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Issue #1688      June 10, 2015

Moses Havini 1947-2015

Committed Revolutionary

Moses Havini was born on June 5, 1947, or so he was told by a local missionary. He was from the Nakas clan and son of the paramount chief of the Naboin clan on Buka Island, the northern tip of Bougainville. Along with his soul mate and wife Marilyn (née Miller), he devoted his life to the struggle of the Bougainvillean people for independence and control over their own land.

Bougainville Freedom Movement banner.

Anyone who has known or worked alongside Moses will remember a humble, extremely intelligent and committed revolutionary, who worked incredible hours for the preservation of his people’s heritage – their culture, ancestral lands, communal structures, languages, traditions and values. They will also recall his passion for justice, commitment to peace, sense of humour and an inner strength.

Marilyn, a passionate Christian, was an integral part of all that Moses did. She first became aware of Moses at a Christian Conference held at Melbourne’s Monash University in early 1971 when he was 20. He was there as the editor of University of PNG’s Christian student newspaper.

Marilyn described their first encounter: “We didn’t get a chance to talk but glances were exchanged. Their group then flew to Sydney and visited my place. We spoke, briefly, before they left. Later I went to the airport to see them off and at the last moment Moses ran over, jumped the fence and asked for my address. We became instant pen pals.

“Then I was selected by Australian Girl Guide Association as a Sea Ranger on a service project to Port Moresby where Moses was studying. We met, fell in love quickly, Moses asked both our fathers for permission to marry. Both agreed, while Moses’ father said that he could not speak for his people unless they met me.”

So during Moses’ mid-semester break, they travelled to Buka, where Marilyn was adopted into the clan and married in July 1971.

Their experiences with bureaucracy that followed are indicative of the racist and sexist colonial attitudes that prevailed at the time. While white men had been known to marry black women, the marriage of a white woman to a black man was unheard of.

Not long after the wedding Moses received notice that as his wife was now paid as a lecturer at Port Moresby Teachers’ College, his university scholarship was cancelled.

Simultaneously Marilyn received a dismissal notice saying that because she was married, it was her husband’s job to support her. Both letters were signed by the same Australian colonial head of the Education Department!

Moses continued his studies at the University of Papua New Guinea as a private student and graduated in record time in 1972 with a BA. He was Bougainville’s third graduate.

Geographically Bougainville is part of the Solomon Islands archipelago of islands and 1,000 kilometres to the east of Papua New Guinea. It became a province of PNG in the mid-1890s as Britain, Germany and the US exchanged various possessions in the region.

It became part of German New Guinea and was taken over by Australia at the start of World War I. Then it was the turn of the Japanese at beginning of the Second World War, followed by the US which handed it back to Australia as a UN Trust Territory.

In 1971 and ’72, Moses made several trips to Port Moresby, returning with strategies and recommendations for a localised transition towards district government. He replaced an Australian as the adult education officer for Bougainville and established many literacy and correspondence courses.

He famously “captured” PNG’s education minister, Sir Ebia Olewale, to take him up the Buka road to meet the local Hahalis Welfare Society, which was demanding a local school. Sir Ebia returned to PNG Parliament and carried through on a promise of a school.

Dissent and mobilisation

In 1972, with the approval of the Australian government, Bougainville Copper Ltd (20% owned by PNG government and 53% by Conzinc Rio Tinto subsidiary CRA) opened the Panguna copper and gold mine on Bougainville. This followed years of struggle by the local Indigenous landowners against the mine, including an unsuccessful attempt to halt it in the Australian High Court.

The land had been communally owned and cultivated for thousands of years. The landowners were not consulted. No one sought permission to enter their land, let alone force them off it or destroy their gardens and poison their rivers – their means of subsistence. They fought tooth and nail to stop the mine.

“The villagers, women, men and children, were not armed but were confronted by armed police carrying rifles, batons, shields and gas masks. They were fired upon with tear gas and charged with batons. Women threw themselves in front of company bulldozers, prepared to sacrifice their lives for their ancestral land.” (“Bougainville – The long struggle for freedom, by Moses and Rikha Havini*)

By 1975 the PNG government relied on the mine for 40 percent of its income which satisfied the Whitlam government that PNG was ready for independence.

