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The ‘belkol’ concept & the re-establishment of Panguna mine

Paramount Chief Charles KaroroLEONARD FONG ROKA

An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Heritage Writing Award

“BELKOL is the promise by Bougainville Copper Limited and Papua New Guinea that they will compensate the people of Bougainville for their impact on our society as they mined our land at Panguna,” paramount chief of Piavora, Charles Karoro (pictured) told me.

In Bougainville’s Nasioi society, just like other societies in the Solomon archipelago, conflict is the essence of the people’s way of life; it is intrinsic to the interaction of humans to other people and the environment.

All these behaviours lead to disruption of peace within society, resulting in war, destruction and death.

Before colonisation the Nasioi society was a world governed by clan leadership and power. Laws that existed over the land were supreme and observed by all people, thus our society was largely peaceful with minimal reckless violence against each other.

But at those times of war and death, the Nasioi civilisation had procedures to heal the wounds and divisions in our midst.

“When my clan’s enemy killed one of us,” Karoro explained, “we did an analysis to see who was in the wrong. If our clan was innocent and we had enough warriors, we would retaliate and carry out a punitive raid. People would be killed.

“But if our clan was weak, we would make a gesture for peace to save ourselves and rebuild, with an intention to wage war in the future – by ourselves or in an alliance. The enemy knows that its power is not eternal and he will also have to make peace with us.

“And the beginning of the peace process and compensation is the domang tamiri or belkol as you educated youths are calling it.

“This is the tiny promise that you, as the culprit, will execute to heal the wounds and divisions so we can co-exist peacefully back again.”

To Karoro, the concept applies equally to the Nasioi people and BCL. Bougainville Copper arrived in Bougainville in the 1960s and extracted the people of Bougainville’s wealth to develop PNG who are not relatives of the Nasioi people or the Bougainville people.

“Since BCL and PNG gave us nothing in return for the destruction of our land,” Karoro said, “we went to war with them both. We fought and died and won the war and now we want development on our island to start our journey.

“With the massive destruction of infrastructure by war and civil conflict our Autonomous Bougainville Government sees the Panguna mine as the way forward. But we all know that Panguna mine is where the war came from and killed 20,000 Bougainvilleans from Buin to Buka Island.

“So BCL and PNG have the blood of the 20,000 people on their hands, but since ABG needs BCL then BCL has to right the wrongs starting from domang tamiri.”

Domang tamiri, or belkol, will be a recompense in the form of cash, kind and a feast for the people of Bougainville by BCL, PNG and ABG saying they will pay compensation at a later date.

“Only the domang tamiri will pave the way for BCL and PNG to set their feet on Bougainville,” said Charles Karoro. “BCL can start a physical presence on Bougainville with that simple promise over the shed blood of 20,000 that were sacrifices due to BCL and PNG’s treatment of Bougainville.” 


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Leonard Fong Roka

For god's sake, many still need to understand 'belkol'. It is not the end but a beginning of pacification in the epistemology of the various societies of Bougainville.

Chris Overland

This is an excellent exposition of the way in which Bougainvilleans see the world.

The idea that the PNG Government and BCL pay compensation for the deaths associated with the civil conflict makes perfect sense from a traditional viewpoint.

Unfortunately, it will probably make no political or commercial sense. BCL shareholders will not see why they should meet a large, multimillion dollar cost before even beginning to incur the huge initial costs associated with getting the Panguna mine operational again.

If the position put by Leonard is a not negotiable bottom line, then it is difficult to see how the Panguna mine can ever resume operation. The risk versus reward trade off would not make any commercial sense. Better to deploy BCL resources somewhere else.

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