Hope comes from within every one of us and it is the greatest motivation one could ever find. The role hope played in the referendum for Bougainville was of paramount importance.
As we prepared to take part in the referendum, many of us indeed thought long and hard when faced with choosing between ‘greater autonomy’ and ‘independence’ two very distinctly different things. But when the results were announced, it was apparent that there was almost no struggle in choosing between the two and that we already knew in our hearts what we needed.
On the day of voting, I was filled with a plethora of emotions dominated by pride and excitement. I was very proud to be a Bougainvillean and excited that the day had finally come where and I, along with many of my people, would have a say in the future of our homeland. It was not until after I had arrived at the designated voting outlet in the Brisbane CBD that a feeling of empowerment ensued. I was overwhelmed by the turnout, not because of the number of dark, smooth-skinned, and beautiful Melanesian people in attendance, but because I knew that at that moment on that day we were all going to partake in something that would ultimately decide the fate of our future as Bougainvilleans. Hopefully for the better.
After the official vote count, it was evident that most Bougainvilleans wanted independence. Although a final verdict is yet to be reached by the PNG Parliament, I have a great sense of hope that in the near future all Bougainvilleans, myself included, will unite to serve the greater cause for the betterment of our nation. I believe that by upholding our laws, both customary and legislative, and working ethically, we can build a truly greater Bougainville.
The results of the poll show that the vast majority of Bougainvilleans wish for the same thing, with an overwhelming 97.7% of the votes in favour of independence. This would mean total control of our land, our political and economic affairs and our people. Being a proud Bougainvillean, I have faith in my people. The kind of faith that would topple any mountain and surpass the horizon. I envision a Bougainville whose leaders work together for the greater interest of the people and are free of the shackles of corruption. I long for a Bougainville whose economy will be as green and bountiful as the crops that grow upon the fertile soil of the island I and many others call home. A beautiful place inhabited by beautiful people.
Two years ago, I did not have a clear knowledge of the history of bloodshed and civil warfare faced by my people twenty years ago. This drove me to learn more about the history of how this referendum came about. My thirst for knowledge made me read all kinds of material that gave accounts of the bloody Bougainville crisis. I watched many documentaries about the atrocities suffered by my people in the past and even sat at gatherings where I listened to the elders (people who had witnessed, lived through and survived the crisis) tell their stories.
I was able to put my new-found knowledge to the test at the Griffith University Papua New Guinea Student Association Open Night. There, I and a fellow Bougainvillean student (Kimberly Mekea) were able to further educate our peers about the importance of the referendum. The experience was humbling and many of the people in attendance were unaware of the status of Bougainville. For me, enlightening them felt truly fulfilling. Leading up to our Brisbane voting date (on November 25th) the Brisbane Bougainville Community encouraged other Bougainvilleans here in Brisbane to register and vote.
During the months leading up to the vote the members of the Brisbane Bougainville Community made sure we stayed up to date with all things “Referendum related”. I helped keep people informed via my social media platforms and used word of mouth within our community gatherings to ensure that everyone was kept informed. This was important to me as I felt I had a responsibility to keep my fellow Bougainvilleans and others in the loop.
As a young Bougainvillean, I know I have much to contribute to my people and my land. In the near future I will return to Bougainville to help build infrastructure and further strengthen my people. Coming from a predominantly matrilineal background, I hope to be both the catalyst and the driving force for development that will not only benefit and empower women but will also uplift all Bougainvillean people. Furthermore, I challenge all other Bougainvilleans, irrespective of age or gender, to think of ways they may contribute to the cause that is to create and sustain a greater Bougainville for tomorrow. We have come so far and there is a long way yet to go.
Augusta Lokea is currently a full time student in Brisbane. She is also the Treasurer for the Brisbane Bougainville Community.