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Listen, learn, respect – all so simple yet too hard for some

Katua Niugini - the story of the mine at Pangkirangku


Site of Pangkirangku (Panguna pit)PANGKIRANGKU WAS A HILL situated at the location of the present day idle Panguna mine pit in Bougainville. Pangkirangku (later turned into ‘Panguna’ by colonisation) was the hunting ground for the Guava and the Moroni people who mostly intermarried each other.

Oral history says that the area was colonised by the people not in one wave but infiltrated by individual people, especially through marriage.

It happens that a family can be a first settler of a territory. Later, as they increase in numbers and emerge as a clan, the young men go back to the place of origin to seek a wife for a male son and she is brought to Moroni.

She settles with her new in-laws and expands the clan. In due course, her children inherit land through the many land ownership rites of passage known to the Kieta people of Bougainville.

But with the dawn of the Bougainville secessionist and anti-mining conflict in 1988, the militant leader, the late Francis Ona, had publicised that he was the major landowner of Pangkirangku. This was a negative a taint on the identity of the true owners of Pangkirangku.

Ona belonged to the Kurabang clan but his group of immigrants into Guava village was second in the line of migrations. (Measuring migration waves in oral history is fluid. They might be just a generation apart or decades.) Ona’s ancestors entered Guava from the southern Orami area, where the first PNGDF soldier was killed around 1989.

The first group of Kurabangs that entered and colonised the Pangkirangku and Guava areas came from the west in the direction of Onove and Evo. Thus the first group owned much of the Pangkirangku ridge that hosted the ore bodies that attracted CRA to mine it in the 1960s and sparked the Bougainville crisis that killed thousands of innocent Bougainvilleans.

Anthony Ampe at Arawa market (Rodney Banas)Ona’s line of immigrants came into dominance in controlling land as they produced more female members in what is now Panguna. The original immigrants, family members of the brothers Dumenu and Anthony Ampe (pictured) of which more below, produced less females – who are the powers and owners of land in the Kieta society.

Seeing this unfortunate development, the members of the original immigrants began to transfer ownership to the second wave of settlers. In this process the family line of the late Francis Ona came into dominance in decision making in the Guava-Panguna area.

In the first wave of Kurabang, just before World War II, were born two brothers, Dumenu and Anthony Ampe.

The brothers were the rightful and inarguable chiefs and owners of the vast proportion of the customary land in the ridge and braes of the Pangkirangku.

As children, the brothers and their siblings enjoyed the jungle, wild rivers and gardens. Later, in 1950s, the eldest Dumenu became referred to as a retard. But he was a prophet.

In this state of mind, he left Guava and erected himself a makeshift shelter a safe distance away to the west of the main village on the Guava-Kokore ridge.

There, close to his abode, he selected a high point on the trail and began digging the earth with his bare hands like a child. Days he dug and nights he dug. When travellers encountered him he would cry, ‘I am destroying your beautiful land and your future is not good’ and laugh.

Dumenu died a few years before the arrival of Ken Phillips, the CRA geologist who officially discovered the copper mineralisation on Pangkirangku.

His young brother, Anthony Ampe, took over the fight against the CRA and BCL operations from the 1960s through the 1970s and into the 1980s.

He was notable as the only landowner who faced the money-tyranny with verbal attacks, tears and the use of his body to block equipment from moving. In every work location, his resistance was felt.

He protested solo in the work places and the offices. His famous act in the mining gossip of Bougainville was in the early 1980s.

To the north-east of the pit was the sacred site belonging to Ampe’s family line, this was the boulder locally called Kontemoi. The company was blasting the boulder to pieces from the southern cliffs when Ampe confronted the workers.

He stoned the machinery and the operators and engaged police in a fight in which the muscular Ampe prevailed.

After some minutes he got himself on top of a rock the size of a 200-litre drum that was being pushed by a bulldozer. This act halted progress. There he stood weeping and verbally attacking the workers who were lost for words from the weight of guilt and shame.

From morning to sunset he kept pushing the rock with his full body mass until it was gobbled by the soft earth.

Having disturbed the operations, he left for home and continued his verbal attack at the main administrative block then known as the Pink Palace.

To this very day, the mention of Pangkirangku in Anthony Ampe’s presence hurts him and he cries freely. The mining, like his brother had psychologically affected him for life. His name for Papua New Guinea is Katua Niugini (in Nasioi meaning ‘Incapable New Guinea’.


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Mosika Waike

Masika aung, you have rare insights on this.

Joe Wasia

Leonard this is a heart-breaking story. I loved reading it.

Could you please write one on how the Bougainville crisis occurred in the 80s. I haven't read a book or an article regarding this, and would really interested to know how it happened.

I really appreciate you, brother.

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