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Augustine Karuvi: an epic journey of a Bougainville rebel

LEONARD FONG ROKA | Supported by the Jeff Febi Writing Fellowship

Augustine KaruviWE BOUGAINVILLEANS STARTED the civil war that killed thousands and it is we who must now lead the younger generation to attain a better life in a Bougainville that is free from all forms of suppression and exploitation.

In 1988, the young men who initiated the anti-Bougainville Copper and anti-Papua New Guinea militancy in central Bougainville were mostly those who had hardly reached high school.

A good number of these men were involved in criminal activities thus when Panguna erupted, they were there.

One such youngster was Augustine Karuvi (pictured) of Koiano in the Kokoda constituency of Kieta.

Karuvi was a student who decided to walk out of the classroom to join the fight.

The young Augustine Karuvi left school in 1989 at age 17 to fight. At the time his area, which was referred to as Koromira, was a safe-haven for some of the pre-crisis rascals.

His fighting career was halted by the 1990 ceasefire between the PNG security forces and the militants. 

In 1991 he returned to attend a school operated by the weakened North Solomons provincial administration, but it closed in early 1992.

Also in 1991 the reckless Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) arrogance caught up with his extended family, which included a cousin serving in the Papua New Guinea Defence Force. The BRA claimed the family was still communicating with him.

Hence Augustine was tortured along with some of his male family members.

In that same period, his next cousin, a defected police officer, Joseph Miarama Kasika, was killed by locals at Rotokas in Wakunai when he arrived on the scene where a band of BRA men had been stirring up trouble.

Augustine was a lost youngster for whom there was no hope. He was trapped.

Then in 1992, the Papua New Guinea Defence Force landed at his home on the Toimanapu plantation.

Augustine says the PNGDF captured this location as strategic position to try and quell the BRA boats that darted into the Solomon’s Choiseul province for humanitarian help in the midst of the Australia-backed total blockade of Bougainville.

After this event, and out of loyalty to the Bougainville cause, despite his previous treatment Augustine joined the BRA group of his home, Koiano.

His first action in the BRA was at the Toimanapu PNGDF camp. This camp hosted some local families who surrendered to get medical assistance. This operation saw an early dawn raid on the PNGDF and it resulted in the death of a popular BRA fighter, Eperi, from the Kongara area.

After many other operations, Augustine’s next major engagement was against the PNGDF’s operation to clear Bougainville of all rebel areas, code named as Operation High Speed, around 1996.

Augustine was at the former Aropa International airport defending his land from invaders in an engagement that took nearly a week until the PNGDF was driven back to Arawa where they caused the death of two Bougainvilleans—a BRA man and an innocent Kongara child who was fishing.

To Augustine, witnessing the loss of that child with a long future ahead of it, was devastating. “Truly I was fighting a genuine cause for my island and people,” he said. “We were victims of ill treatment of our home by foreigners that did not respect us.”

The kid had come to fish in Aropa before the fighting began. As the exchange of gunfire began, tracer bullets fired by the PNGDF confused him so he darted downstream and was captured by the enemy.

His body was retrieved by Augustine and four other BRA men a day later, buried with hands tied behind back. He was tortured to death and sustained broken bones and knife wounds but no bullet wounds.

After this incident, Augustine continued to fight the PNGDF until they withdrew, unable to face the determined BRA fighters.

As the BRA was gearing for a massive final assault, scouts reported that the invaders were nowhere to be seen.

In the BRA rush to scavenge where the PNGDF had been positioned, a booby trap exploded and killed another of his comrades, Nathan Matebai, a BRA legend of the late 1990s.

Despite being exhausted by the Aropa operation, Augustine went straight to another attack on Toimanapu. Here the BRA engaged the PNGDF for a week.

This fight, once again in his home area, ignited on a Friday. “We engaged the PNGDF with care to let them waste their Australian ammunition,” he told me, “and when it felt like they were done we could move in and slaughter them.

“But things really went not the way we wanted.”

On the Sunday morning, it was Augustine’s group’s turn to disturb the enemy. They engaged the PNGDF and exchanged fire. With a partner, some 50 metres away from the PNGDF line, Augustine were struggling to figure out the location of a machine gunner when the firing caught his friend. He died instantly and Augustine called a BRA soldier from Buka Island and they moved the dead man to safety.

Early next morning, the PNGDF wounded BRA general commander, Ishmael Toroama, and the operation to flush out the invaders from his home was called off.

Augustine Karuvi feels good that he had contributed to resist his island’s subjugation and exploitation by foreigners.

With this in his heart, in 1997, when his enemies, the PNGDF, were withdrawing from parts of central Bougainville, he went on to attend Arawa High School and continued on to Bishop Wade Secondary School.

From here he enrolled in Business Studies in Rabaul and in 2005 was employed by a local Arawa company in Bougainville.

In 2006 he joined the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church to become a priest.  In 2007 he was posted in the Gizo Diocese in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, a posting he completed in 2009.

“I took a boat from Gizo and went straight home instead of wasting time going to Port Moresby and to Buka,” he laughs. “This is my home island and it is one of the many reasons many Bougainvilleans died as we tried to regain our rights as Solomon Islanders.”

Augustine and his family were originally from the northern Choiseul Island of the Solomon Islands and were newcomers to central Bougainville just before colonialism.

From 2010-2011 he attended Bomana Catholic Theological Institute and now he is an ordained Dominican brother in the Order of Preachers and has just completed an English Language Arts course at Divine Word University to venture more into learning and become a good Bougainvillean.

To him, Bougainville’s future depends on people who make a sacrifice to be educated despite the fact that they are over the required age of sitting in classrooms and often laughed at by those who did not see the impact of the Bougainville civil war.

But we have to cuddle our traditional values and move on from the cruelty of history to make a new free Bougainville for our future generations.


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Patrick Mallinson

Amen! Thanks for a great "behind-the -scenes" story. Seeing this young man make it through such hell and end up in university is heart warming.

Having traveled up and down Bougainville in the 60's working to improve basic education it makes me decide that it was not in vain.

Mrs Barbara Short

This is a great story Leonard. I always had a feeling that a lot of the trouble in Bougainville was caused by young immature men/boys with fire in their bellies but little understanding of the whole situation.

I'm amazed that Augustine could settle down to high school studies so soon after his experiences of much dangerous fighting with the BRA and with the fact he had lost so many of his comrades.

It is heart-warming to hear that Augustine's Christian faith and the Catholic Church have given him the strength to go on to become a Dominican brother in the Order of Preachers.

It is wonderful the way Augustine has "gone back to school" while he is much older than the other students, and it is good that he has been accepted by the younger students.

I wish him well, no matter where he ends up. But I do hope that he will be preaching "the futility of war". There is another way to sort out these sorts of problems.

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