Colonialism? Change would have happened anyway
Women in PNG play a stronger role in agriculture

Bougainville Manifesto 7 - Sources of conflict


IN TERMS OF STRATEGIC POLITICAL LEADERSHIP, the late Francis Ona should be considered as lacking both vision and planning capacity. For him, shutting the Panguna mine was the determining factor of his status and power over Bougainville; he saw himself as the liberator and thus the ruler of Bougainville.

In 1990, all the praise he received from Bougainville when Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) and the Papua New Guinea government left the island blinded his conscience. He, with his power, isolated himself from the public and tried to play the role of a supreme being ruling Bougainville through orders from his Guava village.

As Ona hid himself, the late Joseph Kabui struggled to play the leadership role leading the politically scattered Bougainvilleans under an abusive and disorderly Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) that was now preying on the very people it claimed to defend against external exploitation and indoctrination. 

Francis Ona was lost in the tangle of politics he had created. Taking off to shut the Panguna mine on the rung of family feud, he was now trying to stand on the independence rung. Also standing on it were the BRA sparked chaos of civil war and re-infiltration by the PNG army. He did not strategize his war based on historical fact and experience.

He got well off-track from the Bougainville problem that began with the arrival of colonialism in the Solomons. The question: “What is wrong with Bougainville?” was not answered by Francis Ona when he decided to wage war against PNG and BCL.

The Bougainville problem was not a 1988 issue as many blindly promote.

Bougainville Manifesto 1 informed us: “Our island’s world was made up three parts that are the flesh that is me the human being; the nature that surrounds me, such as the trees, caves and so on and the marriage between the flesh and the nature; this is the spiritual world that governed and is governing my people since time immemorial.

“The human being depended on the nature and the nature depended on the spiritual world that united the man and the nature. The bond between the three was respect and respect! The upset of one is the disadvantage of the world.”

Broadly speaking, the Bougainville crisis began with the dawn of colonialism. Bougainvilleans were subjected to exploitation, indoctrination and genocide by firstly, the colonial powers, and later with much more intensity by the PNG government and people.

Under the stinging colonial administration of British, Germans, Australians and Japanese, Bougainville faced ruthless exploitation. Oral history and written records highlights a wide range of subjection. Bougainvilleans were cheap labourers, sexual subjects, human commodities and isolated bystanders of their wealth.

They stood by as their plantations were servicing colonial masters and PNG labourers shipped in boatloads. They were forced to despise their traditions and swallow western religions and other secular ideologies without a chance to voice their epistemological views about their land. Bougainvilleans were used to destroy their own land and life.

The worst case was the Australian and PNG exploitation of Bougainville minerals in Panguna to fund the development of PNG and not Bougainville.

Parallel to exploitation, indoctrination is denying Bougainvilleans their right to progress for the better. In my PNG Attitude article, A mission to articulate what makes us Bougainvillean, I outlined my islanders’ fate as: “PNG’s seven million people do not acknowledge the distinctive qualities of Bougainville’s 200,000 people but rather indoctrinates them to pave the way for exploitation and eventual genocide.

“The fate for Bougainvilleans starts from the PNG Constitution. The very first line in the Preamble, “We, the People of Papua New Guinea— united in one nation…” is the foundation of indoctrination of Bougainville people.

“Under the real definition of the term ‘nation’ PNG is not a nation but a country of 800-plus nations. Building a country on lies brings disaster and PNG experiences that in the form of corruption, crime and so on.

“PNG further enforces this lies on Bougainvilleans through the education system. PNG has an education system that does not respect Bougainvilleans but rather, it is a curriculum that turns Bougainvilleans away from their origins or roots.”

This erupted with the colonial administration and has grown worse since 1975 when Bougainvilleans were swimming in tears and still, in post conflict Bougainville, we are submerged in it.

The killing of Bougainville began with exploitation and indoctrination took over with the dying years of colonial rule. Thus, today, indoctrination is backing exploitation and, side by side, the pair will lead to eventual genocide in Bougainville.

Genocide was and is protected by religion-backed humanistic thinking. Yet, history knows that Christianity-centred legal norms were the ones justifying the European to call the indigenous peoples of the colonised world savages and kill them to take over their land to finance the industrial revolution in Europe.

Humanistic thinking, example human rights, is the Third World’s guillotine if one is not allowed to interpret it from our own realistic perspective that would be for the betterment rather than disaster of one’s own people and land.

For Bougainville, the mighty PNG was and is gobbling its race, culture, values, dignity and so on and, in the near future, Bougainville will be no-more than a mere historical agenda. This is purposefully done under the blessings from the norms of human rights and the PNG constitution.

Since the dawn of colonialism the world forgot that Bougainville and its people were human beings; they were human beings with senses that generated changes within their psyche. They felt pain and joy; they saw disaster and success on their land.

Thus all these brought about good and bad development or change to the individual Bougainvillean and his world. As human beings Bougainvilleans had to maintain the status quo to perish or instigate change to survive the carnage on their land and life.

To all that, the colonial administration, and later PNG, just laughed in ignorance and arrogance till hell opened wide in late 1988 for the world to see that somewhere in the heart of the Pacific a people were being denied their rights for survival.


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Steve W Labuan

The article by Leonard is about the Papua New Guinea people who have been there for one another as a unit, even toppling governments and exploiters together as a people, because they know what it means to share a history - a bond that is much more than by blood or race.

But just yesterday, after 38 years as one united country, nation, and people, we are urged by this great article to also think that not long in future some of us will be splitting.

History has it, that as a country, the Papua New Guinean people have learnt to stick together in everything big - better or worse: that it becomes an insult if one is left behind. It is a joke to ask whether present Papua New Guinea should take a break from being a united nation.

The truth is there is no serious thought about splitting, but If Bougainville will go, I am sure New Ireland will go, Morobe, Enga, and the rest of the provinces and regions will go too. (so that no-one is left out).

Now seriously, if we all did go into small groups by shared interests, what is there to prevent us from splitting again and again into language groups, then tribal, clan then family groups?

Nothing - we still end up at the individual level and face up with corruption again - our reason for breaking in the first place.

This simple cycle should teach us that, the answers to our questions are right here with us already - in the individual - we can't run away from ourselves, unless if we are deliberately insistent like the tale of the biblical "prodigal son'.

Why should we reinvent the wheel again when we can simply learn from similar cases in existence already?

The Papua New Guinean people prefers that we can only remain together but sorted into a better arrangement? State systems, like Australia's would be best, and I think we are heading in that direction already with the autonomous status on Bougainville.

So bro Leonard, remember, what steps you guys take on Bougainville to shape whatever future, are the steps we are taking everywhere too as the people of PNG.

Justin Friend

One of the best articles I've read on the Bougainville situation!

Phil Fitzpatrick

This is an interesting stance, well articulated. It is reminiscent of the 'terrible beauty' of Ireland. For all that it is the hardest row to hoe for any people.

I guess, for a proud people, it is the only way to go.

I certainly agree, that as the handmaiden of colonialism, Christianity has been a bloody and destructive force throughout history.

It is fine to have your own beliefs, no matter how idiosyncratic or irrational but to force them on other people is criminal.

This is what is so wrong about fundamentalist Islam and look at the suffering that causes.

Those poor deluded missionaries wishing to help people 'see the light' have, in many cases, led them irreversibly into the dark.

Reopening the Panguna Mine is a very bad idea but I daresay it will happen. It might be the nail in the coffin of the Bougainville people if it is not handled properly.

So far I haven't seen anything that says it will be.

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