Guest post by Will Watson
Hi from Will Watson, journalist, cameraman and film maker. I have spent the last 10 years studying and filming the people of Bougainville. I recently found out about Sera, Gabe and Rochelle’s kind-hearted and intriguing project. I then watched the video clip which moved me to tears for no explainable reason other than Bougainville is a unique and special place where interactions with the local people touch your heart. To go to Bougainville is to be moved in heart felt way.
What I like most about this project is that it brings the Bougainvilleans back to the land and back to the foundation stone of their culture and economy. Bougainville is mostly a matrilineal society (land rights inherited through the female line) blessed with an abundance of fertile land, sunshine and rain. If you were to plant a broom handle in the ground it would start growing a brush head in a matter of days. So the thought of the land being used for growing cocoa and then eating chocolate grown from Bougainville’s rich soil certainly excites me.
Bougainvilleans are hardworking resilient people. By offering them a fair price for their harvest we are offering a true incentive for investment, hard work and self-reliance.
Bougainville’s culture is based around, “land keeping” and not land ownership as we understand it. Women are held in the highest regard in Bougainville society. Most areas practice that when a man marries a Bougainvillean woman, the male must leave their village and move into the woman’s family home and village. To say women own the land is not quite right; women do not consider themselves owners as such but rather “keepers of the land”. They keep the land for future generations to live off, love and enjoy. I should point out that there are a couple of areas in Bougainville that are patrilineal, where land rights are inherited through the male line.
Land is central to local custom and society, and carries the most value but not as a tradeable asset as we know it. Land is there to be used and replenished for future generations, to build relationships and to amend grievances. Imagine if the rest of the world had this sort of mindset around land ownership – what a different world we would live in! But also you can see why mining brought cultural devastation to Bougainville.
I remember the great Joseph Kabui, former President of Bougainville and “the Nelson Mandela of the Pacific” once told me he was invited to plant the millionth coconut palm on one of the many plantations. Back then coconut oil and copra were very valuable commodities and mining had not become the stable source of revenue. That was before the war, and the war changed many things.
Mining in Bougainville is controversial for many many reasons. I hope and pray that mining does not restart any time soon. Land cultivation needs to be given a fair chance and it’s lovely to see the Wellington Chocolate Factory supporting that. To do mining in Bougainville there are many complexities that need to be understood and provided for: environmental, cultural, societal and now historical emanating from the Crisis. For this reason I believe supporting agriculture and growers like James Rutana for their hard work will lead to new wealth and prosperity on a land devastated by civil war. Mining created the bloodiest civil war in the Pacific’s history and although the way mining was conducted in the 1960s was vastly different than mining operations now I believe the damage has been irrefutably done, and the risks far outweigh any reward.
My involvement in Bougainville started 17 years ago by following the NZ Army as they went to Bougainville unarmed. This was a courageous move that has become the focus of a 10 year film project called War With No Guns, which is about how the Bougainville civil war was ended using guitars, aroha and cultural understanding instead of guns. It was considered by the United Nations as one of the most successful peace missions in modern times. I chose the title War With No Guns because there are numerous peace keeping missions around the world but in most cases the peace keepers arrive with guns and that makes the situation worse. It’s like pouring fuel on the fire. New Zealand went in wanting to help Bougainville end the war. We have no mining interest, we were neutral. The peace process was 100% Bougainville but we were able to support it in the right way. We aligned with elements of the local culture, like singing and dance. It was a risky move but it worked and has lasted through to today.
My love of Bougainville runs deep and I believe the way forward for Bougainville is to crop, plant and harvest and at the end of the day, get a fair price for a fair day’s work. If you’d like to hear more there’s a radio interview I did on one of my visits to Bougainville below accompanied by some photos the New Zealand Army during the peace process.
Go Sera, Gabe and Rochelle and bring home the chocolate! Click here if you’d like to join the Wellington Chocolate Voyage and help this project become a reality.