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Bougainville: Origin of a nation

Front Row Society – Georg Berg

The flag should be remembered, because it probably belongs to the 194th member state of the United Nations. A red and white emblem in the middle represents the typical headgear of the newly initiated youngsters. Black stands for the remarkably dark skin color of the residents. A green and white zigzag ring and the blue surface symbolize fertile islands with shell currency in the Pacific Ocean.

In Bougainville, male adolescents wear the Upei on their heads when they are accepted into the adult circle. This ritual hat is a central component of the country flag / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

 

Exuberant spirit of optimism

300,000 people are spread over several ethnic groups, who live relatively isolated from each other. Although they speak 30 different languages ​​and have few points of contact due to the rugged landscape, everyone now combines the good mood with which they look forward to the independence of their country.

However, the country’s economic future still depends on the trade agreements to be negotiated. The tourism sector could be one of the most important sources of income and give people a development perspective.

 

Bougainville male adolescents wearing the Upei on their heads
The Bougainville flag flies on the mast of the true north

Colonial times and civil war are over

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 added to the new state of Papua New Guinea in 1975 regardless of its cultural roots. After the colonial period, this area had been an Australian protectorate as a trust area since 1947.

It is not surprising that Australian passengers are specifically asking whether copper mining will be restored. After all, the world’s largest open-cast mine in the Australian-managed Panguna mine was responsible for large-scale environmental degradation and thus also the cause of a ten-year civil war against the army of the central government.

 

 Panguna copper mine on Bougainville
Bougainville's Vice Prime Minister Raymond Masono gives True North passengers first-hand information about the outcome of the independence referendum

Deputy Prime Minister Masono is also responsible for the mining department and makes it clear that a permit for copper mining will only be possible for companies that first make the poisoned valley below the Panguna mine habitable again.

Raymond Masono is currently a member of the negotiating committee to clarify the terms of the withdrawal and the transition phase with the central government of Papua New Guinea. Formally, however, the parliament in the capital Port Morsby still has to confirm the independence of its former autonomous region. The approval is, however, a matter of form. At the referendum in December 2019, the majority of 98 percent of the votes for Bougainville’s independence was overwhelming.

The independence vote was prepared by an international commission. Since all voters with voting rights had to be registered first, a current inventory of the population data and the infrastructure of the country was created.

 

 Panguna copper mine on Bougainville
Bougainville's Vice Prime Minister Raymond Masono gives True North passengers first-hand information about the outcome of the independence referendum

Explore active volcanoes from the air

There are some active volcanoes on Bougainville Island that are difficult to access and best seen from True North’s onboard helicopter.

 

 Panguna copper mine on Bougainville
Bougainville's Vice Prime Minister Raymond Masono gives True North passengers first-hand information about the outcome of the independence referendum

The old capital should come back to life

From 1968 to 1989, Kieta was the capital of Bougainville. Then almost all of the city’s buildings were destroyed and the survivors had to flee to the mountains. The weapons of the civil war are not yet completely overgrown by the tall grass. Today, young people climb tall trees and swing acrobatically on long ropes into the sea. The few adults we meet in the village still remember with horror the air strikes to which many friends and relatives fell victim at the time.

 

 Panguna copper mine on Bougainville
Bougainville's Vice Prime Minister Raymond Masono gives True North passengers first-hand information about the outcome of the independence referendum
 Panguna copper mine on Bougainville
Bougainville's Vice Prime Minister Raymond Masono gives True North passengers first-hand information about the outcome of the independence referendum

Music and dance invite you to participate

The 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 any import. Reflection on traditional natural medicine, exchange of ideas and talent for improvisation have welded the population together and made a virtue of necessity.

 

 Panguna copper mine on Bougainville
Bougainville's Vice Prime Minister Raymond Masono gives True North passengers first-hand information about the outcome of the independence referendum
 Panguna copper mine on Bougainville
Bougainville's Vice Prime Minister Raymond Masono gives True North passengers first-hand information about the outcome of the independence referendum

Traces of world war ii in the jungle

In European consciousness little attention is paid to what happened in the Pacific region during the world wars. Bougainville was fiercely contested between Japan and the United States with Australia and New Zealand during World War II. Deep in the jungle is the plane wreck in which the Japanese admiral, who ordered the attack on the US naval base Pearl Harbor, sat.

 

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