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My Story: Out of war, the passion & power of writing

Leonard Roka's favourite photo2 - LEONARD FONG ROKA

MY FATHER WAS FROM UNEA (commonly referred to as Bali) Island in the Witu Island group of the West New Britain Province of papua New Guinea.

As an auto-mechanic apprentice in the Panguna Mining School and in his work at Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) Light Vehicles Workshop, he had many Bougainvillean friends.

Dad met my mother (a blood niece of Bougainville leaders, the brothers Martin Miriori and the late Joseph Kabui), an Arawa High School student, in the late 1970s.

They married and I was born in 1979 at Arawa General Hospital. A young man, Leonard Fong from Hoskins in West New Britain, decided I should inherit his name.

In the early 1980s, my nuclear family left our home hamlet, Kavarongnau, in the Panguna District’s Tumpusiong Valley and resettled in the mountainous Kupe area inland from Arawa where Bougainville’s first gold mining operation existed in the early 1930s.

My family reclaimed a piece of land my grandmother had previously purchased from her in-laws, the family members of my grandfather.

In the mid-1980s my father resigned from BCL and aligned himself with a religious life at Kupe and in 1986 I began my formal education at Piruana Village Tokples School, a pre-school located between Arawa and the Kupe Mountains.

While in school an illness attacked that nearly had me paralysed and dead. My grandmother and others declared it was a attack from our spiritual masters for having missed a required initiation so I was taken to live with an old woman relative at Parakake on the Port-Mine (Loloho-Panguna) access road.

Whilst I was here, for the whole of 1986, father went to do his catechist training at Mabiri Ministry School some 20 kilometers north of Arawa. Then he began working as a catechist in the developing Arawa Parish with the late American, Fr Gerard Palettea.

After completing my traditional healing process, I began schooling at Peter Lahis Community School in Arawa in 1987.

Practicing his church work, dad was also a member of a community group known as Matau Nerinaving that was pressuring the North Solomons Provincial Government to remove the New Guinean squatter settlers.

This was group had been created by the people inland from Arawa whose land was being taken over by urbanisation and slums.

On weekends I attended Matau Nerinaving meetings with my father.

In 1988, I was doing Grade 2, when PNG police brutality sprouted against my Bougainville people. In 1989, with the crisis intensifying, dad left Arawa to be close to the rest of the family in the Kupe Mountains.

My brother and I were transferred to Kaperia Community School, dwelling with our relative, the late Joseph Kabui, then premier of North Solomons.

In late July 1989, the Kupe villagers were evacuated to Kaino village, my brother and I attended school there until 1990 when the Australia-backed PNG blockade on my island was enforced and services were shut down.

I witnessed the whole Bougainville conflict. I lost my father in 1993 when he was shot by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA).

My father and his religious life had tended to deny me exposure to my people and culture. But his death opened me to learning our way of life and to be a man. I mingled with my people and learned skills like building houses.

In 1994, after hearing that the PNG Defence Force wouldestablish schools in Arawa where a care centre was being built, my mother led us out to Arawa at midnight in order to evade BRA elements. We arrived safe and a month later the PNGDF attempted to recapture the Panguna mine.

The next year, with the late Theodore Miriung leading a peace-building effort in Bougainville, I resumed school at what was formerly the Bovo International Primary School until 1996.

By this time, my religious mother had remarried another religious man from Panguna.

From 1997 to 2000, I was at Arawa High School. In Grade 7, teacher William Mania from the Eastern Highlands ordered us to write poems every day and Kiwi author and ornithologist Don Hadden was my English teacher for three consecutive years.

In 2001 and 2002 I was at Hutjena Secondary School where the freedom got me drinking and womanising. In 2003 I attended the University of Papua New Guinea with a dream to study literature. Here also I had my first piece of poetry published by University News.

This period was interrupted by my unofficial departure from the university in 2004 due to a personal financial crisis.

Taking up part-times jobs I then remained in Bougainville for almost seven years before enrolling at Divine Word University. This period also took my family back to the Tumpusiong Valley since back in Kupe, our hamlet and gardens had been looted and destroyed.

I purchased second hand roofing iron in Arawa, hired a chainsaw man and built a semi-permanent four-room house in a desolated hamlet in the Tumpusiong Valley out of Kavarongnau. My Arawa family began heading into Tumpusiong adding more houses to my creation.

I led the family by planting a 3,000 cocoa tree plantation on our land in the Bana District in South Bougainville. Leaving this to the other family members, I then created a plot in another area at Tumpusiong where I erected my second house. I was to expand this site from the 500 cocoa trees but my coming to DWU interrupted the work.

My desire to come to DWU was not generated by my will to study but by a book that carried the words ‘Published by the DWU Press’.

Having written a collection of 18 short stories and over 100 poems during my seven years at home (I had exchanged letters with author Dr Steven Winduo at UPNG who advised me to write the 100 poems but I later lost contact with him), I thought if I went to DWU as a student maybe it could help my urge to write.

