Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Are You Reeling in the Years?

March 23rd, 2011 · 5 Comments

Those commendable souls who frequent this space may have noticed Microkhan’s recent obsession with Papua New Guinea. This is by accident more than design, I assure you; the endlessly fascinating linchpin of Oceania simply has a lot going on these days, to the point that it has become a topic of much conversation in America’s halls of power.

Expect Papua New Guinea’s name to become ever-more prominent in Western circles, due to the possibility that the long-shuttered Panguna copper mine on the island of Bougainville may finally be reopening. One of the richest mines in the world in terms of reserves, Panguna closed down 22 years ago, amidst a supremely violent conflict between a Bougainville liberation movement and the PNG government. Now that conflict has simmered down, and key power players on the island seem willing to make peace in exchange for a cut of the mine’s future revenues. Needless to say, both the U.S. and China are keenly interested in this development, as they battle each other to be first in line for the world’s mineral wealth.

But Panguna’s reopening is no foregone conclusion, as there are remnants of Bougainville’s insurgency who are unlikely to get on board with whatever plan emerges. Chief among these is Noah Musingku, who calls himself King David Peii II and clams to rule a royal kingdom on Bougainville. Though commonly dismissed as a con artist, Musingku strikes me as something more irrational—a man who, though certainly interested in bilking investors out of money, earnestly believes he can reinvent Bougainville as some sort of utopia. Exhibit A in this lunacy is his ongoing effort to get Bougainville to ditch the Grigorian calendar in favor of one of his own design. As he explained in a speech last year:

Let me summarize my short speech by giving a brief explanation of the new U-Vistract calendar system. Many of you still do not seem to understand our calendar system although we are already in the midst of its third phase. The names for the 12 months were taken directly from the Book of Revelations Chapter 21. There are 12 foundational stones of the New Jerusalem City. The first month is Jasper, second is Sapphire, third is Agate, fourth is Emerald, fifth is Onyx, sixth is Carnellian, seventh is Quartz, eighth is Beryl, ninth is Topaz, tenth is Chalcedony, eleventh is Turquoise, and twelfth is Amethyst.

The first day (Lightday) falls on Wednesday of the conventional calendar. Second day (Skyday) falls on Thursday; third day (Plantsday) falls on Friday; fourth day (Solarday) falls on Saturday; fifth day (falls on Sunday; sixth day falls on Monday; seventh day (Restday) falls on Tuesday…

The UV calendar starts in the month of Jasper (July). Here in Siwai district where the UV system originated/is headquartered, the word ‘year’ is called ‘Moi‘ in our local tongue. Eg. If you are 30 years of age you are said to have ’30 Moi ‘. This year is 2010 AD. In the Siwai /Motuna language we would say “this Moi is 2010 AD”. The word for Moi is derived from the Siwai word for “Galip Nut” tree which bears fruit every year in June/July depicting a new year. A year or Moi in Siwai/Bougainville therefore, begins in the month of July (Jasper) and ends in the month of Amethyst (June).

You can download the whole calendar here, if you’re so inclined. Suffice to say, rulers who have attempted to make arbitrary changes to the calendar have not fared particularly well over the long haul. I’m thinking of the folks behind the French Republican Calendar and, more recently, the revolting Turkmenbashi. A wise man accepts that certain innovations have lasted for a reason, even if said innovations were created by a detested “other.” Plus the small psychological benefits of showing the world your mastery over time surely pale in comparison to the drawbacks of being out of temporal sync with every source of capital on the planet.

In any event, have a nice Lightday today, which I believe falls in the month of Chalcedony.

(Image via Ilya Gridneff)


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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    I’m guessing you’ve heard the Radiolab episode about Time? If not, they have a pretty fascinating section about the politics of uniform time:


  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: Missed this one–will check it out, for sure.

  • PJ

    Bougainville and the other Melanesian islands were, of course, the home of the original cargo cults. Their extreme isolation and episodic contact with the outside world launched some pretty eccentric explanations for how Westerners behaved – inculding the idea that things such as cars, planes, canned food etc were dug up from the ground and that white men knew where the treasure was buried. Musingku’s repugnant harvesting of the savings of poor Papua New Guineans through his u-vistract ponzi scheme was a manipulation of his compatriots’ lack of sophistication. I worked in development in PNG when he was stealing people’s life savings through the scheme, and to discover that he’s still around, still scheming in the same way, and hasn’t been dispatched by some traditional PNG retributive justice angers me immensely.

    Kudos for paying attention to that part of the world.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @PJ: So many thanks for the insightful comment.

    It will be interesting to see what the current talks over Paguna reveal about the political situation in Bougainville. Holdouts such as Muingku have little to gain from the deal, but I wonder whether they retain the resources to stymie the deal (i.e. followers willing to use violence). A fair deal could bring a lot of benefits to Bougainville; that said, the locals do have legitimate grievances regarding how the mine was run in the past, and those will need to be addressed honestly and openly.

    Here’s to things working out this time. Bougainville is certainly due a fortunate break.

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