Globalisation -- who needs it?

Bougainville was subjected to a six-year trade blockade by Papua New Guinea following the island's secession from PNG in the early 90's. Forced to depend on their own resources, Bouganvillians revived their disappearing cultural heritage and strengthened their local communities. As a result of the absence of western food and medical supplies, people ate a healthier diet and returned to traditional medicines. "We have proved to [PNG authorities] for six years" says   Josephine Haripa, "that we did not need their help". At the time of the WTO's push for further globalisation, this is an inspiring story. From the Earthbeat program on Australia's public broadcaster, Radio National.


Summary: .

Earthbeat visits the island of Bougainville where magic, traditional foods and medicines have undergone a resurgence as a result of the years of war with Papua New Guinea.


The history of Bougainville is a bloody one. For most of this decade the country has been the site of an ugly conflict over who has the rights to the profits from the island's lucrative copper deposits: the locals, or the Papua-New Guinean government and Australian business interests.

During this latest war, many Bougainvilleans went bush. They returned to their traditional methods of food production and healing, and revitalised skills that were at risk of being lost in the rapid modernisation of the country. The island is currently in a process of reconciliation, and Bougainvilleans are rebuilding their lives and communities.

Liz Thompson travelled to Bougainville to find out about the legacies of that time up country.


Bougainvillea is an island, an island of sorrow,

Bougainvillea is an island, an island of shame,

Bougainvillea is an island, an island of fear,

Bougainville Island is an island I love.

There are people dying, there are people crying,

Who is responsible?

There's no education, there's no hospital,

Who is responsible?

There are people dying, there are people crying,

Not knowing why

Bougainville Island is an island I love.

Liz Thompson:    In 1964 there was a major copper discovery at Panguna in Bougainville, and a mine was established by Bougainville Copper Limited. Between 1972 and the mine's closure 17 years later, it produced 45% of Papua-New Guinea's export earnings. In 1989 the mine was sabotaged by a group of Bouganvillean landowners, led by Francis Ona. They were angry at what they perceived to be the unfair distribution of royalties, and concerned about environmental damage from the mine.

Ona blew up the electricity pylons which were Bougainville Copper's main power source, and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army was established.

The Papua-New Guinea government declared a State of Emergency and the Papua-New Guinea defence forces were sent in. The mine was closed, and a war that was to span nearly a decade commenced.

By 1990 thousands of people had died, and tens of thousands were displaced. Then the Papua-New Guinea government imposed a six-year blockade which meant mainland Bougainville was almost completely cut off from the rest of the world.

Josephine Haripa: PNG imposed a blockade to try to kill our desire for independence and for peace and for  unity, because they knew if we are divided, we will never get our independence. So they tried to kill us. they did not realise that they can control us by blocking us with medicine, schools, material things, but they cannot control our spirit.

They blocked everything, but they were not able to block the sun, the moon and the rain. We had the land, e survived on our land. We have proved to Papua-New Guinea that we can live without them. We have proved to them for six years that we did not need their help.

Liz Thompson  The blockade forced Bougainvilleans to return to a self-sufficient way of life. Whilst this as often difficult because of a lack of basic amenities, there were surprisingly some positive aspects. Josephine Haripa.

Josephine Haripa: I think being in the village all through the crisis has also made me realise to put value on our culture, on our heritage. I was living in a fantasy world. Before the crisis I had a career, I had a very, very good position, I went into real estate, I bought a couple of properties. In the Western world I was doing well. I thought that that was the way of living. I think culture in itself is unique, and we should try and repay his; by going away from our culture we are untouched with the nature, with the beauty, with whatever we have. I think Bougainville Island is a blessed island, we have so many things, even during the crisis there as no hunger. We had enough food to eat, even if we didn't grow it, there was food in the bush that we can collect, and there was nobody that we can say that was hungry during the crisis.

Liz Thompson:    Women and children escaping the warring factions fled to the hills, where they established bush camps and began to grow their own food.

Josephine Haripa: One of the main reasons why people got less sick during the crisis is because we were eating fresh food, that's why I think people got less sickness. Typical diet before the crisis would be rice, biscuits, sugar and all the tinned foods, like tinned fish, tinned meat, chicken which is more or less processed in factories. During the crisis the main diet was sweet potatoes, taro, yam, vegetables, chicken, pigs, and we had a lot of tropical fruits: mangoes, oranges, pineapples, guavas, paw-paws.

Liz Thompson:    Little if any medical supplies reached the camps. Many of the thousands that died during he crisis did so as a result of treatable illnesses. However many were saved by using traditional plants and herbs. Helen Hakina.

Helen Hakina: We'll just go this way up. They're the leaves of this plant here is used for cold, you get the eaves, squeeze them together and you get a bit of salt, and you drink it straight away. It could be used too or diahorroea. If we've got toothache, we get the roots, we pound them together and we get the juice; we rink it straight away and we gargle the juice.

Liz Thompson:    And do these trees always grow on the beach like they are here?

Helen Hakina: Yes, they always grow on the beach, these trees here.

Liz Thompson:    What's this one?

Helen Hakina: It's the pandanus leaf. You heat it on the fire, the young shoot of this pandanus leaf, and you ut it straight on the sore. And this one here for ear-ache.

Liz Thompson:    Ear-ache. That's just a low, scrubby sort of a plant with long green leaves, isn't it? It looks quite succulent, like there's a lot of water in it.

Helen Hakina: Water, yes. You squeeze the juice into your ear straight.

Liz Thompson:    Oh really? Just straight.

Helen Hakina: Within seconds you don't have any ear-ache any more.

Liz Thompson:    Really?

Helen Hakina: And this lily here -

Liz Thompson:    That's beautiful, those white flowers aren't they, long petals and red stamens, that's gorgeous.

Helen Hakina: We use the leaves also on sores.

Liz Thompson:    What do you do, strap it on?

Helen Hakina: Strap it on the sores.

Liz Thompson:    Right. Do you ever use this sand, or the shells that are here on the beach for anything?

Helen Hakina: Yes, we use the shells, especially these ones with the red, this one here. The kina shells, we all them in pidgin these ones here, we use the shells for mothers who give birth for the first time; we get the shells, we let them have the soup. We boil the shells, they eat the meat and they have to drink all the juice.

Liz Thompson:    The water that you boiled them in?

Helen Hakina: Yes.

Liz Thompson:    And what's that good for?

Helen Hakina: It's good to stop bleeding.

Liz Thompson:    Oh, really. How did you learn about all these things?

Helen Hakina: I learnt all these things during the blockade from my grandmother and my mother. Before he crisis, I didn't have time to look at all these things here, but we had a lot of time then with our grandmothers and mothers during the crisis, and we used to run away into the bushes and they showed us how to use the plants.

Liz Thompson:    And also I suppose you didn't have western medicine during the blockade, did you, it didn't come in?

Helen Hakina: That's correct. Yes, we didn't have any Western medicine at all. Anyone with any illnesses or things during the crisis, we would accompany our grandmothers or mothers into the bush, they would show us how to pick, because you have to know which hands to use to pick the plants, whether from your eight hand or get another leaf from with your left hand, and how to put them all together. So they had to how us all those things, not just telling us the names of the plants, but actually showing us how to pick the leaves.

Liz Thompson:    And when you mix them, or make them, should you have particular thoughts in your mind?

Helen Hakina: Yes, for certain plants we chant; we have particular words that we have to say to our grandmothers or ancestors who died before, to strengthen or to heal the person, saying 'I'm here to pick the leaves and I know they are yours, you gave them to me, and I know that with your power, you will heal the person I'm going to give these herbs to.'

Liz Thompson:    Do they use magic with the actual medicine itself?

Helen Hakina: Yes for some plants they use magic, like there are some plants where if I want a boyfriend, then I'll go early in the morning, I pick those plants then I have to go to a special place where no-one is there, so I wash myself in that plant, I rub my body down with it, so I have to be the first one to be in the spot where I know that boy will be.

Liz Thompson:    So after you've rubbed your skin, then he must see you


Helen Hakina: Yes, he must see me first before anyone else. If another person comes along then that person will get hooked. If I don't like him or not.

Liz Thompson:    Oh, the wrong man. Oh, that could be a disaster, couldn't it? And can you give me some examples of other sorts of magic?

Helen Hakina: There is another native plant that we have. If you don't want your partner or husband and you want to separate from him, then you pick a certain plant in the evening when no-one's looking, when everyone's at home, you pick it, you come straight home, no-one should be in the house so you put it under the bed. And you say, 'The place they came away he's been so violent with me I do not want him to say, come away quietly from my side', all these sort of things. So he'll just go away, he won't come back to you.

Liz Thompson:    During the crisis there were things you had to deal with, you know, women were giving birth without hospitals being open, and all sorts of very difficult situations because there was no medication. Did the plants and herbs save many people's lives?

Helen Hakina: Yes, the plants and the herbs saved a lot of women's lives, especially the women who had miscarriages and things, excessive blood flow after birth, and we have herbs or medicine that we could give them to stop blood flow. But they don't grow here near the beach, they grow inland.

Liz Thompson:    Now the crisis is over and you've got Western medicine again, are you finding that you've gone back to using Western medicine?

Helen Hakina: Yes we've gone back. A lot of people have gone back to using Western medicine but when that doesn't work, we still go back to using our traditional herbal plants.

Liz Thompson:    Why do you think when you've seen the value and the strength of herbal plants during the crisis, you've gone back to using Western medicine?

Helen Hakina: Maybe it's just pure laziness. Young people don't want to go back into the bushes; Western medicine is readily available.

Liz Thompson:    So during the crisis, that element of culture was stronger than it was either before or after the crisis?

Helen Hakina: It was really stronger during the crisis, going back into the traditional medicine.

Liz Thompson:    And obviously do you think that was a positive thing?

Helen Hakina: That was a positive thing. And I'm glad that we had the crisis because we had to go back to learn all those things from our grandparents.

Liz Thompson:    Why do you think it was a positive thing?

Helen Hakina: Because in the long run, people my age did not even go back, we did not even worry about right the old people what they used, but that's why I think it's positive, because I learnt a lot during that time. Because if the crisis didn't come, I wouldn't know all these things that I'm telling you about now.

Liz Thompson:    And what does it make you feel, knowing these things? Does it make you feel different?

Helen Hakina: Yes, it makes me feel a lot different. Now I've got power that the other women don't have. hey come to me for these things so I have to show them and that gives me a sort of status in the community, knowing all these things that they don't know.

Liz Thompson:    So, it makes you feel powerful?

Helen Hakina: Yes.

Liz Thompson:    But how come they don't know it if they went through the crisis too?

Helen Hakina: For some families we know the common herbal plants that I just showed you, common, everyone knows about them, but there are plants like the ones we say works magic, they don't know, only certain families know.

Liz Thompson:    So your family was actually traditionally the holder of certain, of a more developed understanding of traditional medicine?

Helen Hakina: Yes. Because all my grandparents still lived through the crisis and they kept all that intact.

Liz Thompson:    Whilst women use traditional herbs and magic for healing, Raymond Hakina, an ex-BRA member, tells how men involved in the fighting started to use magic and sorcery to protect themselves and harm the enemy.

Raymond Hakina: This kind of magic, it was mainly used for fighting. I remember in the middle of the night we had come down from the bush from where we were camping and we had a sorceress who belonged to this village and in the middle of the night we came and went to the cemetery and started digging up the bones to fight with, as powers to fight with, and these bones were blended with certain leaves from the bush and lime, and herbs. This kind of magic was like, if you were walking during the night, no-one could see you. This was a kind of magic that we were going into at that time. Or if you rub this thing on our bullet or on your gun, or your arrow, you would not miss.

Liz Thompson:    For some, the return to a traditional way of life has quickly fallen away with the cease-fire. Others have chosen to maintain this reconnection with their culture.

Helen Hakina: Now people are going back to work and they are forgetting the time we had at home. We had a lot of time working in the gardens, we spent a lot of time fishing and showing children how to do this and that. Now people are thinking about earning money and they are not going back into the land or to their traditional and cultural practices.

Josephine Haripa: On a more positive note, I learnt to value my culture, and I think it's very important, and with the peace process now, I think rehabilitation of reformed BRA or resistance has to be done through our culture, by putting more emphasis and more value on the culture, on the importance of living in our village and our society.

Source: Reporter: Elizabeth Thompson. Earthbeat with Alexandra de Blas on Saturday 13/11/99 Australian Broadcasting Corporation


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