Autonomous Region of Bougainville

The 168 islands of Autonomous Region of Bougainville, previously known as the North Solomons Province (NSP), cover 9,300 square kilometers made up of Bougainville and Buka islands, and a number of small islands and island groups. Bougainville lies in a region which has seen much volcanic activity in the past, and much of the coastal plain consists of rich volcanic soil. An eruption of the Bagana volcano was recorded in 1887, and it has erupted violently on several occasions since. There are several good natural harbors.

The population of Bougainville is estimated to be about 250,000–300,000. The majority of the population live in rural communities, relying on subsistence farming for their livelihoods, with some cash income from the sale of copra and cocoa, and, increasingly, from alluvial and small-scale gold mining. A small percentage (roughly 3%) of the population live in the urban centres of Buka and Arawa.

As in other parts of Melanesia, Bougainville is characterised by considerable linguistic diversity with 20 or so languages. In the past, this linguistic diversity was accompanied by considerable cultural diversity, though this has lessened due to the movement of people, intermarriage and the social changes that accompanied colonialism, resource extraction and inclusion in the nation-state of Papua New Guinea. Historically, some places had hereditary chiefs, whereas others had leadership based on achievement — the so-called ‘big man’.

Today Bougainville displays a ‘developed north — underdeveloped south’. Major investment in the cocoa industry in North Bougainville since the late 1990s, including improved agriculture and transport infrastructure, has seen the production of cocoa by small farmers rise dramatically, though this has been badly affected by the cocoa pod borer, which has ravaged cocoa production in Bougainville. The north-east part of the mainland, including Selau/Suir, Tinputz and Wakunai, contains the main cocoa producing areas and this is by far the richest region. South Bougainville contains about 50 per cent of Bougainville’s population and is economically depressed. The restoration of economic activity there following the crisis has been constrained by low cocoa outputs, current yields being lower than in pre-crisis times. Without a significant alternative crop, opportunities for earning cash income in the south have been limited compared to elsewhere in Bougainville. This poor economic development in the south since the end of the conflict in 1997 has resulted in significant levels of migration from Siwai and Buin to other parts of Bougainville and has been a contributed to tensions in the south between 2005 and 2009.

Map of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville

There is evidence of human occupation on Buka 28,000 BP. Some of the islands were sighted by the Dutch navigators Schouten and le Maire (1616) and Tasman (1643), the English navigator Carteret (1767) and the French navigator Bougainville (1768). In the 1870s some local men were taken to work on sugar plantations in Australia and other parts of the South Pacific. In 1886 the islands became part of German New Guinea. Society of Mary (Catholic) missionaries arrived in 1902 and the German Administration set up district headquarters at Kieta in 1907. The islands were under Australian control from 1914 to 1942 when they were invaded by the Japanese. The Japanese surrendered to the Australians in August 1945.

In 1964 CRA, a subsidiary of Conzinc Riotinto, discovered a large copper deposit at Panguna on Bougainville Island. Mining operations began in 1969 and the first ore was exported in 1972. Some Bougainvillians were dissatisfied with the agreement which had been made between Bougainville Mining Company (a CRA subsidiary which later changed its name to Bougainville Copper Ltd) and the colonial Administration, and ratified by the House of Assembly, in 1967. Concern that they were not receiving a fair share of the profits was one of the factors behind a secession movement in 1968. Some advocates of secession unsuccessfully lobbied the United Nations, immediately prior to Independence in 1975, to allow North Solomons to become an independent state. In 1977 North Solomon representatives in the national parliament were strong advocates of devolution of power to the provinces. Opposition to mining during the 1980s led to the formation of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), a rebel group which forced the closure of the mine in 1989 and took over the province. Between 1990 and 1993 national government forces regained control of much of the province.

Things to see

Buka: Shops and services for the town are along the main waterfront and you’ll find the market and water taxis at the edge of deep Buka Passage, which is now the port.

Arts and crafts: Look out for the intricately and skillfully woven Buka baskets made from jungle vine.

Sohano Island: Located a few minutes by boat from Buka, this former provincial government still has colonial-period buildings. The steep cliffs provide fine views over Buka Passage and back to Buka.

Things to do

Snorkelling: Buka Passage is good but be aware of the strong currents and get local advice, or try the many little islands near the southern end of the passage.

Offshore islands: These are great for swimming and fishing, and boats go out regularly.

Walking: Trails just outside town are pleasant but take a local.

