In 1997, peaceful steps began.  Significant factors playing into the efficacy of the process include the following (Dinnen, Porter and Sage 2010): involvement of the locals, including woman and church leaders; powerful external actors acted as a monitoring force and paid particular attention to the specific nuances of the Bougainville conflict, instead of trying to implement blanket solutions that would not suit the culture’s needs; negotiations took their time, focusing on the process and not on the outcome. With the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001, Bougainville achieved autonomy (A. Regan 2008). Conflict still occurs, and peace building efforts need to continue; however, the considerable successes of the story provide us with many lessons to apply to other hybrid conflicts in the world.

Characteristics of Indigenous Methods of Conflict Transformation

The Bougainville story can largely be viewed as a success story of the implementation of non-western traditional indigenous methods of livelihood and conflict prevention, management, and resolution (CPMR). It must be noted that such indigenous methods are not “going back to the way things were” but are instead incorporating traditional values and livelihoods while at the same time recognizing their identity in its place in the larger global context. After years of conflict within the frame of the new hybrid wars, the peace building mechanisms that have proven to be both effective and sustainable are those mechanisms that are valued and created by the indigenous peoples themselves. This is contrary to the intervening CPMR and peace-building efforts of many international aid-focused organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), in which their efforts tend to be latent with ideology promoting capitalism, individualism, industrialization, and westernization. These are values that do not coincide with the traditions, beliefs, values and norms of the Bougainvillean people, and therefore policies and aid efforts coming from such ideologies do not suit their needs.

There are several main characteristics that are unique to the Bougainville security building movement that will be discussed, exemplifying their indigenous non-western nature and effectiveness. These include process versus outcome-based discussions, the involvement of women, a subsistence-based livelihood that is not dependant on the external economy, the inclusion of the community’s voice in decision making, a strong faith providing positive outlooks, collective community responsibility for the deviant actions of an individual, and a focus on restorative justice versus enforcing punishment.

The importance of longevity in solving ethnic conflicts: A major reason linked to the failure of international aid efforts by organizations is that they, usually in alignment with western industrial ideology, tend to be outcome-oriented instead of process-oriented. These organizations tend to go in to the country, work for a short period of time to build security in the region, and then leave without making sure to implement things that will make their efforts sustainable. For ethnic wars, there are deep historical wounds that need to be healed, and that takes time. Throughout the Bougainville peace process, time was taken and the dialogue was framed under a long-term perspective. In New Zealand, dozens of rounds of negotiations took weeks, and the New Zealand hosts made sure not to push a time frame, allowing representatives to adjust as needed (Boege 2006). It was recognized that failure to implement policies often plagues peace agreements, and therefore efforts were made to solidify the implementation of what was said in the Peace Agreement (A. Regan 2008).

The role of women in peace building: Women’s power potentials in Bougainville culture are a fundamental tool that must be utilized in the peace process. Their positions of power most fundamentally lay in relation to the land, as land rights are passed down according to matrilineal descent. Women reserve the right to designate land for personal or commercial use and to draw boundary lines. As women do not fight in battles, they are viewed by young fighters as neutral parties with the roles of peacemaking and negotiating. In 1994 peace talks were held in Arawa between the government of Papua New Guinea and the Bougainville Resistance Army. Hundreds of women put aside their diverse differences and clan allegiances to come together as a Bougainville identified force (Saovana-Spriggs 2003). The majority of women in Bougainville strive for peace due to their faith in God, who provides for them.

The validity of Faith: Bougainvilleans are unified by a strong faith in God. They owe their abilities to innovate and survive off the natural environment to a higher power, thanking God for any amount of blessing they receive. A communal notion of positive outlooks has kept the faith of the Bougainville community alive, always striving for peace and always fighting for their rights. Unlike most westernized industrious societies, in Bougainville, as in many indigenous populations, spirituality is inseparable from the values of the people and their social and political organization. The role of spirituality and mythology in indigenous populations may appear taboo to westerners, but it is a legitimate unifying force worth taking into consideration.

Self-sufficiency, ecological sustainability, and subsistence economies: As discussed earlier, the Bougainvilleans turned inward to solve the needs of their people, instead of relying completely on the external global market and its resources. This not only sustained the population, but also strengthened their collective identity as Bougainvilleans.

Inclusion of the community voice: The United Nations and New Zealand in particular, holding the more dominant power in the capitalistic world system, made efforts to understand the specific nuances of the conflicts in Bougainville. Often dominant powers romanticize the livelihood of the indigenous or aim at implementing blanket solutions that do not suit the cultures values and needs. Women’s groups and Church groups played a strong role in giving community members a channel through which to have their voice heard.

Collective responsibility, Communal life: If a Bougainvillean should act in a manner that is socially unacceptable, their individual actions are tied to that of their kin and collective community. Should another Bougainville indigenous population suffer from the deviant actions of an individual, that individual’s entire community will be responsible for whatever compensation be necessary (Boege 2006). This reciprocal system of collective responsibility is an effective method of social control in Bougainville, deterring negative actions.

Restorative Justice: Chief leaders aim at restoring damaged relationships between individuals and groups instead of the more western notions of using punishments. Punishments are seen as providing more damage where the emphasis should be on healing the wounds of the community through open dialogue (Boege 2010). Bougainvilleans express this method of conflict resolving due to the fact that it better coincides with their traditional livelihoods.


While conflict still exists and CPMR mechanisms are still needed to provide security in the region, the history of the Bougainville conflicts provides us with many positive examples of how indigenous methods of peace-building and social organization CAN efficiently blend with the modern westernized global flows when the hybrid nature of such conflicts is properly addressed. Both “modern” and “traditional” ways of living have to adapt in the process of providing security. The indigenous populations in the world are not isolated from the demands of the global market, and the dominant groups in society must recognize other ways of life in a non-ethnocentric manner. The successes of the indigenous people in Bougainville are exemplified in the documentary “The Coconut Revolution” as the film referred to the story as the “world’s first true eco-revolution”. Lessons learned from the particularities of the Bougainville case need to be applied to the larger works of international relief organizations and conflict resolution efforts.


Boege, Volker. “Peacebuilding and state formation in post-conflict Bougainville.” Peace and Development Commission, 2010.

Boege, Volker. “Traditional Approaches to Conflict Transformation- Potentials and Limits.” Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management, 2006.

Castro, Alfonso Peter, and Erik Nielsen. “Indigenous people and co-management: implicationss for conflict management.” Environmental Science and Policy, 2001: 229-239.

Dinnen, Sinclair, Doug Porter, and Caroline Sage. “Conflict in Melanesia: Themes and Lessons.” World Development Report 2011, 2010.

Parliament of Australia. “History of the Bougainville Conflict.” 2010.

Regan, Anthony. “Bougainville/ Papua New Guinea.” Kreddha: Kreddha Autonomy Mapping Project, 2008.

Regan, Anthony J. “‘Traditional’ Leaders and Conflict Resolution in Bougainville: Reforming the Present by Re-Writing the Past?” 1999.

“The Coconut Revolution.” Directed by Dom Rotheroe. 2001.

Saovana-Spriggs, Ruth. “Bougainville Women’s Role in Conflict Resolution in the Bougainville Peace Process.” Canberra: Pandanus Books, 2003.