Independent declarations: Attributions of peoplehood in news narratives
Throughout the colonial and postcolonial history of Bougainville (North Solomons Province from 1975 to 2005, Autonomous Region of Bougainville thereafter) people have asserted their sovereignty against the Papua New Guinea (PNG) state in many different ways, from demands for land rights to unilateral declarations of independence. In the 1970s and 1980s, Arawa Bulletin, a community-owned nonprofit magazine, bore accidental witness to many of these struggles for recognition, including a clan’s dispute over public use of its land in 1987 and the outbreak of a secessionist war in 1989. News narratives from this period apply a strategy for attribution of people’s political claims in which provincial government officials are delegated a role as co-narrators of events. In the provincial officials’ narratives, popular sovereignty has two faces—primordial and civil—which only local government can harmonize. The elite model promotes institutional reform, but erases alternative modes of political consciousness.
(This paper was accepted for publication in Signs and Society on March 17, 2022, and will appear in print in the November 2022 issue.)