got little. The cocoa leaves Buka as Bougainville cocoa but goes overseas as East New Britain cocoa.
I know that Bougainvilleans are learners and we are learning from all the wrongs others are making against us and those wrongs we ourselves commit upon ourselves.
As our President Dr John Momis loves to say: ‘There is no way for Bougainville to go down; right from the concrete that was laid down, we will build a nation’.