Thursday, August 9, 2012

The heart and soul of Melanesia

By ERASMUS BARANIAK 

Our moments of triumph on the Olympic stage have not been many. We have had our moments over the last 37 years in the regional sporting events like the Commonwealth Games, the Arafura Games, the South Pacific and the Mini South Pacific Games. In an Olympic year, we are contemplating playing host once again to the next South Pacific Games and the government and the ONeil-Namah political Leadership has not been serious about what is and what ought to have been a matter of priority and pride. The nation is about to face its moment of truth on the regional and international stage. We are about to reveal once again for all to see what we have been about for the last 37 years, at least since the last time we hosted the Games here- then courtesy of the kind people of the People’s Republic of China. At least we had a Sir Anthony Siaguru to lead us out with a committee of equally talented people, showcased and acquitted well of the nation they represented.

Oh how the red gold and black fluttered in the steady South-Westerly, and our hearts were instantaneously lifted to greater heights of palpitations, as our athletes triumphed, and we could believe once again in ourselves, and this social contract we signed in 1975 to be one nation, one people and one country. And oh how we triumphed then with more gold silver and bronze than ever before, or since! Every Kiwai, Tolai, Highlander, Wopa, Siwai, Orokaiva, Orokolo, Sol and Tasi walked out of that stadium proud. We shared and savoured those precious few moments of triumph with tears streaming down our faces, we looked at each other wide eyed and teary faced, and we laughed tears of joy. We knew we will always be one people, a people cast together by history, a people held together by our ancient agrarian ways, pushed almost prematurely into the limelight of 21st Century to sink or swim, live or die.

Together we chose life. And but whilst the odds were always staked against us, and some called us stone aged primitives, while others whispered,”… they won’t make it...”, it is in rare moments of sporting triumph like this, pitted against their best, on a clear sky blue day and level playing field, we have come together and asserted resoundingly that we have arrived on the world’s centre stage! That we are an ancient people, we are a strong people, we are the largest nation in the Pacific Islands, we are the pre-historic home of Melanesia, we are a serious people, and we shall be taken seriously by our other Melanesian, Polynesian and Micronesian, and other neighbours. Whether they like it or not, whether they like our way of doing things or not, we are here and we are asserting ourselves, and assert we did at that and every other SP Game since. Who would have predicted how we would turn out as a nation and a people in 1973 when we were granted Self Government so hurriedly by the Gorton/Whitlam Governments of Canberra?

In the late 1960-70s in one of those South Pacific Commission Meetings held in the capital of one of our Polynesian countries, the Paramount Chief of the Chimbu people, and he may as well have been the Chief of all the Highlanders, because he was a tall towering and imposing Simbu, who stood as tall as the mountains, and firm as his native rock of Elimbari. When he spoke, his dozen wives and tribes men far and near came and drank of his words in utter silence, words that flowed seamlessly like the Waghi giving life to a deeply farrowed land. But this time, his solemn maiden chiefly address to the South Pacific Commission in tok pisin was mocked, perhaps because of his earnest but equally farrowed facial features. Perhaps it was because he didn’t understand a word of English,or because they couldn’t understand him, and couldn’t reply. He did look like someone out of the stone age, but his heart was earnest and his composure and demeanour true, but nevertheless he felt the bitter sting of a thousand wasps buzzing around his head. He couldn’t speak English. Realizing, from the laughter and the polite nods that he had just become the laughing stock of the Pacific, and realizing he carried with him, not only the pride of the Narengu tribe of Chimbu, the pride of the Highlands, but also of the then Territories of Papua and New Guinea he represented, Kondom Agaundo stood up and spoke in pisin and uttered those famous lines… ” yupela harim ah! Nau mi kam long hia na toktok na yupela lap long mi. Em I orait. Tomoro bai mi salim ol pikinini bilong mi i kam. Taim ol I kam, bai yupela no nap lap long ol! “ With that he sat down.
Paramount Chief Kondom Agaunduo now lies in silent repose in his village on the side of the Highway named after an equally imposing political force of the Simbu people, one of the finest sons that Chief Kondom spoke of. Kondom was a man before his time. He was a Chief and Luluai, a cultural hero who brought progress to Chimbu in the early colonial period. He was the first Simbu coffee grower, father of the Chimbu Coffee Cooperative, Member of the District Advisory Council, Observer to the First Legislative Council in Port Moresby. Before his premature death from a car accident, he was truly a pioneer who craved education and progress for his people so that they could meet or match the whiteman, a man without pigs, on his own terms, and triumph. He was resolute and uncompromising in this cause. His leadership, punctuated by long eloquent speeches, was impeccable. There was no ounce of self interest in his cause. His cause was that of every Chimbu to advance.

