The flag should already be remembered, because it belongs to the presumably 194th member state of the United Nations. A red and white emblem in the center represents the typical headgear of the newly initiated younglings. Black stands for the remarkably dark skin color of the inhabitants. A green and white zigzag ring and the blue area symbolize fertile islands with shell currency in the Pacific Ocean.
Exuberant mood of departure
300,000 people are distributed among several ethnic groups that live relatively isolated from each other. Although they speak 30 different languages and have few points of contact due to the rugged landscape, everyone is now united by the good mood with which they look forward to their country’s independence.
The economic future of the country, however, still depends on the trade agreements to be negotiated. The tourism sector could be one of the most important sources of income and give the people a perspective for development.
Colonial era and civil war have been overcome
With the Australian expedition ship True North we anchor off Bougainville and have a prominent guest on board. Raymond Masono is vice president of the autonomous province of Bougainville, which was annexed to the new state of Papua New Guinea in 1975 without taking into account its cultural roots. This territory had been under Australian protectorate since 1947 as a trust territory after the colonial period.
It’s not surprising that Australian passengers are specifically asking whether copper mining will return. After all, the world’s largest open-pit mine, the Australian-managed Panguna mine, was responsible for widespread environmental destruction and thus also the cause of a ten-year civil war against the central government’s army.
Deputy Prime Minister Masono is also in charge of the mining department and makes it clear that approval for copper mining will only be possible for companies that first make the poisoned valley below the Panguna mine habitable again.
At the time of the meeting, Raymond Masono was a member of the commission negotiating the terms of withdrawal and transition with Papua New Guinea’s central government. Formally, the parliament in the capital Port Morsby must then confirm the independence of its formerly autonomous region. However, approval is considered a mere formality. The majority of 98 percent of votes in favor of Bougainville’s independence was too overwhelming in the referendum in December 2019.
The independence vote was prepared by an international commission. Since all eligible voters had to be registered first, an up-to-date inventory of the country’s population data and infrastructure was created.
Exploring active volcanoes from the air
Bougainville Island has several active volcanoes that are difficult to access and best seen from True North’s on-board helicopter.
The old capital should come back to life
From 1968 to 1989, Kieta was the capital of Bougainville. Then almost all the city’s buildings were destroyed and the survivors had to flee to the mountains. Not yet completely overgrown by the tall grass are the weapons of the civil war. Today, young people climb high trees and swing acrobatically on long ropes into the sea. The few adults we meet in the village still remember with horror the air raids to which many friends and relatives fell victim at that time.
Music and dance invite to join in
Songs from the time of the embargo are an integral part of the musical repertoire on the island of Bougainville. During a ten-year sea blockade, the island was cut off from all imports. The recollection of traditional natural medicine, the exchange of ideas and the talent for improvisation have welded the population together and made a virtue out of necessity.
All population groups on Bougainville live according to the matrilineal inheritance principle. Kinship and family property are passed down from mother to daughters. Sons also receive their mother’s family name.
Supplementary literature: Georg Berg, Mood of optimism, Bougainville votes for independence after eco-revolution, Politik & Kultur 02/2020 (pdf, 428 KB)
Traces of the Second World War in the Jungle
In the European consciousness, little attention is paid to what happened in the Pacific region during the world wars. Bougainville was fiercely contested during World War II between Japan and the United States, which was allied with Australia and New Zealand. Deep in the jungle still lies the wreckage of the plane in which sat the Japanese admiral who ordered the attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor.
Report on an unusual mission: Yamamoto wreckage in the jungle of Bougainville
Travel advice: Australia for European tourists
The cost of the boat trip was not calculated