Nasioi - History and Cultural Relations

It is assumed that speakers of Non-Austronesian languages like Nasioi were the first arrivals on Bougainville and that Austronesian speakers followed later. There is evidence of human occupation on nearby Buka Island more than 28,000 years ago, and a date in excess of 30,000 B.P. for the ancestors of Nasioi seems reasonable. The Non-Austronesian speakers of south Bougainville were distinguished from their Austronesian neighbors by such characteristics as preferred cross-cousin marriage, achieved leadership and, probably, headhunting. Bougainville Island was sighted in 1768 by the French navigator for whom it was named. Beginning in the latter nineteenth century, Nasioi living on the coast were among those Bougainvilleans most frequently contacted by traders and other Europeans because of the natural harbor at Kieta. Roman Catholic missionaries settling near Kieta in 1902 were the first Europeans known to reside on the island, and Imperial Germany (which had claimed the island in 1899 as part of its New Guinea colony) established an administrative headquarters there in 1905. By 1908 colonizers had begun to alienate Nasioi land, establishing coconut plantations and employing Nasioi as laborers. Australia administered what had been German New Guinea from 1914 to 1975, first as a League of Nations Mandate and later as a United Nations Trust Territory. Bougainville suffered severely during World War II under Japanese occupation and the subsequent Allied effort to retake the island. By the beginning of the postwar era, the Nasioi had become increasingly dissatisfied with the colonial situation in which they found themselves. These social disruptions were sharply increased by the construction, beginning in 1968, of a gigantic copper mine on Nasioi land heretofore untouched by European economic interests. Since then, Nasioi life has been characterized by continued rapid social change; by increasing discontent with the mine, with other European interests, and, after 1975, with the central government of Papua New Guinea; and by more and more militant expressions of that discontent. In 1988, what might be called the injuries of colonialism culminated in violence led by a self-styled "Bougainville Revolutionary Army" composed mostly of Nasioi that closed down the mine, resisted forces sent by the Papua New Guinea government, and declared Bougainville an independent state. As of August 1990, a new peace treaty had been signed with the central government, but the future of the Nasioi remains problematic. Thus the people in Bougainville most directly affected by colonialism in various forms have had the most tempestuous modern history of social change in the island.

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