Bougainville: Origin of a Nation

February 28, 2020

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

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
The Bougainville flag flies on the mast of the Australian mega yacht True North / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
The Bougainville flag flies on the mast of the Australian mega yacht True North / © 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.

Newcomers to Bougainville are welcomed in an unusual way. The feet are washed with water from a bamboo cane / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
Newcomers to Bougainville are welcomed in an unusual way. The feet are washed with water from a bamboo cane / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

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.

After decades of isolation, people can again look forward to foreign visitors. Weapons are only carried as toys by children / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
After decades of isolation, people can again look forward to foreign visitors. Weapons are only carried as toys by children / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

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.The disused Panguna copper mine on Bougainville / © True North, photo: Oliver Oldroyd

The disused Panguna copper mine on Bougainville / © True North, photo: Oliver Oldroyd

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.

Bougainville's Vice Prime Minister Raymond Masono gives True North passengers first-hand information about the outcome of the independence referendum / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
Bougainville's Vice Prime Minister Raymond Masono gives True North passengers first-hand information about the outcome of the independence referendum / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

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.

Captain Gav Graham and Deputy Prime Minister Bougainvilles, Raymond Masono on the True North Command Bridge / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
Captain Gav Graham and Deputy Prime Minister Bougainvilles, Raymond Masono on the True North Command Bridge / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

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.

With talent for improvisation and a ship rope found in the beach goods, the youngsters outdo themselves with an artistic jump into the water / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
With talent for improvisation and a ship rope found in the beach goods, the youngsters outdo themselves with an artistic jump into the water / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

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.

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.Pilot Alan Carstens explains all important natural phenomena to the passengers through the interconnected headphones / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

Pilot Alan Carstens explains all important natural phenomena to the passengers through the interconnected headphones / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
As we approach, the Bagana volcano emits clouds of smoke / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
As we approach, the Bagana volcano emits clouds of smoke / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
The water-filled formation of Lake Billy Mitchell appears behind the active Bagana volcano / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
The water-filled formation of Lake Billy Mitchell appears behind the active Bagana volcano / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

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.

Individual palm trees and house ruins are testimonies to the magnificent beach promenade of Kieta. The wealthy employees of the inland Panguna copper mine resided here / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
Palm trees and house ruins are testimony to the once magnificent beach promenade of Kieta. The wealthy employees of the inland Panguna copper mine resided here / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
For 20 years, the city of Kieta Gras has wanted to grow over the traces of the civil war / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
In the past 20 years, grass has not grown everywhere in the city of Kieta over the traces of the civil war / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
Peanuts are offered fresh in small bunches on the market / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
Peanuts are offered fresh in small bunches / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
The former official building of the German governor in the administrative center of the province of Bougainville, the city of Buka / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
The former official building of the German governor in the administrative center of the province of Bougainville, the city of Buka / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

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.Cultural identity and cohesion characterize all population groups on Bougainville / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

Cultural identity and cohesion characterize all population groups on Bougainville / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

All population groups on Bougainville live according to the matrilinear inheritance principle. Family relationships and family property are passed on from mother to daughter. The sons also get their mother's family name.Even the young women on Bougainville are very confident / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg

Even the young women on Bougainville are very confident / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
In a bamboo band, bamboo tubes of different lengths are rhythmically struck with flop-flop soles / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
In a bamboo band, bamboo tubes of different lengths are rhythmically struck with flop-flop soles / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
The cultures meet in sing-sing. True North guests and crew are invited to dance and received enthusiastically / © FrontRowSociety.net, Photo: Georg Berg
The cultures meet in sing-sing. True North guests and crew are invited to dance and received enthusiastically / © FrontRowSociety.net, Photo: Georg Berg

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.

The wreckage of the Mitsubishi G4M, in which General Yamamoto Isoroto was shot down on April 18, 1942, is still in the Bougainville jungle / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg
The wreckage of the Mitsubishi G4M, in which General Yamamoto Isoroto was shot down on April 18, 1942, is still in the Bougainville jungle / © FrontRowSociety.net, photo: Georg Berg