In 2011 I travelled to Bougainville on an odyssey, sifting through the wreckage of predatory capitalism. I was travelling on a Dash 8 aircraft similar to the one that had just crashed a week earlier into the rocky terrain of the Rai Coast.
At Bougainville I saw a beautiful land scared by the decades of conflict. Beneath the turquois waters, white sandy beaches and swaying palm trees flow the legacy of destruction. There, beneath the façade of normalcy I met Bougainville’s ‘lost generation’ – the guys red bandanas, black metal band t-shirts and jeans.
Fast forward to 2013 and I have observed the current discourse on Panguna’s future and have refrained from writing about it as I do not feel qualified to do so, being a ‘redskin’. However, given how there seems to be a growing push towards the reopening of the mine by what I consider to be Bougainville’s powerful elite, I feel the voices of Bougainville’s “lost generation” needs to be heard.
Tony Kevi was a young boy in High School when the crisis began in 1988. His mother is a Panguna landowner and his dad a redskin from Oro Province. His family was broken up by the crisis, like so many other Bougainvillean families.
The Bougainvillean sense of loss for their ‘Me’ekamui’ or sacred land as Tony saw it, developed as many families felt the Panguna mine couldn’t adequately compensate for their losses.
Bougainville’s ‘lost generation’ who are children forged out of a conflict feel the pain everyday as they grapple with mental illness and substance abuse. Tony warns that the restoration of a false sense of normalcy as has made Bougainvilleans complacent about the impacts of the crisis.