An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
UNDER the 10-year Australian-backed Papua New Guinea blockade of Bougainville - when basic goods like tinned fish, soap, salt and much more were not seen for years - creativity was still at work.
In the early days of the blockade, a few Bougainvilleans went to the Solomons provincial capital of Choiseul Province, brought goods across and sold them to the people especially around Kieta.
But as the crisis, and the blockade, intensified in mid-1992, Bougainvilleans were forced to innovate and improvise. The coastal people could add a small amount of sea water to their cooking pots.
The inland people went to collect the traditional salty plants buraang and mengteerung which our ancestors stored and applied small amounts to their food.
But when PNG forces landed in the coastal areas around Kieta – in Loloho, Arawa, Kieta and Aropa - sea water was inaccessible so Bougainvilleans had to innovate.
Most of the coastal people fled into the mountains and it was only the BRA fighters who kept a covert presence in the coastal villages. The village of Pidia, east of Arawa, was the largest salt processing place from 1992-1994.
The advantage of running a desalination activity here was that Pidia was located further from the coast on a jungle-covered peninsula which was neglected by the PNG so the BRA operated there.
The BRA and civilian salt-producing site was called Bomena; todayit has been into a permanent homestead.
During the crisis the people carried large equipment, machinery and pots from the now disused Panguna mine site through mountains and jungle to the Bomena BRA camp.
The pots were used to cook sea water for days to collect the residue of crystals. This were packed into bamboo cuttings and carried to the inland refugee camps for distribution to the people.
Some was traded by barter as far as Panguna and Kongara.
I captured the feeling of this in Chapter 19 of my 2014 crisis memoir, Brokenville:
There was a strong sense of freedom in these refugee camps. Every household had a garden to survive on, people also hunted and travelled to distant places to trade.
Pomong hamlet was a conduit for crystal salt that was treated and prepared by our Widoi relatives at Pidia village near the port of Kieta.
They travelled from their refugee camps in the Widoi Mountains around Bunumang to the Pidia Peninsula and camped for weeks with the local BRA. There they worked heating sea water in huge pots till crystals were formed.
They packed the salt into bamboo tubes and returned home to use it for bartering with people from distant places. They traded the salt for food that they couldn’t produce or obtain because of the PNG-Australia blockade.
Many of the old people of Bomena hamlet today share the tale of their home and its past services to Bougainville as the centre of salt production for the blockaded island and its people.
It is a history that they will pass on to their younger generations.