Like Moses Who Led His People to the Promised Land: Nation- and State-Building in Bougainville

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Abstract

This article focuses on indigenous religious beliefs and practices in relation to nationalism and state-building in conflict and post-conflict Bougainville. Since the early seventies, people of the island of Bougainville have sought to secede from Papua New Guinea and constitute a separate sovereign state. The almost ten year long secessionist struggle between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) that eventuated in 1988, destroyed nearly all infrastructure, socio-economic services, and the functions of the PNG state on the island. At the same time, the crisis also brought about the establishment of new local governments, such as ‘The Bougainville Interim Government’, as well as a new Nation: the Independent Republic, later called the Kingdom of Me'ekamui, ruled by BRA leader Francis Ona. This article explores the creation of the Me'ekamui Nation and analyses the religious underpinnings of nation- and state-building in Bougainville, focusing on the performances and normative frameworks used in the endeavor to become a sovereign state.

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