The Blood Generation exhibition is a retelling of Bougainville’s recent and complex history. In 1964 the Moroni people in Bougainville were subject to and stripped of all their land rights under Crown Law. Australian owned mining company Conzinc Rio Tinto sent in geologists and in 1972 Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) formed. The Moroni valley was carved into a 4,000-foot long, 2,000-foot wide open-cut mine. From 1972 the Panguna mine was one of the largest open-pit producers of gold, silver and copper in the world, more than doubling the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Territory’s export income, thus funding PNG Independence granted by the Australian colonial administration in 1975.
But before there was war there were demonstrations by the Panguna landowners and Rorovana coastal people, who protested and rallied against government-sanctioned forced removal from their ancestral homelands. In a powerful display of protest in Panguna, dissenting mothers took their young in their bosoms and confined themselves to the mine’s operational trucks. Women were not afraid to stand up against the miners and their bulldozers to protect their matrilineal land ownership systems.
In the 1970 film My Valley is Changing, Gregory Korpa of the Moroni people said:
The Moroni people have always lived in this valley. This is our land. Always we fight if any other people try to take it away from us ... I talked strong to CRA and the government, I don’t like you walk around this valley too many times. They don’t hear me. They tell me, no this is something that belongs to all the country. You must do this, it belongs to everybody in Papua New Guinea.
At Loloho where the company were to later establish a port and “playground” for their employees, the Rorovana villagers were met with brutal militant force, fired upon with tear gas and charged with batons first by the police and then backed by the PNG Police Force led by Australian police commanders on Loloho Beach. Full-scale gold and copper mining ensued in the early 1970s, profits were exported in the 1980s, and by mid 1988 BCL was celebrating the millionth tonne of copper exported to Japan. We may never know the riches mined in gold and silver that reportedly exceeded all anticipation as it was siphoned off from the slurry offshore.
The mine ceased operations when the local resistance movement sabotaged the mine, its main water and electricity supply and war erupted in 1988. The “bloody Bougainville war” as it was known, cost around twenty-thousand lives in an island population of approximately 200,000. The war did not end until a truce lifted the military blockade that led to the Bougainville Peace Process in 2000. Armed rebels currently guard all foreign entry onto the mine site and entry is restricted to locals only.
Thirteen years later I decided to revisit The Blood Generation as an art concept with photographer Stuart Miller. It was my father’s generation who came up with the label The Blood Generation given to all children in Bougainville who were born into war, from 1990 onwards. In the series youth now replace the older outspoken generation of activists.
Perched on the fringes of stolen wealth, Bougainville man Russel had no choice but to live a life of guerrilla warfare for the first ten years of his life. Completely isolated from any humanitarian or medical aid, he recalled on many occasions being caught in the crossfire but was agile enough to escape into the thick jungle. He lived in constant fear of being shot or captured. Men like Russel were once boys who began their childhood as young recruits defending their land in jungle warfare.
In the triptych Sami and the Panguna Mine we revisit that moment in history when Sami’s own aunties and other women landowners in Bougainville stood against mining on their land. In August this year, Bougainville women leaders met at a Women In Mining forum. They stated: “All decisions are top-down and block women participants from speaking freely. Mining affects us all.” They have formed their own Women in Mining lobby group and are currently fighting to be heard on all the unresolved issues of social, economic, environment impacts of reopening the mine. They don’t want to have agreements continue to saddle them to the original PNG 1988 Mining Act where there is no acknowledgement of the women landowners, which is why Bougainville women want to be consulted in the development of any new mining policy.
At the heart of the issue lies the irreparable destruction to sacred homelands, excluded in the discussions on mining, compounded by the unfair distribution of wealth. This fuelled the customary Bougainville landowners to lead an island-wide resistance movement and they remain the world’s first Indigenous people to have stopped an international mining company from operating. This story remains unresolved today with the on-going threat of mining and a possible re-opening of the mine before the date on a referendum for independence is set for Bougainville.
Taloi Havini is a descendant of the Nakas clan, north-east of Buka Island, Autonomous Region of Bougainville. She is actively involved in the arts, cultural heritage and community projects in Bougainville and in Australia. She is a curator and co-founding member of Pacific Black Box. www.pacificblackbox.com.au
The Blood Generation was at Melbourne’s Blak Dot Gallery in 2011 and Sydney’s Blak Eye Gallery in August 2013. See video: