Bougainville reflections :For the mothers, peace in Panguna has come in many respects.

Smoke

“A mother in the village is one with Mother Earth, she never ever doubts motherland will provide all bare and sumptuous necessities for life. Always, in all ways.

Development, progress, growth and impact projects continue to be misnomers for the rural majority that is subsistent, self sufficient, interdependent and content.”

Simon Pentanu

I took this shot in a recent visit to Panguna, 15 January 2016. It was a moving white marvel against dense forest greenery to look at with naked eyes from the distance. It was saying something the more I looked at it and the more I noticed it and saw two other white smokes rising from bushes in the distance farther beyond.

This white smoke was bellowing from the evergreen forest floor and bushes on the hilly periphery of one of the largest open cut mines in the world, Panguna, along old growth alpine virgin forests and rugged, rocky mountain spine of Moreha’s (Bougainville) Crown Prince Range.

Where there’s white smoke rising there’s a mother weeding, toiling and gardening. She will return to her garden in time to harvest the fruits of her labour.

A mother in the village is one with Mother Earth, she never ever doubts motherland will provide all bare and sumptuous necessities for life. Always, in all ways.

Development, progress, growth and impact projects continue to be misnomers for the rural majority that is subsistent, self sufficient, interdependent and content.

Food security also means you cannot eat money but you should still grow, gather, hunt or catch for your sustenance. This is what the world is coming to, not what Referendum and Independence promise which is trying to catch up with the rest of the world and be like the Jones’s or join the rat race with the Toms, Dicks, Harrys and Muhammads.

Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills, in the rift valleys and ravines, along the the river banks and along meandering creeks that the possibilities in the modern, civilised world are limitless.

Mothers though will say this to you: theirs is a symbiotic and mutually belonging relationship together with Mother Earth where they live for each other everyday. It is not an existential crisis or struggle for survival. They belong to the land, they aren’t separate from it. They sow and reap with care and respect without ripping into the guts and disemboweling their land.

For the mothers, peace up here has come in many respects. The most telling is that the land is replenishing and renewing itself albeit it’ll never ever be the same again. But their consolation and proof of this is in better root crop harvests, many more fingers on banana bunches, firm and oilier ground nuts, plentiful fruits and vegetables and seeing grasshoppers that have come back often to their annoyance.

May be even the copper, gold and silver are replenishing and growing to replace what was mined and taken out.

The other thing that is quite telling and that makes life worth living as it was is that women in Panguna can experience and benefit from the power of quiet in their own world which which was always disturbed by unrelenting world of noise of men and machines digging and ripping out the heart of their land.

Life in the village usually starts early for women than men. When he’s still taking time to get up and wipe his eyes awake, she’s left for the garden with her metal and wooden implements to continue from where she left her gardening the other day.

Seeing rising thick and thin white smokes here and there from the gardens on hilly and forested peripheries of the mine means life has gone back to normal.

But has it really?

One comment on “Bougainville reflections :For the mothers, peace in Panguna has come in many respects.

  1. These comments are from the PNG Attitude site
    http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2016/02/where-white-smoke-rises-a-mother-toils.html

    Bougainville is mainly a matrilineal society, where customary land is inherited through the mother’s lineage.
    On Bougainville, “The land is sacred and protected by men on behalf of the women. The men as guardians share leadership with women, taking the responsibility in open debate to protect women from potential conflict; however, women have the power to veto decisions and therefore are involved in the final consultative process”. (Sirivi and Havini 2004:149)

    Men depend on the women for food cultivation and the women take on the responsibility of gardening to sustain the lives of their family and others.

    Whilst the main gist of Simon Pentanu’s article is about Bougainville women securing and growing food for their family, which they have done for thousands of years, I am puzzled why he wrote, “This is what the world is like, not what a Referendum on Independence promises which is trying to catch up with the rest of the world and be like the Jones or join the rat race…”.

    Personally, I think the meaningless rat race of capitalism is quite different from a Referendum on Independence.

    Bougainville richly deserves and has what it takes to be Independent. The right to self-determination, the right to conduct their public affairs, and the right to manage their economic and social needs can all be achieved when Bougainville gains its Independence.
    Posted by: Vikki John | 09 February 2016 at 12:57 PM

    That’s a nice story Simon.

    It puts the mad scramble to develop into context.

    If the gardeners had access to good health care nearby and schools for their children to attend it would be perfect.

    Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 09 February 2016 at 09:35 AM

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