Swimming: The outer islands of the North Solomons are known for their idyllic white sandy beaches perfect for relaxing in the sun.


29,000 years BP
(before present)
Buka and Bougainville first populated, probably from the North (through the Bismarck Archipelago).
3,000 years BPNew waves of settlement enter Buka and Bougainville from the North, associated with Lapita pottery.
1767First European sighting of Buka/Bougainville (British vessel captained by Carteret).
1768Bougainville Island sighted by French expedition under Louis de Bougainville.
1884(November) German flags of annexation raised in Bismarck Archipelago and on New Guinea mainland.
1885(May) Administrative authority granted to chartered German New Guinea Company.
1886(October) Solomon Islands north of a line of demarcation included in German New Guinea: Buka, Bougainville, Choiseul, Ysabel, Shortlands and Ongtong Java atoll.
1893Great Britain declares Protectorate over non-German (south) Solomon Islands (BSIP).
1899Administration over German New Guinea assumed by German Imperial Government.
Line of demarcation between German New Guinea and BSIP changed so that Shortlands, Choiseul, Ysabel, and Ontong Java all come under BSIP. Buka and Bougainville remain part of German New Guinea.
1901–02Catholic Society of Mary (Marists) mission station established near Kieta.
1905German Administration post established at Kieta.
1914(September) German rule in New Guinea ends when Australian military forces take over.
(December) Australian forces occupy Kieta.
1920Methodist missionaries settle permanently in Siwai.
1921(May) Australia granted ‘C’ class Mandate over former German New Guinea by League of Nations.
Australian Administration established its district headquarters at Kieta, and sub-district headquarters at Sohano in Buka Passage and at Kangu on the Buin coast.
1924Seventh-Day Adventist mission in Bougainville.
1930American Fr Thomas Wade, SM, becomes bishop of Bougainville Diocese.
1934Sporadic gold mining from around 1930 at Kupei, near Panguna, becomes established by 1934, and continues until Japanese occupation of Bougainville begins in 1942.
1941(December) Japan declares war on the United States of America.
1942(January) Rabaul occupied by Japanese soldiers.
(March) Japanese occupation of Bougainville begins.
Administrative amalgamation of Papua and New Guinea
under Australian military administration.
1943(August) United States forces land at Torokina.
1944(October–December) Australian troops take over military operations on Bougainville.
(December) Australian military campaign to reconquer Bougainville begins.
1945(15 August) Japan surrenders.
1946(March) Australian civilian administration re-established.
United Nations agrees to Australian trusteeship of the former Mandated Territory of New Guinea.
Sohano Island, in the Buka Passage, between Buka and Bougainville, becomes colonial district headquarters.
1949United Nations (UN) grants formal approval for joint administration of Papua and New Guinea (PNG).
Territory of Papua and New Guinea (TPNG) Legislative Council established.
Local Government Councils (LGC) proposed in TPNG but slow to be accepted in Bougainville.
1953Attempt to set up a LGC on Buka fails.
1954Catholic teacher training for boys at Tarlena in north Bougainville.
1956UN Visiting Mission reports that some Buin people want the Shortland Islands included in the Trust Territory.
1957Catholic teacher training for girls at St Mary’s Asitavi High School in North Bougainville.
1958First LGC established in Bougainville for Teop Tinputz area of North Bougainville. In spite of opposition, by 1963 others established throughout Bougainville.
1960UN Trusteeship Council calls on Australia to set targets for self-government.
Hahalis Welfare Society founded in Buka, with John Teosin as president/chairman.
Government geological report confirms intensive low-grade copper mineralisation in Panguna/Kupei area of Central Bougainville.
1961Marist Brothers at St Joseph’s School, Rigu, near Kieta, extend schooling for boys to secondary level.
1962Nasioi villagers in Kieta as well as villagers in other parts of Bougainville advise UN Visiting Mission of dissatisfaction with Australian rule.
Members of Hahalis and police skirmish on Buka beach.
Ban on the drinking of alcohol by indigenes lifted throughout TPNG.
1963Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia Exploration Ltd (CRA) granted authority to prospect over area including Panguna deposit.
First Bougainvilleans ordained as Catholic priests (Frs Aloysius Noga and Peter Tatamas).
1964(April 1st) CRA geologist, Ken Phillips, walks into Panguna Valley to conduct survey.
(May) Panguna villagers question presence of geologists in the area.
First general elections conducted for the TPNG House of Assembly. Paul Lapun represents the only Bougainville electorate.
First government high school set up at Hutjena (Buka).
1965(January) Mining warden rejects objections from local villagers and grants additional prospecting licences to CRA.
