An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
THE name ‘Bougainville’ is not traditional Bougainvillean terminology but over the years of colonisation, the various peoples of the island grew accustomed to its usage.
And, as noted in the 1973 book, Bougainville: A Personal History, by Douglas Oliver, “the term ‘Bougainvillian’ will be used to refer to the indigenes of Bougainville and Buka as a whole, that is, to those who regard these islands as their ethnic homeland.”
Frankly this was an ignorant understanding of British rule. The British influence over Bougainville was profound: the Anglo-German Declaration of 1886 divided the Solomon Islands into two parts and the Anglo-German Convention of 1899 allowed Germany the right to rule over Bougainville and Buka Island.
Under British rule, the people were known collectively as ‘Bougainvillians’ but the Germans adopted the term ‘Buka’.
Under the British, Bougainville had been a forgotten world and it was only in 1902 that missionaries began establishing permanent residency on the island, Oliver writing that the Catholic Church (Society of Mary) established itself in Kieta in that year.
Then in 1905, the German colonial administration in Rabaul established a post at Kieta, a move that saw European planters and traders settling on Bougainville’s east and north coasts and on Buka Island’s west and south coasts.
Albert Maori Kiki wrote in Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime that labourers for these plantations were shipped into Bougainville from New Guinea. The trawlers first port of entry into Bougainville was mainly at Buka.
And when the labourers returned home, their contracts exhausted, their departure port was Buka.
These cheap colonial New Guinean labourers were the agents who championed the term ‘Buka’ to refer to Bougainvilleans and, by inference, to Bougainville island.
There were also the tags, which I consider derogatory and undignified, of ‘Small Buka’ (for Buka Island) and ‘Big Buka’ (for Bougainville).
The Bougainville Constitution says Bougainville shall be known formally as The Autonomous Region of Bougainville and otherwise as Bougainville.
Thus the use of ‘Buka’ for Bougainvilleans and ‘Big Buka’ for Bougainville is redolent of a colonial attitude by people who use those terms.
Bougainvilleans are required to uphold their Constitution by respecting Bougainville’s true identity and dignity.
Self-respect will sustain Bougainville into the future after the referendum on independence which will be held between 2015 and 2020.