A War Was Won with Coconuts And You Don’t Even Know
The thing I love most about our movie nights is that we choose movies we’ve never watched before. This gives us the most raw reaction as we are seeing it for the first time with you. And “The Coconut Revolution” had us questioning everything.
The deeper we dive into our Black History Month movie series, the more I realize the history we learned in school was super biased. SO many hidden heroes we never talk about that literally changed the course of history. Left out “conveniently” because they don’t go along our colonial agendas.
Today, you need to be enlightened on the world’s first Eco Revolution. “The Coconut Revolution” is the modern-day story of a native peoples remarkable victory over Western Colonial power.
It started when giant mining corporation Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ) tried to take over the Panguna Mine on the island of Bougainville. The Europeans came in all smiles and acting like they were doing nothing wrong to this gorgeous island, LA LA LA
Then in no time everything starts to look post apocalyptic. Acres of land laid barren, forests deforested, rivers intoxicated by millions of tons of pollutants. Streams became entirely unfishable, species were allegedly wiped out, and reports of birth defects and other health problems surfaced alongside the visible, permanent damage done to the land. Actual picture of the mine:
So of course, the people of Bouganvile had enough of seeing their environment ruined and being treated as pawns by RTZ. They ask for reparations of their land and to shut down the operation. RTZ refused to compensate them, and keeps working everyday on the land that ISN’T EVEN THEIRS TO BEGIN WITH. These people literally inhabited the island 33,000 years before the British came.
The “Coconut Revolution” begins here in the early 90s when a local community leader and mine employee Francis Ona isn’t about to have his people walked over.
Francis Ona promptly quits his job and takes to the woods to form what would soon became the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA). Ona’s army rallies support in local towns to seize 50 kilos of explosives. Fires start everywhere. Together, they take down the mine’s entire power supply.
Shortly after, riot police were sent in to burn houses down and kill innocent families. Bougainville saw its first and only civil war. Guess who funded much of these military intiatives – RTZ the evil mining company.
Thousands died in this bloodshed, wiping out 10% of the population. Then in 1990, yet another crucial blow was dealt to the Bougainvillian people. Papua New Guinea imposed a blockade on ALL trade into and out of Bougainville.
It seemed like the end was nearing for the BRA. The British were sure they had won and would soon take over Bougainville. However, the BRA turned to their greatest resource which we oftentimes don’t think about preserving today – their environment.
What had started as a fight fought, quite literally, with sticks and stones, had become the world’s first true Eco Revolution. The BRA used only the natural resources on the island, and equipment salvaged from the site of the mine to grow their own food, craft weapons, and practice medicine. They even built hydroelectric dams to light villages. Perhaps most importantly though, they found their own way to convert coconut oil into fuel for vehicles, giving them the mobility necessary to execute guerilla strategies. In addition, coconuts were used for food, skincare, and all their everyday essentials. Their intimate knowledge of their surrounding environment allowed them to stave off starvation, malnutrition, and a military 30 times their size.
The tactic that I was most impressed with in the movie was watching the BRA develop their own chemical warfare from nature! Understanding that they were vastly outnumbered, the Bougainvillains worked smarter to protect their people. They did not have the equipment to create complex booty traps, so what did they do instead? They used old herbal remedies to code patches of leaves. When the enemy walked past these spots in the woods they were silently poisoned.
Over and over again, the government launched attacks against the BRA. In the next decade almost 10,000 soldiers and civilians were killed, making the Bougainville conflict the bloodiest of its kind in Oceania since WWII. In the end though, the BRA’s resistance spelled victory, and enemy forces withdrew in late 1998.
Here is to Francis Ona, and the BRA showing us that the land does wonders if we love it back. Perhaps nature is all we will ever need to survive – or even to win a war. What can we do on a daily basis to protect mother earth?