Diamond drilling begins in Panguna area.
Confrontations between villagers and geologists continue throughout the year.
1966(January) five villagers get one month prison sentences for destroying exploration camp on their land.
Australian Federal Minister for External Territories makes brief visit to Bougainville and tells disgruntled villagers a mine is not for their benefit alone but for the nation as a whole, and villagers will receive compensation but no special benefits.
Motion by Bougainville Member of the House of Assembly, Paul Lapun, for amendment to Mining Ordinance to give 20% or 5% royalty share to landowners defeated in House of Assembly.
Bougainvilleans at Holy Trinity Seminary, Madang, discuss secession for Bougainville.
(July) Villagers around Panguna force suspension of drilling, operations, but drilling later continues under police protection.
(November) House of Assembly passes Lapun’s 5% royalty amendment despite Administration opposition.
(December) Lapun unable to persuade some local landowners to support further exploration even with promise of royalties.
1967Panguna Landowners protest strongly to mining warden’s court re. renewal of CRA prosecting authorities.
(June) Negotiation of mining agreement between CRA and Administration, including offer of 20% equity to PNG if project Proceeds.
(August) Terms of the agreement between CRA and the colonial Administration incorporated in the Mining (Bougainville Copper Agreement) Ordinance.
Colonial Administration district headquarters moved from Sohano, in North Bougainville, to Kieta in Central Bougainville.
1968Mungkas Association founded at meeting of Bougainvilleans in Port Moresby and calls for referendum on secession for Bougainvilleans.
CRA bulk sampling and pilot plant testing confirms Panguna ore reserves.
Second general election to the House of Assembly, conducted in three Bougainville electorates, South Open (won by Paul Lapun), North Open (won by Donatus Mola) and Regional (won by Joseph Lue).
1969(April) CRA granted Special Mining Lease after it presents final feasibility study to Administration.
Arawa plantation acquired compulsorily for town-site for mine and Administration.
(April) 1,200 people from 25 villages attend public meeting in Kieta protesting against compulsory acquisition of Arawa.
(June) Surveyors move in to work on Arawa land.
(August) Bougainville villagers objections to Special Mining Lease taken up by the public solicitor in the Australian High Court without success.
Administration attempts to acquire land at Loloho for port mine facilities opposed strongly by Rorovana villagers.
(July) Micro-nationalist Napidakoe Navitu movement is formed as part of widespread unrest about land acquisitions for the mine, and 1,500 people attend its first meeting.
(August) Riot police expel forcibly Rorovana villagers from their land at Loloho which is required for the mine’s port facilities.
CRA negotiates with Rorovana villagers through Napidakoe Navitu on improved terms for the Port Lease, and Australian Administration is persuaded to offer improved terms.
(November) Improved terms accepted by Rorovana landholders.
1970Napidakoe Navitu becomes more influential, and supports calls from various Bougainvilleans for a referendum on secession.
(March) Secretary to Napidakoe Navitu conducts an unofficial referendum on Bougainville’s secession through the monthly Bougainville News (which he ran) and claims to have distributed 16,000 voting papers, with over 11,000 supporting ‘a complete break’ with PNG.
(August) People of Arawa Village agree to lease land for town development on terms similar to those agreed to by the Rorovana land-holders.
(September) BCL establishes a Village Relations Office to handle landowner compensation claims.
1971Motion in the House of Assembly by Bougainville representative, Paul Lapun, that a committee be appointed to tour Bougainville to determine if a referendum on secession should be held is defeated.
Construction worker labour force for Panguna mine and associated works peaks at over 10,000.
(April) BCL granted Tailings Lease over the whole Jaba River Valley.
1972(March) Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs presented with demand for secession by Mungkas Association members when attending UPNG graduation in Port Moresby.
(April) Commercial production begins at the Panguna copper and gold mine.
Third general election for the House of Assembly, conducted in three open electorates in Bougainville (South, won by Paul Lapun who becomes Minister for Mines and Energy, North, won by Donatus Mola who becomes Minister for Buisness Development, and Central, won by Raphael Bele) and a regional electorate (won by Catholic priest, John Momis, who becomes Deputy Chairman and de facto chairman of the Constitutional Planning Committee established by the House of Assembly).
(June) Constitutional Planning Committee established.
(November) House of Assembly supports motion moved by Bougainville representative, John Momis, for review of mineral policy inclusive of a right to re-negotiate mining agreements.
