Redskins Trapped in Bougainville, 1942–43

The Japanese remained at Tinputz for three days before embarking for Kieta. Apparently their objective had been to carry out a beach reconnaissance for construction materials and anything else that might be of value to them. After the enemy departed, we resumed the journey to Porapora and reached Lumsis the first day. Besides the Aravia natives, the people of Lumsis remained loyal to us until the very end. I decided to set up a base in the mountains behind Lumsis—a place to fall back on in case Porapora became untenable.

While we were at the village, another problem presented itself. Natives living on the island who were foreign to Bougainville—such as people from New Britain and the other islands, were known locally as “Redskins.” The term derives from the fact that their pigmentation is somewhat lighter than that of the average Buka and Bougainville native. There were a hundred or so of them working in northern Bougainville when the Japanese invaded the islands. The subsequent departure of their employers left the Redskins more or less stranded, and the local natives did not want them hanging around the villages. It was a drain on the food supply and invariably became a cause of domestic strife. The people turned to me to solve their dilemma.

The Aravia and Lumsis natives were very amiable. I was able to purchase a block of fertile land from each community and settled the Redskins on the property. However, in return, I asked them to serve me as carriers or laborers whenever called upon. They willingly agreed to the proposal. Incidentally, practically all my police boys were Redskins.

SOURCE: Coast Watching in WWII: Operations against the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, 1941–43, by A. B. Feuer (Stackpole, 2006), p. 119

Some resentful Bougainvilleans like to observe that the Papua New Guinea flag represents their relationship to the rest of PNG, with black on the bottom and red on top.

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Filed under Australia, Japan, Pacific, Papua New Guinea, war

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