Our moments of triumph on the sporting field have been shared together, as highlanders, Momases, NGIs and Papuans- groupings that came as we tried to define ourselves along our natural geographic regions. Yet these groupings sit very un-comfortably with our own assertion and notion as one people and one nation. Today we have indeed become one people and one nation with complex intermarriages. When corporate greed threatened to blow us apart, and it did for many years for thousands on Bougainville, one man, a cultural and national hero from Karkar Island, stood up and defied all odds to put a stop to the blood bath that was about to unfold. He underwent a period of self-examination and self-assessment for some time. After all that was done, he stood up, and he stood by the oath he took before God and man to protect the Constitution, his nation, his people in Bougainville and on the mainland. He realized in time that if he didn’t stand up, he would by his conduct have revoked the Constitutional framework that held us together as a people, and cut adrift the people of Bougainville. He defied vulgar political direction and greedy corporate puppetry from outside. When Jerry Singirok triumphed personally over the evil that was about to be served, a chalice of blood, a slaughter that appeared inevitable, the whole nation triumphed. We all exhaled in great shared relief! Whew!

Many a child who was born in the 1980s, educated to feel equally eloquent and masters of their own destiny, deserving of a great future in this country, find themselves having to invariably come to terms with political legacies and historical events like Bougainville, constantly having to ask themselves this question- what was all that about? The mothers of Bougainville, who survived, who suffered through loss of their own sons, daughters and husbands, are still asking that question to this day. While the fallen soldiers were draped in the red black and gold, the fallen in Bougainville lie scattered all over that island of sorrow, and their spirits still wander unrequited. Deep down, every mother in Bougainville still ask, why did the nation turn its guns on us? Why did Bougainville become the Island of sorrow? Can we as a nation triumph together in sporting fields like the coming SP Games and in other spheres if we do not deal with Bougainville, look at our brother in the eye and honestly feel the same blood pulsating through our veins? How can we explain Bougainville to our children that they, as intelligent human beings with inquisitive minds, can make sense of it? How can the fatherless and the motherless children of Bougainville who also struggle daily with their permanent condition be consoled? And how do they further explain it to their children?

We cannot explain Bougainville, the shedding of innocent blood, the birthing of an Island of orphans and widows, in any other way than the sense of corporate greed, and blatant disregard for human lives and the rights of human beings by so called civilized nations, acting secretively through off-balance sheet black ops operatives. No one has gone behind the scenes to expose the people behind the people in Sandline.

Faceless men in glass steel and concrete towers in faraway lands, powerful governments and their operatives, use money and influence and do deals and sign papers that instantaneously spill the blood innocent people all over the world. It was the South Americas yesterday, and today it is the Middle-East, with Africa the ongoing playground of those who want to pawn off the lives of the starving innocent using contentions of old tribal rifts and religious differences as convenient divisive tools. The death of the cold war has spawned new wars , wars that relate directly to control and exploitation of scarce resources and energy fields, that will see the rise and re-ordering of civilisation as we know. While those who conceived Sandline have long melted into the shadows, governments involved quickly cut off connections, shredded the papers, wiped the footprints and claimed innocence; the Queen sits with a solemn smile on her throne, and the Kangaroos still graze peacefully in the meadows. Long gone are the sounds of machine guns and echoes of the cries of children looking for their mothers.

Today, they come with bundles of money to “help” the people of Bougainville. It’s the re-building and restoration program. How wonderfully generous the help is to us with roads, health centres, and ports. Roads that may one day carry our copper and gold out again, and ports that may see ships bearing all manner of colours once more berth, but let us not even contemplate that for now. For now, having put up his hand for Sumkar and lost to an Australian Naturalized citizen, Jerry Singirok, sits back on his Island home to contemplate and take stock of his gains and losses, his friends and his foes, especially those who pretend to be friends but were really against him. He savours the sting of deception, like the buzz and sting of a thousand wasps. No war would have prepared him for this public admonition. In the 2012 elections, more so than ever before, the Australian Defence and intelligence played a very heavy hand, and made no secret about the fact of who Canberra wants installed as the new Prime Minister. Jerry Singirok of all people was in a better position to know and understand what was really at stake.

