Welcome To Bougainville!

Through the years I have seen the expressions on people's faces when they hear that I spent a year in Papua-New Guinea. I can see a mental image appearing in their minds that is a conglomerate image from a variety of sources- from Walt Disney to Gillagan's Island. I am usually asked the same questions. I reproduce them here as well as some of the images I created there.

"That's near Australia, right? Was it a tropical island?"

Yes, here's a map. Here's all the pertinent info:

Bougainville Group: North Solomon Islands
Archipelago: Solomon Islands Country: Papua New Guinea
Bougainville Region: Oceania 3 Lat: 6.20 S Long : 155.50 E Area: 9317.8 sq. km Altitude: 2792 m Shoreline: 569.4 km Coastal Index:
Nearest continent: Australia Distance: 1500 km
Isolation Index: 61
ISLAND TYPE: high volcanic Natural Protection Indicator: 0
GEOLOGY/SOILS: Mountainous island with active volcano, significant mineral deposits (gold and copper)
CLIMATE: wet tropical
CATASTROPHIC THREATS: volcanic eruptions and earthquakes
Threat Indicator: 1
ECOSYSTEMS: Number of Ecosystems - Terrestrial: 20 Marine: 5 Various lowland and montane forest types, including lowland Calophyllum kajewskii forest, and Neonauclea/Sloanea forest at 450-750 m; swamp forest in south; beach forest; mangroves; scrub and grasslands; rivers; coastal lagoons; fringing reefs. Forest Coral reefs.

"What did you do there?"

I avoided getting hit on the head by falling coconuts mostly.

"Did the natives wear bones in their noses? Were they Cannibals?"

Not bones, but shells and pig tusks. Think of it like piercing your ear. What would you put there? I didn't know anybody that I knew for sure was a cannibal.That sorta thing isn't really done anymore. Not all the local populations of people are Cannibals. We had Cannibals in America and they did it for the same reasons. It was cultural and religious.

"What are they like, are they primitive?"

Not primitive. They have learned over the centuries to survive in their world. They can tell direction and distance without the use of sun or stars. Before the Christian missionaries showed up they had a very superstitious yet highly evolved and complex belief system. Before they were introduced to them they didn't understand about battery operated appliances like a radio. They thought spirits spoke through the box, a reaction pretty typical to anybody that had never seen a radio before. How would you explain a radio to Paul Revere? Do you consider him Primitive?

"Do the native's speak english?"

Sometimes. Mostly what they speak is a "trade" language called "pidgin". Savoy mi tok pidgin long yu pella. (understand, I'm talking pidgin to you.) Papua New Guinea has about 2/3 to 3/4 of the world's seperate languages spoken there, that's called "place tok". To communicate to each other they speak pidgin. It's some slang, some German (haus is house) some english and some place tok. Long is the common connector in pidgin such as "and","the", "to", "if" etc. My favorite expression in Pidgin is Somting noting it translates to "something nothing" meaning it's enough to notice but not enough to worry about.

"Would you like to go back?"

Yeah, sometimes. When I was there I saw what Eden must have been like. Life is simpler. It isn't Gillagan's Island, but there are no real predators on Bougainville. I have, however, never ever been anyplace else where I felt safe to drink from a stream, pluck lunch from a tree, and felt that things were as they seemed to be and should be. I'm sure it's not like that anymore.

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