Moses Havini: leader of struggle for Bougainville’s autonomy

Jim Beatson | Sydney Morning Herald

MOSES HAVINI 1947-2015

Moses Havini speaking at the opening of an exhibition of artwork by his wife, Marilyn, in 2004. Behind Moses is a painting of members of the Autonomous Government of Bougainville. Photo: Anna Pha

Moses Havini speaking at the opening of an exhibition of artwork by his wife, Marilyn, in 2004. Behind Moses is a painting of members of the Autonomous Government of Bougainville. Photo: Anna Pha

Moses Havini, like his namesake, was a man who had a date with destiny. They shared the same cry: “Let my people go.” Neither man lived to see the fruits of his labour realised, but Havini’s struggle for Bougainville as an independent country was fundamental to its destiny.

People meeting Havini were instantly engaged by his intelligent, self-effacing honesty, passion for justice with honour, and sense of humour. At his 50th birthday he announced: “I don’t really know if this is my birthday. The local missionary just turned up one day and declared I was born on the 5th of June. But it’s a good excuse for a party.”

Moses Havini, officially born on June 5, 1947, was from the Nakas clan and son of the paramount chief of the Naboin clan on Buka Island, the northern tip of Bougainville. In 1972, he was Bougainville’s third graduate (BA from the University of Papua New Guinea).

Moses Havini was dismayed by the lack of concern Australians displayed for his homeland's plight.

Moses Havini was dismayed by the lack of concern Australians displayed for his homeland’s plight. Photo: Anna Pha

His story is also incomplete without discussion of his wife, Marilyn (nee Miller): a gracious extrovert, passionate Christian, committed woman’s rights advocate, art teacher and artist.

She explains:

“I became aware of Moses at a Christian Conference held at Melbourne’s Monash University in early 1971 when I was 20. He came as the editor of UPNG’s Christian student newspaper.

“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.

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 became a private student and graduated in record time.

Marilyn consulted clan leaders across Bougainville before winning the PNG competition for a Bougainville flag.

Although he was a graduate in law, Havini, knew that Bougainville, 1000 kilometres west of Papua New Guinea, was historically, geographically and culturally the principal island of the Solomon Islands. It had become a province of PNG in the mid-1890s as Britain, Germany and the US exchanged scraps of empires.

It became part of German New Guinea and was taken by Australia at the start of World War I. It was taken by Japanese at the start of World War II, and later by Americans, who handed it back to Australia as a UN Trust Territory.

In 1971 and ’72, Havini 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 also famously “captured” the PNG education minister, Sir Ebia Olewale, and took the minister 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 his promise.

Havini’s dedicated and unpaid work for political representation to PNG for Bougainville led to his appointment by the nine local government councils in the province as their executive officer in setting up district government.

Gough Whitlam’s government wanted to grant independence quickly to its PNG Trust Territory, and was committed to preventing it from becoming a “failed state”. Whitlam believed the vast profits of the Panguna mine on Bougainville could prevent that outcome, but only if most of PNG’s slice of the negotiated agreement with the miners went to the Port Moresby government.

Havini and much of Bougainville’s population had other ideas. But first, on a Fulbright Scholarship, Havini visited America in January 1975 studying government and administration. He returned to tightening tensions between PNG and Bougainville.

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, Havini 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. Havini, 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 Havini’s appointment as Clerk of the Assembly, 1977-81, then Speaker of the Provincial Parliament Assembly, 1982-85.

The uneasy rapprochement with PNG ended in 1989 when villagers blew up two power pylons carrying electricity to the Panguna mine. Further conflict followed and within months the mine was closed.

In January 1990, Moses, Marilyn and their four children fled Bougainville and moved to Sydney.

As Havini was married to an Australian citizen, PNG’s request for his deportation as a “terrorist” was unsuccessful. For the next 15 years Havini, living in Sydney, was the representative of the Interim Government of Bougainville for the region and the world.

PNG’s Defence Force received Australian-supplied helicopters and patrol boats to blockade Bougainville, where cerebral malaria was endemic. The struggle to create an independent Bougainville was on, turning quickly into a long, bloody, war, but one with no doctors or medical and food supplies.

Connected to his homeland only by satellite telephone and fax, Havini learned the arts of diplomacy with the UN, media, Australian and regional politicians. He attracted supporters to build an Australian political base, the Bougainville Freedom Movement, when Australian progressives were more motivated by events in East Timor.

