Bougainville to Rio Tinto: ‘Our grandmothers said no, land is life …’

The destroyed Jaba River downstream from the Panguna mine, Bougainville. Image: PNG Mine Watch

The independent blog PNG Mine Watch was originally established to track the progress of the Ramu nickel mine in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, but has since been expanded to cover the whole mining sector in PNG, including Bougainville. This unsigned poem was published today under the headline “Rio Tinto and Momis are our dependency nightmare. Awake independence”.

A River Speaks

Scars etch outwards from the Panguna mine-pit, down the Kawerong river, through the waste dumps – that’s what they call it, it was once our land – down to the shoreline, where the mine’s bad breath lingers.

Rio Tinto did this. We said no. Brave mothers, stood before the grin of the bulldozers. Truncheons and tear gas spat from the sky like rain.

“Brave mothers, stood before the grin of the bulldozers.” Image: PNG Mine Watch

They stood firm, while the white man enlightened us.

Today we bear his fruits. Poison across lands that were once healthy. Poison in rivers that once swam with life.

Our President – our president. What can the river say?

He bunkers down in Buka, where he is crowned in the hopes and dreams of a nation. The King of Bougainville, the man who can do no wrong.

Only, he does plenty wrong.

When we cried for justice, he said no.

Wait mothers! Pause your breath!! “Do not kill the duck that lays the eggs”, King Momis said.

‘Better the devil you know!’

He did not know the devil.

When we peered at the darkness void that is Rio Tinto, with fire in our eyes, the devil peppered death upon our black skin.

We remember the BCL trucks and helicopters, the company buildings heaving with troops, pregnant with murder.

Back then King Momis crept along vermin streets, business deals swirled in mother Moresby. He found himself in holy matrimony with the Namaliu government that dropped an atom bomb on his “beloved” Bougainville.

20,000 dead.

20,000 dead. Can you imagine. The future generations, gone! The future generations of future generations, gone!! Aborted by a bomb.

We cried. We cry. Never again. No mine. No Rio Tinto.

Momis said. “Better the devil you know.”

Image: PNG Mine Watch

But now, the devil has abandoned his minstrel.

King Momis cries from his throne of skulls.

He cries for what?

For the mothers. For the men. For the children. The rivers. The land. The seas. The trees. Lost in a furnace?

He doesn’t cry for them. The King weeps for himself only.

Our defiant history and ancestors gather in chorus. They sing.  Land is life. Land is life. Land is life.

Momis stands in his stained pulpit, where he bellows back. Reopen Panguna. Reopen Panguna. Reopen Panguna.

A monk, with white ankles wavers underneath.

But we remember hard …

Image: PNG Mine Watch
Image: PNG Mine Watch

Our upright grandmothers, mother against their breasts, yelling “no”, “land is life”. Our grandfathers shaking their axe, steel in hand, steel in eyes, saying, “no’”, “land is life”.

Momis deaf to the universe, says “reopen Panguna”.

Even now, as the devil flies off like a bluebird into the Chinese smog night, the King says we can do sin without Rio Tinto’s help! Stretch a new generation of death like a garbage bag across mother Bougainville.

We say no.

Land, life, culture, custom.

That is beauty. That is truth. That is existence.

On your own land King Momis, you may make sacrifice to the devil. But not on ours.

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