(December) Bougainville Awareness Seminar conducted by Mungkas Association at Rigu/Tubiana discusses future status of Bougainville.
(December) Pay-back killings of two prominent Bougainvillean public servants, Luke Rovin and Peter Moini, at Goroka in the Eastern Highlands sparks widespread anger in Bougainville and protests against future PNG rule.
1973(February) Bougainville Special Political Committee (BSPC) established, and consults about, and prepares the case for, establishing a district government for Bougainville.
(July) BSPC submits demand for a district government to the Constitutional Planning Committee.
International copper prices rise to record levels and BCL profitability soars to unexpected $158 million.
1974(January) First meeting of the Bougainville Constituent Assembly held.
(July) Bougainville Provincial Government formally established, on an interim basis, under hastily passed TPNG legislation, Somare Government promises Bougainville will receive the state’s 95% of mine royalties.
(August to October) Re-negotiation by the National Government of the 1967 mining Agreement with CRA/BCL, and new Bougainville Copper Agreement signed, with terms more favourable to PNG, and provision for seven yearly reviews.
BCL agrees to a moratorium on exploration within existing prospecting authorities.
Fr Gregory Singkai from Bougainville becomes first indigenous bishop of Catholic diocese of Bougainville.
1975(May) Bougainville deleted Provincial Government votes to secede from PNG and adopts the name ‘North Solomons’.
(16 July) Regulation passed by national government providing for first elections for the Bougainville Provincial Government.
(30 July) National Constituent Assembly votes to support Chief Minister Somare’s motion to remove all provisions on provincial government from the independence PNG Constitution.
(August) Bougainville Provincial Assembly announces decision to declare independence of the Republic of North Solomons as from 1 September.
(1 September) Bougainville secessionist leaders announce the unilateral declaration of independence of Bougainville from PNG, and the flag of the North Solomons Republic is raised in the Arawa market.
John Momis and Raphael Bele resign from their seats in the PNG National Parliament.
John Momis and Hahalis Welfare Society leader, John Teosin, travel to New York to argue the case for recognition of Bougainville’s secession at the UN.
(16 September) PNG’s Independence is proclaimed.
(16 October) Bougainville Provincial Government is suspended by the PNG Parliament.
1976(January) Anti-National Government riots on Bougainville.
(February) Negotiations begin between Bougainville and the PNG National Government seeking to resolve their differences.
(April) Suspension of Bougainville Provincial Government revoked.
(July) First election held for the Bougainville Provincial Government. Alexis Sarei elected unopposed as first premier of Bougainville.
(August) The Bougainville Agreement is signed between the PNG National Government and Bougainville leaders, ending Bougainville’s bid to secede, and paving the way for provision on provincial government to be included in the PNG Constitution.
(December) PNG Parliament passes amendments to the PNG Constitution providing for the provincial government system.
By-elections held to fill the vacancies for the Central Open and Regional electorates created by resignations of Momis and Bele, and Paulus Harepa and Raphael Niniku elected.
Bougainville Development Corporation (BDC) founded with Leo Hannett as chairman of directors.
1977Constitution of the North Solomons Provincial Government (NSPG) adopted.
(April) Organic Law on Provincial Government comes into operation, and among other things provides the basis for the formal recognition of the NSPG, and as a body with enhanced powers as compared with the original 1974 legislation on provincial government.
(June–July) First general elections for the PNG National Parliament return John Momis (Regional), Raphael Bele (Central), Anthony Anugu (South), and Sam Tulo (North).
1978Panguna Landowners’ Association (PLA) organised to press BCL for increase in compensation payments.
1979Villagers protest, and loot the Panguna supermarket, when BCL refuses their demands for increased compensation.
1980(May) Second general election for provincial government, and Leo Hannett defeats Alexis Sarei in ‘presidential’ vote of whole of Bougainville.
(July) PLA representatives sign a new land compensation agreement with BCL, and the Road Mining Tailings Leases Trust (RMTL) is established under the terms of that agreement.
Melanesian Alliance founded.
1981Negotiations between the NSPG and the PNG National Government preparatory to renegotiation of the 1974 Bougainville Copper Agreement, with the Provincial
Government and local leaders demanding transfer of National Government equity, a greater share of tax revenue, an increased rate of royalty and increase in the Non-renewable Resources Fund levy payable to Bougainville.