On the 2nd of August 2011, Australia engineered the disposal of Somare while he was in Hospital. They used ONeill’s ambition, Nape’s greed and Namah’s stupidity. Then when the courts were called upon to intervene, Julia Gillard used a political bulldozer to recognize ONeill’s government. She pre-empted the Supreme Court, the sole arbiter under the Constitution to deal with the question of legitimacy of Peter ONeill as Prime Minister. Having realized she stuffed up, she was not going to back off. She used High Commissioner Kemish, tons of money, and the full swag of intelligence tools at its disposal, including the complicity of the Post Courier, to push for Peter ONeill. Australia was instrumental in the smashing of the Judiciary and the Constitution. Australia moved its people into key positions within the Electoral Commission, and even brought in its military and SAS veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to run a separate communications and operations capability parallel to the PNG security forces. All this was done to ensure one result- Peter ONeill to form the next government. It was a job well done for Ian Kemish, who unlike any other High Commissioner before him, was prepared to get his hands dirty, and do some of the work himself. As a diplomat, he has trod where even angels wouldn’t dare. What a brave man this Ian Kemish is, for he has successfully and almost singlehandedly displayed the full length and breadth of the power of Australia over Papua New Guinea politics. He has shown other diplomats in almost resounding terms, who owns this country! And for this he would have earned a long holiday somewhere in Europe, and for sure almost endless career possibilities with the Commonwealth. A job well done in any one’s language.

Somare and other elder statesmen have played the only card they could play under the circumstances. But their card no longer carries any personal ambitions. They have been there and done that. There is no anger or resentment left in Chan, Somare or even Wingti. They have measured ambitions, which involve issues of what form or shape of legacy will they all and each leave for this nation. How will they be remembered after they pass? Each one of them have had a by-pass operation. Each is living on time that has been graciously extended to them. And each of them has known what it is like to have and hold power, exercise power, and what a heady thing that is! The real issue for Somare Chan and Wingti, and others of the elder Statesmen around ONeill , is how much of the love for the RED GOLD and BLACK can they impart to Peter ONeill and get him away from the charms of money, wealth, fame and more fortune promised to him by those who now like cicadas whisper incessantly into his ears. Papua New Guineans know the deals O’Neill has done over the years. We also know his various businesses that are run openly. We also know of his associations with the likes of young George Constantinou and the Cragnolinis. We know the straight and the crooked deals he made, just as we know the deeds of others. We also know of the deals, political deals, he has done with Australia in return for political recognition after the 2nd of August 2011 knifing robbery. The real question is, can he stand up for the RED GOLD & BLACK? Or will he be just another good native?

The signs are already fairly ominous of a sell-out job done by Peter ONeill. He needs these next 18 months to prove to the rest of us that he is a true nationalist, that the genes of his native mother will always outweigh those of his Irish Father, that he will rise to be a better Prime Minister, and better at negotiating competing interests and triumphing over those who want to turn him and his office into their Post Office Box. He will have to do better than he has done so far to show us that our lives and our resources are safe from the marauding corporate raiders who are crowding his social calendar even now. He has to demonstrate that the mothers of Bougainville who lost their sons fighting for their land and resources have not died in vain. He has to show us that the blood of the innocent spilled on Bougainville was for a cause of equal worth, and that indeed he will use this term of Prime Minister-ship to initiate a ministry of healing of the nation., to reconcile us as brother to brother, that our blood can flow through our veins once again from one heartbeat. 

For Somare who signed the First Project Agreement for Bougainville and for Chan who signed to spill blood, this will be a fitting closure, for the past to be properly buried , and for the future to be welcomed together. For without properly dealing with these matters, we can never wipe the sorrow from the Islands of Bougainville.

Is Peter ONeill one of the sons that the great Simbu Chief Kondom Agaunduo spoke of in his maiden speech to the SPC, or is he just another ‘yes’ man for the Australians, doing their bidding so that he can increase his own barns, while the rest of the country starve? Does Peter ONeill have the smarts of a modern education and business acumen to really serve the national interest, or will be be just another drunken politician, pandering to his mates, and the sharks and vultures already circling around and above the nation?

While the nation prepares to host the next South Pacific Games, will we be proud to cheer our red black and gold? Does Peter ONeill possess the skill, courage, mental, intellectual and moral fortitude to rise to the call of the nation, not only give us cause to celebrate and showcase our nation in the games, but show those sharks and vultures that circle us, preying on us and our resources, that this is the land of an ancient people, a people of pride, strength and culture? That we will not be bought or sold for political or economic convenience? That the birth place of the Melanesian nations- the heart and soul of Melanesia is not for sale? These questions are only for Peter ONeill to answer, and prove his mettle. If he fails, then that will be his legacy, and his only, because we will not be bought or sold by anyone, and our sons will see to that, even as they did on Bougainville.