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Panguna people & the money syndrome

Gold dust
Digging for gold near Panguna - "We dig for gold everywhere. And those who can't dig watch like eagles"


PANGUNA - There is no other place in Bougainville I can compare with us, the Panguna people, when it comes to loving and dealing with money.

We in Panguna have eagle sharp eyes and razor sharp claws to catch and attack money.

We make peace with money and we destroy harmony with money. Money is us.

Some say we are like the Siwai people in south Bougainville, but I say no because the Siwai people sweat to get their money and have business activities all over Bougainville.

Driving through Siwai, nearly every village has a number of retail outlets competing against each other.

But in Panguna we have a different story.

Does anyone know which district in Bougainville has had more funds directed to it since the peace process began?

I’m talking about money from NGOs, government departments, the UN, churches, Australian aid, foreign aid, private business, political leaders and corporations.

As a Panguna man I will say it is us, the Panguna people. The world is washing us in thousands of kina every year. The handouts of cash in the Panguna District are immeasurable.

Since Rio Tinto first sat in our midst, we are a changed people. We gleaned the taste and smell of money.

Thus when in 1990 the formal ceasefire quelled the 1988-1990 armed struggle, instead of boosting the political engine of Bougainville, we fought over materials like the cars left behind by Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL).

Our egos galvanised us to destroy any Bougainvillean standing on our way, so we took Bougainville down the drain.

When the peace process was slowly maturing around 1997, it was not love of peace that entered Panguna but the scrap metal money that paved its way.

We were anti-peace but trucks still came and collected our scrap metal or we traded it at Pakia Gap landslide and received the cash.

You play politics and I will play money, since Panguna is ‘money valley’ as the words of a Siwai song say about the Panguna people.

As the scrap metal business dwindled so came alluvial gold mining. With gold panning came foreign companies interested in the heavy metals from plants and equipment left behind by BCL.

BCL, together with the Bougainville and PNG governments, also poured in money so millions of kina slipped through our hands day in and day out.

Peace building was commercialised for the benefit of a few.

When Asian companies stripped the Panguna mine site of metals, we were a bit shocked.

Today, in a greater setback, the virgin forest of the mountain backbone of Bougainville, the Crown Prince Range, is being consumed by deforestation. We are digging for gold everywhere.

Those who cannot work the hills for gold watch like eagles from a distance the activities of these hardworking citizens of Panguna to see if they can grab a bit. If they are resisted they will not sleep until they get something through whatever means available.

Panguna people are silenced by money and, hooked on it as we are, now we are screaming for the re-opening of the Panguna mine.

But yesterday we forced the mine to shut down. Why? Were we not given enough money and opportunities for advancement? And now? Re-open the mine for we need money and development.

The Panguna cycle is nothing but a lust for money.


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Francis Nii


David Kitchnoge

I was growing up during BCL's heyday so I didn’t really know how things might have been in Bougainville at that time. But from little that I’ve heard, I gathered that life was pretty good over there.

I learned that Bougainville had a thriving economy during those days and, like most people, my reaction had been ‘em mine ya’.

But as I grew up and understood a little bit more about how mining companies operate in our country, I began to change my views about why Bougainville prospered during BCL days.

I then visited Kiunga and Tabubil when I began working and was shocked to see the pitiful state of people there near one of the world’s largest copper mines.

And it dawned on me that perhaps it was the people’s industrious nature + the mine that combined to deliver prosperity for Bougainville.

I think it was cocoa that was the backbone of the Bougainville economy and BCL became like a quasi-government entity helping with basic access etc for the people. It takes two to tango.

If I am not entirely wrong, then perhaps Bougainville might like to revisit that model. But I understand that it’s easier said than done.

Bernard Corden

Worth a read:

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