The literary journal that pioneered PNG writing
Another day in the independent State of Manus

Traditional values, land and the power to be free


IN THE GLOBALISING WORLD, where the First World spreads ideals of a world federation of unequals that function under international law, societies now suffer the friction between indigenous realities and introduced western norms and institutions.

Indigenous people suffer land loss, resource exploitation, civil wars, belittlement, marginalisation, even extinction. Only an insane puppet would accept these experiences as part of global betterment or advancement.

Across Bougainville land disputes are becoming a frequent occurrence between clans, communities, villages and families.

Global bodies like the United Nations promote ideals of a ‘free world of free choice’ for humanity but when people are killing each other over land in South Bougainville, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is not here to mediate a peace resolution.

These problems occur because of competition for the use of scarce resources.

In the Solomon Island of Bougainville, while human population is increasing the land is not expanding. So land disputes tend to become prevalent as people try to exploit and survive; and in due course they comes into conflict in a grab for resources and sustenance.

Society cannot do away with all conflict for it is an intrinsic part of social co-existence amongst human beings. But what society must be well nourished with is the oral histories and myths of each respective clan and family.

In the Nasioi society of Bougainville, land is life; and it is integrated with human existence. Without land, a human is nothing but a shadow that society should forget. Thus every Bougainvillean is a person with portions of land areas associated with them.

But in today’s Bougainville, defining a Bougainvillean is required to go deeper since modernisation has being weakening the bond between people and the land.

Since time immemorial Bougainvilleans have had myths to explain everything around them. These have two aspects. Firstly, they explain the ‘why’ question about the environment; and secondly, they preserved fading oral histories. That is, as generations move on, oral histories alter and myth plays a role to cement the gaps caused by time.

It is this factor that is associated with land ownership and resource usage. For, in it, one finds that any claim over a piece of land on Bougainville must have a clear series of events of justification.

Justification includes: (1) a sacred site on the land, (2) the family tree of those who were on this land, (3) migration stories leading to this land, (4) events that occurred on this land and (5) the supernatural being associated to this land.

In Nasioi society these factors belong not to the clan but to a family. They are a sacred and secret knowledge and power-base of the family.

Over time, marriages were the source of alliances of security and pacification throughout Bougainville.

Within this engagement, land ownership evolved amongst clans so, within a household, the husband gleaned his wife’s family histories and shared these with his clan people and vice versa.

This was a natural archive in the traditional context. Thus whenever conflict over land occurred, one ran to the father’s people if the mother’s people could not defend the land, and vice versa.

But in our so-called civilized world, many people are losing their land because they have forgotten their oral histories as a result of ignorance or despising the old folks who are a store of oral history and values.

Where formal education has crept into Bougainville, customary land disputes are becoming more sophisticated often confusing illiterate elders when educated thieves challenge their rights to land ownership.

Educated thieves in the Nasioi society actively research oral histories to create their own made-up stories.

For Bougainville, population increase means society have to dig deep to learn its past and the way our ancestors survived with dignity. But there is a systematic failure in the education system that does not support Bougainvillean epistemologies.

The education system does not create Bougainvilleans who know and appreciate their island’s place in the Solomon archipelago and it rich cultures.

Rather it creates windsock Bougainvilleans who wander and keep harming Bougainvillean identity and dignity under the western orientations of human rights.

Bougainvilleans must be strong and free culturally, socially, spiritually, politically and economically on an island free from foreign exploitation, suppression and genocide to be functional in our globalising world.


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