In January 1975, Moses, on a Fulbright Scholarship, visited America in January studying government and administration. He returned to the tightening tensions between PNG and Bougainville. After 17 years of unsuccessful attempts to negotiate with the PNG government and CRA, the Panguna Landowners Association decided to mobilise their forces with demonstrations, petitions, etc.

On May 28, 1975, the Interim Provincial Government in Bougainville agreed to secede from PNG. On September 1, 1975, a month before PNG’s planned Independence Day, Moses carried the Bougainville flag to Wakunai (North Bougainville) and a Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI) was proclaimed. Similar ceremonies were conducted around the island.

In January 1976, at Hutjena, the PNG police fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters into the crowd. Moses, a man committed to non-violence, was hit in the back with a canister, causing a wound that took months to heal and left a large scar.

Bougainville was unable to get other countries to recognise its UDI. So a negotiated settlement for “provincial” status led to Moses’ appointment as Clerk of the Assembly, 1977-81, then Speaker of the Provincial Parliament Assembly, 1982-85.

In 1988 the villagers blew up two power pylons carrying electricity to the Panguna mine. Further conflict followed and within months the mine was closed and is still closed, but perhaps not for much longer. New moves are afoot to re-open it.

In January 1990, Moses, Marilyn and their four children came to Australia. Blocked by PNG from returning to Bougainville, Moses lived in Sydney for the next 15 years, as the representative of the Interim Government of Bougainville for the region and the world.

PNG imposed an Australia-supported blockade of Bougainville, denying it imports of food, fuel, medicines (such as to treat malaria) and other essential goods. The PNG Defence Force used Australian-supplied helicopters and patrol boats to support the blockade and take part in what became a long and bloody war.

The ingenuity of the people was incredible, producing soap and fuel from coconuts, reviving traditional medicines, making guns from pieces of metal from the closed mine, etc. At the same time the cost in lives and hardship was enormous, with an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 lives lost.

Moses quickly developed the necessary diplomatic skills for the UN, how to handle the media and approach Australian and regional politicians. He and Marilyn successfully built political support in Australia resulting in the formation of the Bougainville Freedom Movement and also a women’s group.

A decade later it was obvious that PNG could not win the war, that the Bougainvilleans had won. However, the new Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) was not recognised by the international community. There was still the question of reconciliation between those Bougainvilleans who had fought for independence and those who had been conscripted to fight with PNG forces and a peace settlement with PNG.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer backed a New Zealand initiative to hold peace talks in New Zealand. Moses played an important role in the peace process, focusing on a just peace between Bougainville and PNG. He made representations to the United Nations Human Rights Council, supported by Bougainvillean delegations.

Marilyn had assisted in creating women’s groups who also participated in the peace process.

The talks led to the Bougainville Peace Agreement, which provided for the withdrawal of all armed personnel from the island by December 2002 and contained provisions for a referendum that must be held within the five-year time period of 2015-2020.

By 2005 the Havinis had moved back to Buka, as negotiations between PNG and the ABG had obtained a large degree of autonomy on Bougainville. Moses became an adviser to the ABG as director of parliamentary committees. Marilyn said Moses’ aim throughout his life was to see “Papua New Guinea as a friendly neighbour, rather than their ruler”.

In August 2013, Moses was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and returned to Sydney for treatment. He fought a courageous battle, never acknowledging his pain, which he lost on May 2, 2015.

Moses was held in high regard by all who met and worked with him. The head of New Zealand police’s Bougainville Peace Team, the clerk of the NSW Parliament and PNG’s High Commissioner to Australia were amongst those who attended and spoke at his Sydney memorial service before his body was taken to Bougainville for a state funeral.

Moses Havini is survived by Marilyn, their children Rikha, Torohin, Solomon and Taloi, four grandchildren and adopted children Patrick, Maria, Sissi, Justin, Judith, Genevieve and Jennitha.

Vale Moses Havini


Next article – Region briefs

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