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Bougainville: Writers should not fan flames of discord


WHEN ONE OF THE MOST RESPECTED writers in Papua New Guinea urges his peers to show clear-thinking and steadiness on the Bougainville issue (see Monday’s PNG Attitude article, Rationality & calm required on Bougainville), it behoves the rest of us to listen.

Writing from a hospital bed in Kundiawa, composing his words on nothing more elaborate than a mobile phone, author and essayist Francis Sina Nii has called for “a harmonious, balanced and non-aggravating history” of the civil war of the 1990s.

The war initially pitted Bougainvilleans against fellow Papua New Guineans and then, in its perhaps more tragic phase, saw Bougainvilleans killing each other.

Francis Nii, at the time an economist and development adviser making a mark for himself in business, was rendered a paraplegic in a road accident and has since been confined to hospital and a wheelchair.

A serious battle against bed sores has restricted him to his bed in the intensive care ward for many months now.

But it is has not stopped Francis expressing his deep concern about what he terms “the written librettos [which] have the power to make or break a nation.”

If I may make so bold as to articulate the allusion in a more direct Aussie way: the protraction of old battles through the written word can cause continuing psychic damage and the perpetuation of bitterness. It may even encourage further future conflict.

There has been a tendency, including in some writing about Bougainville in PNG Attitude, to escalate stories that need to be told about the civil war (real history that must not be forgotten) into hurtful dogma about the divisions (in reality largely illusory) between Bougainvilleans and redskins – which I think we must now accept to be a derogatory term when applied to other Papua New Guineans.

As Francis says, elegantly, “it is futile vanity to point fingers at people of any one region or ethnic group”.

The editorial dilemma in these matters can be exquisite – to enable the truth to out but in doing so not to cause injury to people who need and deserve peace and reconciliation and not a prolongation of disharmony.

PNG Attitude takes Francis’s position: “Given … the granting by the PNG government of autonomous status for PNG’s island of Bougainville, what raison d’etre is there for emasculating the peace accord and propagating a sensationalised separation ideology?”

Francis chooses his words with care. He is not arguing against separationist arguments being posited. He is railing against the sensational articulation of such arguments.

The former Australian Labor Party luminary Bill Hayden once said that ‘words are bullets in politics’. They can be mortar shells in the hands of a talented polemical writer.

The literary community needs to bear in mind that powerful writing is not a mere adornment – because of its power to persuade, reinforce and mobilise, it can bring to bear awesome force.

If words are bullets, as the figure of speech has it, then the keyboard is a weapon that requires responsible supervision.

Francis Nii wrote that he wanted to “avoid digging the old graves” and that he did “not wish to interfere with the dreams and aspirations of Bougainvilleans”. But he remained “mindful that wounds heal, memories fade but scars remain”.

It is sensitivity to this construct that should inform writers in bringing to the surface the potent forces that roil within them.

There is always a requirement in the kind of public writing we offer in PNG Attitude – whether polemic, propaganda, opinion, criticism or disagreement - for us to do no harm.


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Terry Kelliher

LFR's, and other Bougainvilleans', writings are hard and painful to read for anyone, particularly for those of us with some previous involvement there.

However, we must see things as the Bougainville people see them in order to understand what happened to them and what they are doing to solve their crises.

Bougainville writers please keep telling us how you saw/see it and never mind about political correctness or other watering down factors.

Bernard Yegiora

Maureen good comment.

Criticism will mould and shape one to be come a better writer in this context.

LFR learn to take criticism and adapt your style of writing.

Never give up!

Maureen Wari

Go where, LFR? Come on now, grow up and be the true writer that you have shown yourself to be. Just trim and prune.

All you are writing is heard and appreciated by writers and readers here. You're waiting for an email to readily go because of a few unfavourable comments? Toughen yourself, man.

Every person will have true stories or dreams that will not be accepted by everyone. Does it make the story or dream a lie? No it does not.

The one who stays on course usually convinces everyone in the end. I don't think you are the surrendering type!

Leonard Roka

I am creating all you writers and readers pain thus sent me an email and I go.

Let's enjoy your sweet world.

Leonard - Your writings on Bougainville are important, revelatory and pleasing to the eye. But you, like all contributors, need to exercise care in not crossing over the line of extreme offence. As editor, I think some of your references to Papua New Guineans could be construed as at least insensitive and my article (and Francis Nii's article) sought to draw attention to the dangers of that approach. None of your articles has ever been rejected or censored, and I hope that will continue to be the case - KJ

Michael Dom

I respect and admire Francis opinion and his writing. But want to hear what Bougainvilleans have to say.

If we have raised the Cracken in our discussions then I believe it is up to us to seek out the alternative views to kill this beastie.

I think alternative opinions from Bougainvilleans are missing in this discussion and that makes us feel a little wary of pushing the agenda.

On the other hand, if there is no opposing opinion and they are in accord, then what right have we to silence their proclamations?

The best we can do is provide a sober view of history, where for our part at least, we were indeed guilty through our governments actions.

If it us 'redskins' and 'whiteskins' who stand guilty of driving Bougainvileans to violence then let us hear their real opinions.

The gun shooting may have stopped but thoughts and words are ammunition that never run out.

David Kitchnoge

Agreed Keith - but I quite like the frankness of some of the works on Bougainville.

The valuable insights we get from these works can serve as good lessons for us and unless we learn from history, we are bound to repeat the same mistakes.

Perhaps it needs an intelligent reader who is able to cut through the emotions and see the real issues for what they are.

I would not necessarily shoot the messenger.

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