I left Bougainville 16 days ago and a piece of my heart remains there. I can’t stop thinking about her inimitable people and the raw unspoiled beauty of the land. Truthfully, I’m ready to go back now. I feel like there’s something unfinished between us.
What is there about this island that is 75 miles long and 50 miles wide with a population of 175,000 that is pulling on me so strongly? Before we arrived, I wondered if I would have culture shock. What would the islanders think of us?
We landed at Buka airport (Northern end) and there was plenty to process immediately. I actually found it exciting and exhilarating to be somewhere so different from home. I took it all in – as much as I could. We piled everyone and all the luggage into taxis and went a short distance down to the waterfront where we loaded into a banana boat (water taxi) to cross a short waterway from Buka Island to the main island of Bougainville.
Once across we loaded all the luggage into the back of Dave and Royree’s truck and headed to their adopted village to spend the night. Piling in the back of trucks is the way the people travel the island. It was the ultimate “convertible” experience! We garnered plenty of attention from the locals.
As soon as we arrived in the village, we were given a very warm and inviting welcome. The girls made us leis with tree leaves and presented them to us. Dave had been in the village for nearly two months working with them. He’s doing his best to help them get tin roofs on their huts so they can collect clean rain water for drinking. They love the Jensen family so much they adopted them into their family and gave them the land to live on. It will stay in their family forever. They even made Dave one of the chiefs. They were very excited to see Royree and Sharene (Dave and Royree’s daughter) and their grandkids Eric and Amy. That night they had a special gathering for us. Poppa Joe, one of the village chiefs, welcomed us and the people sang after Royree gave a short greeting and message about Jesus. Many of the Bougainvilleans speak English but their native tongue is Tok Piskin – or Pidgin.
The next morning Royree showed me around the village and we shared gifts with the children we had brought. Family, community, and land are everything to Bougainvilleans. That and their freedom that they have been fighting so hard to win for many years. I’ll tell you more about that in the coming days. I had an instant affection for the people. They know no pretense, they honor others, they share everything. What belongs to one belongs to all. These islanders survived an ugly war for over a decade in the recent past and they lost 10% of their population. They know what is important. Family members are never disowned. They don’t have the luxuries we have in the West but they have something on the inside that we don’t. I found myself envious of their strength, loyalty, and courage. I wanted to get to know them better. I know I must go back.
Pictures truly are worth a thousand words (and I’m a filmmaker!) so instead of describing what I saw here’s another video so you can see for yourself.https://player.vimeo.com/video/173414408
The next day we drove down the island to Arawa. It was there I met the most intriguing man I have ever met. I teared up every time I was in his presence. I’ll introduce you to him next time.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear from you!
Sondra Martin Hicks