In this episode of 80 Days: An Exploration Podcast, we’ll be talking about Bougainville, the main island of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, which is part of Papua New Guinea. Located 1,000 kilometers east of the mainland national capital of Port Moresby, Bougainville is the most remote of Papua New Guinea’s 19 provinces. Bougainville is the largest island in the Solomon Islands archipelago, lying around 1500km or 1000 miles off the northeast coast of Australia, in the Solomon Sea. Most of the islands in this archipelago (which are primarily concentrated in the southern and eastern portions of it) are part of the politically independent Solomon Islands. At around 3,500 square miles or just under 9,000 square km, Bougainville is comparable in size to Hawaii’s largest island, Puerto Rico or Cyprus. Residents speak Tok Pisim, a pidgin language spoken widely in this region, in addition to 20 different indigenous languages, depending on where they are from, and the region currently has a population of around 250,000. Inhabited by humans for at least 29,000 years, Bougainville was first discovered by Europeans in 1616, and was named for the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville, one of the first people to circumnavigate the globe. The German Empire annexed present-day Bougainville in 1886, before the islands were occupied in 1914 by Australia during World War 1. Taken by Japan in 1942, the islands were fought over by both sides during the latter years of World War 2, and have retained a secessionist streak since the mid 1960s. However, tensions between different factors remain unresolved to this day, and while officially the island is today an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, many still push for independence, particularly following a bloody 10-year civil war which concluded in 1997. A referendum in 2019 voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence, but the exact implementation of that still remains to be seen.
Flag of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, and map of location within Papua New Guinea
Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Dublin, Ireland, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Galway, Ireland. Our theme music and other stings come from Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella.
We’ve also just launched a merch store in associated with TeePublic. You can find our store by clicking here, with exclusive discounts at the time of publishing.
Further information and some of the sources we consulted can be found below:
- Our most valuable single source for this episode was the valuable collection of essays “Bougainville: before the conflict”, which can be found at this link
- Profile on Unrepresented Nations and Peoples website: https://unpo.org/article/34, article in Encyclopedia Britannica, profile on Minority Rights Group: https://minorityrights.org/minorities/bougainvilleans/
- Some information about “Queen Emma”: Wikipedia, The Post Courier, PNGAA
- World War 2: Anzac Portal: “In the Shadows of Bougainville”
- 1970s promotional film on the Bougainville Copper Mine at Panguna
- National Film and Sound Archive of Australia “The Origins of the Bougainville Conflict”: https://dl.nfsa.gov.au/module/357/
- “Reconciliation and Architectures of Commitment: Sequencing the Peace in Bougainville” (Australian National University) has a lot of detailed information on the peace process and the various hurdles and pitfalls that had to be overcome on the way to peace
- ABC News: “Bougainville independence referendum renews interest in Theodore Miriung murder mystery”, “Bougainville Parliament at odds over [Kabui’s] resources deal”
- “The man who would be king” – Interview with Francis Ona
- The Diplomat: “Bougainville’s ‘Royal’ Pyramid Scheme Problem”
- 2021 article in The Guardian on environmental impact of Panguna mine, which Luke quoted
- A Tok Pisin lesson
- Videos about the 2019 referendum: UN Peacekeeping video, Bertie Ahern: “Referendum preparations must begin now“, a 2020 update from Prof Ker-Lindsay,
Some music from Bougainville can be found at the following links, including some excellent examples of ‘bamboo bands’:
- Bougainville – Mamana Poata – YouTube
- A Bamboo Band in Bougainville – YouTube
- pancocojams: N4-60 Valt – “Black Paradise” (Bougainville Island video & lyrics)
- “Peace on Bougainville” by Hamarah Bamboo Band – YouTube
- Music from Tangari Village: Dust to Digital (Facebook)
- The Referendum Song (2019) Bougainville – YouTube
- Autonomous Region of Bougainville Traditional Music and Dance at Festival of Pacific Arts – YouTube
- A Compilation of my favourite live music, sing sings + bamboo bands | Bougainville, Papua New Guinea – YouTube
- ” Selo ” – Emperor Rangers – YouTube
Thanks to all our patrons who support the show. We really appreciate your continued backing of us. If you want to join them, more information is available at www.patreon.com/80dayspodcast
This episode, we’d particularly like to thank new patrons, Dana Fox, AC C, Daniella Sponsler, Stepehen M, and some long-standing supporters: Emily Cranfill, Collin Macharyas, Simon Greene, Nathan Hixson, Darren Clarke, Erin Barclay and Mark Wood.