A multimedia journey through Melanesia in the South Pacific, documenting kastom, cult, cargo cult and new religious movements in the region as well as numerous guerilla armies fighting for independence. By photojournalist Ben Bohane. Music by David Bridie and Not Drowning Waving
Here is also an interview with Ben Bohane about Custom and Conflict in Melanesia on Australia Network.
The archipelago of Melanesia from Timor to Fiji has a history of political unrest that continues today. An Australian photojournalist based here in Vanuatu, has spent 15 years exploring the relationships between these conflicts and local custom, on a journey into the spirit world of Melanesia.
Ben Bohane: It’s a fantastic region to work in. It’s all based on stories, you know. Stories is currency here.
Tania Nugent: Photojournalist Ben Bohane has been covering the Pacific – particularly Melanesia – since 1994, when he went to Papua New Guinea to report on the Bougainville War.
Ben Bohane: I came to realise that many, many conflicts that we have in Melanesia have their roots in custom or cult movement. They tend to be dismissed as, you know, wacko cargo cults but in the colonial period these were the movements that became nationalist movements and since independence, they’ve now evolved into other movements reflecting land rights or whatever.
Tania Nugent: Cargo cults emerged in many tribal societies in Melanesia, after they were exposed to the advanced technology and material wealth of outsiders. It refers to the practice of rituals and worship as way to obtain this “cargo”.
Ben Bohane: For an outside audience the first thing I often say is if you’re coming into the region you’ve got do is take of your secular goggles and understand that whenever you’re here you’re in a 24/7 spirit world. You have obviously layers of Christianity and Islam and all sorts of other ideas. Sometimes it veers into what we would call cult and cargo cult movements but that’s just their way of grappling with modernity and all these other ideas that have come in over the last century or two.
Tania Nugent: Ben has donated a collection of 120 photographs, taken over 15 years, to the Vanuatu Kuljaral Senta – 30 are being hung for an exhibition titled The Black Islands – Spirit and War in Melanesia.
Dr Kim Selling, Pacific Islands Museums Association: This is a pilot exhibition, The Black Islands, we’re hoping to make it part of a much bigger kind of touring exhibition around the Pacific.
Tania Nugent: The Pacific Islands Museum Association, has moved its headquarters from Fiji to Vanuatu and plans to take the exhibition to New Caledonia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii – and even to Asia.
Ben Bohane: We’ll be showing this work in Cambodia at the Angkor Photo Festival. I think it’s also important to make those bridges to Asia since many of these Melanesian countries have adopted a kind of look north policy we’re going to see increasing influence from China, India, Indonesia, so it’s just about bringing a body of work that can help a bit more understanding of this region.