27.11.12

The Coconut Revolution {film} / How the fight over the Panguna Copper Mine started a revolution



Watching this a second time, I am renewed and reminded: The will is more powerful than any and all things. Much respect to these real beautiful Black people. I'm sitting at their feet with my notebook. All the time.

Official synopsis: "This is the modern-day story of a native peoples' remarkable victory over Western Colonial power. A Pacific island rose up in arms against giant mining corporation Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ) - and won despite a military occupation and blockade. When RTZ decided to step up production at the Panguna Mine on the island of Bougainville, they got more than they bargained for. The island's people had enough of seeing their environment ruined and being treated as pawns by RTZ. RTZ refused to compensate them, so the people decided it was time to put an end to outside interference in the island's affairs. To do this they forcibly closed down the mine. The Papua New Guinea Army (PNGDF) were mobilised in an attempt to put down the rebellion. The newly formed Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) began the fight with bows & arrows, and sticks & stones. Against a heavily armed adversary they still managed to retain control of most of their island. Realising they were beaten on the ground, the PNGDF imposed a gunboat blockade around Bougainville, in an attempt to strangle the BRA into submission. But the blockade seemed to of had little or no effect. With no shipments getting in or out of the island, how did new electricity networks spring up in BRA held territory? How were BRA troops able to drive around the island without any source of petrol or diesel? What was happening within the blockade was an environmental and spiritual revolution. The ruins of the old Panguna mine where being recycled to supply the raw materials for the world's first eco-revolution. A David and Goliath story of the 21st century, The Coconut Revolution will appeal to people of all backgrounds. [Winner: FICA Festival of Environmental Film, Brazil; BEMA Richard Keefe Memorial Award - WWF; Golden Kite, Best Documentary, Mar del Plata, Argentina; Silver Kite, Best Film for Young People, Argentina /// Runner up: BEMA (British Environmental Media Awards) Best Documentary; Amnesty International Awards, Best Documentary; One World Media Awards 2001, TV Documentary]" (source)


Short History of the Bougainville Conflict
(via Foreign Policy Journal)

Bougainville was host to the most severe and chronic case of violence and conflict in Oceania witnessed since WWII. From 1988 to 1998, a decade of guerilla warfare, political struggles, and famine plagued the people of Bougainville. Hundreds of soldiers died, along with an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 civilians, from the costs of deprivation, disease, or fighting (Parliament of Australia, 2010). The war wasn’t a clear cut case of the secessionists versus the state of Papua New Guinea, as many intra-Bougainvillean ethnic conflicts commenced at the same time, creating a complex array and diverse levels of violent conflict and insecurity in the region (A. Regan 2008).

Violence originated from the social uproars against the negative social and environmental impacts of the Panguna mine. The Panguna copper mine was dug in the land of Bougainville, and through the ’70s and ’80s was one of the world’s largest open-pit mines. The project brought enormous profits to Britain and Australia, along with high revenues for the government of Papua New Guinea, producing 44 percent of Papua New Guinea’s exports. The Panguna mine was dug by Bougainville Copper Limited, which was owned by an Australian subsidiary of the British mining giant, Rio Tinto Zinc. The mine had many negative consequences to both the natural environment and the Bougainvillean natives. As the indigenous viewed themselves as part of nature, their environmental concerns were deeply tied to their socio-cultural concerns.

A billion tons of pollutant runoff from the mining activities has destroyed entire river systems, killing the animals and plants. The mine pollution into the rivers included copper, mercury, lead and arsenic, leaving the water unsuitable to drink (Rotheroe 2001). The mining company had removed over a billion tons of land, and 99 percent of that land was turned into waste.

Bougainvilleans felt that their voice had not been respected and that external forces were taking the wealth out of their land, while they were being booted into what were effectively reservations on their own land. Under traditional land tenure of the Nasioi community, whose homeland was where Panguna was installed, land ownership is passed through matrilineal family lines. These methods of land tenure were not properly recognized by Bougainville Copper Limited, leading to the failure to sufficiently compensate the rightful land owners (Parliament of Australia, 2010). The mine appeared to have very high costs to the indigenous people and very limited financial returns to the land owners. Resentment of the mine spurred a collective desire to separate from Papua New Guinea and a Bougainvillean identity began to strengthen (A. Regan 2008).

Former employee of the company Bougainville Copper Limited and Bougainville native, Francis Ona, came to lead the resistance against the Panguna mine, and in turn the resistance for independence from Papua New Guinea. Ona stated that his people fight for: 1) land and the culture, 2) land and the environment, and 3) independence (Rotheroe 2001). Ona, after making a plea to the Panguna administration that was ignored, stole 50 kilos of explosives, and with the help of other concerned people, sabotaged the mine. Papua New Guinea sent in riot police that burnt down homes and created a backlash of unified guerilla forces under Ona’s command. The Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) was formed, and would now face the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF), Australian forces, and opposing Bougainvillean forces. Because militaristic stale-mating occurred, in 1990 the forces of PNG formed a blockade around Bougainville, prohibiting the flow of goods. Extreme stressors on the health of the natives occurred, as they became malnourished and lacked medicine against malaria and other diseases. Something had to be done, so the Bougainvilleans turned inward.

The coconut revolution, as it has been coined, was created out of indigenous innovation to the isolation they experienced due to the blockade. Theirs was a war over the land of which they valued and respected, so it was to the land’s bounty that they turned. In the absence of diesel, Bougainvilleans learned how to extract oil from coconuts to run vehicles. Herbal remedies to disease and infection were discovered using plants. The rich fertile soils of the land supplied them with bountiful amounts of food once they strengthened their cultivation techniques. Bougainvilleans even were innovative enough to utilize rivers for hydroelectricity to light their towns. They were resourceful, going back to the closed down Panguna mine, taking anything and everything that they could use to create something useful. They were coming a long way from beginning the war fighting with bows and arrows. By turning back to a subsistence-based livelihood using indigenous knowledge of the environment, the Bougainvilleans were surviving, and proving much about indigenous identity to the world. (source)