(September) Panguna landowner roadblock halts BCL production for some days.
National Government rejects Provincial Government demands and re-negotiation of the 1974 Agreement does not proceed.
1982(June–July) second general elections for the PNG National Parliament return John Momis (Regional), Raphael Bele (Central), Anthony Anugu (South), and Sam Tulo (North).
1984(May) General election for the NSPG. Alexis Sarei (Melanesian Alliance candidate) defeats Leo Hannett for premiership.
1986BCL study on tailings disposal options results in proposal to construct a pipeline to the west coast.
1987(May–June) Alexis Sarei resigns as Premier, and NSPG Constitution amended to allow the NSPG Assembly to elect a premier from among its own ranks when a vacancy in the position of Premier occurs shortly before a general election is due, and Joseph Kabui is elected Premier, as a Melanesian Alliance representative.
A New Panguna Landowners’ Association (NPLA) is set up in opposition to PLA.
The ‘Bougainville Initiative’ is announced as a major plank of the Melanesian Alliance’s campaign for the 1987 national elections, involving 3% of total BCL revenue for the Province. Local landowners support it and add other demands for extra compensation, construction of housing, village electrification, and expatriates to replace Bougainvilleans in the Village Relations Office.
(June–July) third general elections for the PNG National Parliament return John Momis (Regional), Raphael Bele (Central), Peter Kungka (South), and Michael Ogio (North).
(August) New Panguna Landowners Association (New PLA) established (with executive members including Perpetua Serero as chairman, and her cousin Francis Ona as Secretary), which challenges the PLA leadership.
1988(March) Panguna landowners demonstrate in support of demand that National Government cancel the Mining Agreement with BCL.
(April) Landowners demand K10 billion compensation for past damage to land and environment, transfer of 50% of BCL profits and/or National Government tax revenues to the Provincial Government and transfer of ownership of BCL itself to Bougainvillean control within five years.
(17 May) Panguna landowners block three access roads to Panguna for 12 hours, halting BCL mining operations for six hours.
(26 May) Landowner demands discussed at meeting of Provincial Government and National Government representatives.
(July) General election for the NSPG. Incumbent premier, Joseph Kabui (independent, but pro-Melanesian Alliance candidate) defeated Leo Hannett and Anthony Anugu, the official Melanesian Alliance candidate.
(July) PNG Minister for Minerals and Energy, Patterson Lowa, Fr. John Momis MP, Raphael Bele MP and NSPG leaders meet at Panguna with New PLA members and other villagers who express their frustration with the failure of BCL and government to deal with their concerns.
(August) PNG Cabinet commissions report on environmental and other impacts of the mine by New Zealand company, Applied Geology Associates Ltd.
(August) New PLA members occupy RMTL offices claiming mismanagement by old PLA executive.
(October) Francis Ona warns that landowner patience is running out.
(18 November) Meeting held with Panguna landowners to discuss report of an environmental impact study on the Panguna mine by Applied Geology Associates, a report which largely refutes landowner claims of chemical pollution, soil degradation, prevalence of diseases in adjacent areas etc., leading to angry rejection by landowner leaders, Francis Ona calling it a ‘whitewash’, and storming out of the meeting.
(22 November) Theft of explosives from Panguna Mine magazine following police action to clear landowner roadblock.
(26–27 November) Series of attacks on BCL property, especially on power-lines.
(December) BCL mining operations halted for several periods by explosions.
(December) PNG Police riot squads brought to Bougainville from Lae and elsewhere to help contain violence.
(December) Raids by riot squads in Panguna area spark claims of brutality.
(December) Notice calling out PNG Defence Force in aid of the civil power published in the National Gazette, though troops not deployed until April 1989.

FYI: PNG’s 4 Regions & 22 Provinces

Region Province Provincial
Highlands Eastern Highlands Province Goroka
Western Highlands Province Mt. Hagen
Southern Highlands Province Mendi
Hela Province Tari
Enga Province Wabag
Jiwaka Province Banz
Chimbu Province Kundiawa
Southern National Capital District Port Moresby
Central Province Port Moresby
Gulf Province Kerema
Western Province Daru
Oro (Northern) Province Popondetta
Milne Bay Province Alotau
Momase Morobe Province Lae
Madang Province Madang
East Sepik Province Wewak
Sandaun (West Sepik) Province Vanimo
New Guinea Islands Manus Province Lorengau
New Ireland Province Kavieng
East New Britain Province Kokopo
West New Britain Province Kimbe
Autonomous Region of Bougainville Buka

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