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17 June 2014


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I share the same memory as Des Martin.

The term "Buka" was not in any sense regarded as pejorative. I certainly never heard it used in any other way than that mentioned by Des.

As I recall, kiaps tended to regard Bougainville as a good place to be posted and the local people there were always described in pretty positive terms, at least to me.

Although not nowadays politically correct in my time in the old TPNG if you wanted to describe something as really black in colour the Pidgin term was Olsem Buka given that Bougainvilians were much darker in skin than others in the country.

That aside the "Bukas" i.e. Bougainvillians serving in the old bare foot constabulary were held in high regard generally for their courage and loyalty by us Kiaps and it was an honour and a privilege to have served with them.

Interesting viewpoint Leonard.

The early colonial powers, wherever they went, tended to name places in a way which made sense to them. Very frequently, no reference at all was made to the indigenous people involved.

Thus we have American continents named after a Spanish explorer, bits of Africa previously named after prominent colonialists like Cecil Rhodes, New Guinea apparently so named because someone thought it looked a bit like equatorial Guinea and Papua named using a Malay word for frizzy hair.

Australia is basically a shortened version of the Latin expression "Terra Australis" meaning southern land.

Our states of Victoria and Queensland were so-called basically to show the sycophantic loyalty of their citizens to the British Crown. Talk about sucking up! My own less royalty fixated state stuck with the prosaic but fairly accurate name of South Australia.

Even Europe has states that have names more reflective of historic accidents than either geography, language or ethnicity. Thus Belgium derives from the Latin name "Gallia Belgica" given to roughly the same area by its Roman conquerors around 50BC.

About 60% of present day Belgians are Dutch speaking Flemish, with the other 40% being mostly French speaking Walloons. Add to this mix a few rather striking socio-economic differences between regions and governing Belgium becomes a long term exercise in careful negotiation between sometimes mutually antagonistic ethnic groups. Sound familiar?

As Gordon McNeil points out, Bougainville is named after a French explorer. It could have been worse; Kaiser Wilhelm Land or the Bismarck Islands might just as easily have been chosen.

Choosing to own and cherish the colonial name given to your islands seems a pretty sensible strategy to me.

In modern marketing jargon it is now your collective "brand" and one which enjoys wide spread recognition around the world, so changing it now would probably just create needless confusion.

And anyway, as Shakespeare said:

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Leonard - I can't speak for Bougainvilleans but I'd rather my people we're known by a name that we originated ourselves.

Like Mt Wilhelm should be known as Enduwa Kombuglu...

(If O'Neill has his way PNG may become the 'Southern Islands'!)

On those terms one may argue that 'Bougainville' is the name the people have chosen and perhaps that should be part of the referendum, i.e. what do we choose to call ourselves?

Shakspeare argued 'what's in a name?', so maybe calling yourselves Bougainville is merely saying you are not Buka. But that won't change history.

What was Bougainville called before it was 'discovered' by European explorers?


Perhaps you would like to comment on Bougainville seemingly being named after Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a French explorer.


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