“In reading journalistic and some academic accounts of the Bougainville conflict, I have been struck by two weaknesses. First is a tendency to emphasise only those events immediately leading up to the outbreak of violence in 1988, to the neglect of significant issues originating decades earlier. Second is a picture of a monolithic, homogenous ‘Bougainville’, ignoring both past and present divisions among the population. Both weaknesses can be addressed by focusing on speakers of a language labelled Nasioi, who claim the land on which the Bougainville copper mine was developed; who have consistently provided a strong voice for secession from what is now the nation-state of Papua New Guinea; and who furnished the core personnel and most prominent leadership of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. Their history in the twentieth century has been distinctive, and is worth comparing and contrasting with those of the other language groups on Bougainville and Buka islands”.
This paper is based primarily on the author’s experiences living intermittently with Nasioi speakers from 1962 to 1978, with the opportunity to see at close range the lives they led before and after the development of the giant copper mine. It includes discussion on the status and rights of Nasioi women.