A decade later the Bougainvilleans again learned that although they had won the war with PNG and set up the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), the victory had little meaning if no country recognised the winner.

So Havini decided his focus was to encourage a just peace between Bougainville and PNG. He made representations to the United Nations Human Rights Council, supported by Bougainvillean delegations. These efforts were also supported by the many women’s groups on Bougainville that Marilyn had helped to create. They charmed foreign minister Alexander Downer to take seriously the need to support a New Zealand initiative to set up peace talks. These led to the Bougainville Peace Agreement, where Havini was a key member on the ABG’s side. It decreed that all armed personnel should be withdrawn from the island by December 2002.

Havini also became adept at providing the detailed briefings needed by good journalists. The Australian correspondent of London’s The Times, Robert Cockburn, discovered the ADF member who had came up with the concept of the medieval-style blockade of the island and later wrote the related stage play, Hotel Hibiscus. Another journalist started a campaign to collect medical and other supplies in Australia for the beleaguered population – an idea copied across state capitals. Fred Hollows became one of the collectors while the ABC’s Mark Corcoran said his visit put him onto a career path that would drive his life.

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

In August 2013, Havini was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and returned to Sydney for treatment.

The head of New Zealand police’s Bougainville Peace Team, the clerk of the NSW Parliament and PNG’s high commissioner to Australia attended his Sydney funeral and he received a state funeral on Bougainville.

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.



Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

2 responses to “Moses Havini: leader of struggle for Bougainville’s autonomy

  1. ChrisB

    Thank you for your vision and selfless service.

  2. Speech: Moses Havini tribute, 15 May 2015

    Speech: Moses Havini tribute

    15 May 2015 | Lee Rhiannon
    Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (26:23):

    On another matter, a great Bougainvillean and a warm, generous friend of Australia, Moses Havini, died on 2 May this year. Moses, chief of the Nakas clan, was the third university graduate from the Bougainville Island. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in law and politics in 1972 and a Fulbright scholarship. He also completed his Master of International Studies from Sydney University in 1994. I met Moses in the early 1990s when he was leader of the Bougainville Freedom Movement based in Sydney. At the time, my colleague Carol Sherman and I were setting up AID/WATCH, a watchdog on Australia’s aid program, and Moses launched our organisation in the New South Wales parliament. We often spoke about the problems with Australian aid and how that program was managed and how it needed to change considerably.

    Moses was also the Bougainville Interim Government representative from 1991 to 1998 at the United Nations and later he became the director of parliamentary committees the parliamentary services for the Autonomous Bougainville Government. As part of his work reporting to the United Nations, Moses issued a number of reports. He set out some of the great tragedies that occurred on that island because of the activities of Conzinc Riotinto, one of the world’s leading mining giants. When that company set up with the assistance of the Australian government, not one equity share was offered to the people of Bougainville or to the landholders whose land was taken for the CRA mine. Australian mining legislation was used to give legitimacy to this company that took over so much land of the local people.

    In 1995, Moses Havini made a report to the IWGIA International Conference on Indigenous Peoples, Environment and Development. He reported that close to 10,000 Bougainvilleans-men, women and children-had died from the lack of medicine and from the war. This was a huge tragedy-a tragedy from a war being waged on Australia’s doorstep that was rarely reported in this country. This is where I have to pay great credit to Moses because of his tireless work in this country, knocking on the doors of parliamentarians and working with small community organisations and with unions to speak about what was being done to his people, because there was a complete blockade at one point-land, air and sea. The suffering was extreme. The Papua New Guinea government was working with this giant mining company, Rio Tinto, and the deaths and hardship were enormous. But through the struggle, through the leadership of people like Moses, life did change. These were Moses Havini’s words in 2005, when there was the birth of the autonomous Bougainville again:

    It was a very special time; a lot of people had tears in their eyes as the flag went up just as sunrise was breaking through from the Eastern horizon.

    He was there with international observers to observe the election and assist with the formation of a new government. The independence struggle was something that was very dear to Moses Havini. He sacrificed much of his life to bringing this story to the world.

    I extend my condolences to his four children, Ricka, Torohin, Solomon and Taloi, and his wife, Marilyn. Marilyn Havini was his partner through this struggle, through assisting people to gain some sustenance during the blockade, and also in bringing the story to the people of Australia. I give my special appreciation and my special condolences to Marilyn, who I also got to know in the 1990s. It must be a very sad time for her and her family.

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