It did not work out the way I thought it would but my 2011 Communication Skills lecturer, Mrs Aiva Ore, in her lectures mentioned blogging as an avenue of self-publishing and that captured my attention.

After her lecture, I went to Google and conceived a blog that bore my own name, Leonard Fong Roka. In the course of that same fortnight, looking for support information for my blog, I discovered the Crocodile Prize that eventually led me to PNG Attitude.

Writing for PNG Attitude since 2011 has made me feel a lot like a writer; and there has also been much improvement in my writing. But more is yet to be done. PNG Attitude is a venue where I decant my thoughts, stories and dreams to a wider audience.

School work is the great impediment for me to dominate PNG Attitude with my writings and improve my writing skills, or even work towards a novel or any other type of book.

I am currently bogged down with an autobiography of my Bougainville crisis experience as well as an anthropological work recording my family history. A rough version was in the Crocodile Prize 2012 Anthology, and Crawford House gave me positive feedback after reading it.

I have confidence in myself that before I die I will caress a book with ‘by Leonard Fong Roka’ on the cover and leave behind a legacy of a pile of writings - in PNG Attitude’s words - being a ‘lonely Bougainvillean voice’ for Bougainvilleans to love or hate.

Comments

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Maryanne Hanette

A young talented Bougainvillean who has a heart for his people. You are the voice of the younger generations of Bougainville.

A humble friendless man I could not believe would write such stories. Your story inspired me a lot.

As a young Bougainvilean I salute you for the great job done. And I hope your stories have influenced young Bougainvilleans out there.

Keep shining Leonard!

Kaludia Pirit

Mr Roka, I think it is not by mistake that you were born to a mixed parentage of AROB and WNBP.

I extremely enjoyed your article and I congratulate you for your job well done as a great Papua New Guinean thinker and writer.

PNG is really fortunate to have people like you. Therefore, I encourage you to continue your good work and be the best and always the best in your writings.

I certainly look forward to purchase a book published by 'Leonard Fong Roka'.

Sedrick Moka

Growing up and being raised in a family and region where there's conflict, violence and fighting going on, it is not that easy to survive as one would imagine.

One would say,"Is it by mistake that I was born to this place or was it by choice and by purpose".

However a person struggling through that type of life and his about to experience success, would not only recall his hardships but would have a better story to tell.

Therefore Mr Roka I believe you have a better story to tell the people of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea.

Joel Tauko

This man comes from a politically popular family and on the land, his family again is a famous one because they control land areas in Kupe (in land of Arawa); Pakia (on the port-mine access road);in the Tumpusiong Valley (home base);in the Bolabe Constituency (Nagovis); Kaspeke (beyond Paruparu) and the Latu Constituency of Bana District.

Leonard really needs to capture the story why his family controls many customary land rights in a big area of Bougainville.

He'll do it, I know.

Joyce Bagi

Wow! Leornald I nearly mistaken you from a BRA..anyway your writtings are great,you have the power to do more and am sure our book that is yet to be publish would be a interesting one.Iam sure I would be around by the time you have the book lie on you in your coffin,so I could steal it!ahah Good prediction.
Writting is a very good hobby that you are engaging in,am sure you will have alot of interested sponsers to help with your amazing stories.Its really eye catching seeing your articles especially the ones on Bougainville Island.Keep it up bro we need people like you to move Bougainvilleans forward..

Joel Tauko

If we look at Bougainville today, LFR seem to be the only man going deep fearlessly to issues affecting the island.

If he is not in school, I believe, he will rule. Writing is more a part of his life. He is a thinker; I see him talk less.

You see him on the lawns of DWU running around as a poor man and friendless. But the energy inside him is terrific!

Great voice of Bougainville. Now having more connections with people in Bougainville and outside. Even important people on Bougainville are feeling his power of writing.

Scam operator Noah Musingku in Siwai was also over the break trying to get in touch with him.

Fine works of LFR needs to be exposed to Bougainvilleans.

Rozabell Hota

Wow! That is a very stunning story. The moment I started reading the first sentence really got my attention. It is very interesting reading this kind of story.

For people like Leonard who grew up in such life and is a witness of the crisis, helps them to strive for better in life.

A very courageous person like you encourages us to practice writing and builds our knowledge of writing. Not only that but, it persuades us to express our views or stories through writimg.

A very nice and interesting article!

Michael Dom

Your story is fascinating Leonard.

And your contributions to literature are invaluable.

More.

Joe Wasia

A wonderful biography, Leonard. People will come to you for information. Be a greater writer as writers are great thinkers.

David Wall

Leonard, thank you for your interesting piece on your background and ideas. I can see that you have a great writing future ahead of you.

Leonard Roka

Thanks Corney K Alone for your words of encouragement.

Am always walking low with a stock of dreams and the road seemingly is heading there.

And now, slowly, my influence is creeping into the realms of Bougainville society. I think I will realise a handful of my dreams soon.

Talking about influence. Recently, a certain ABG employee was shocked by one of my articles in PNG Attitude of developments in his village after it was printed and handed to him.

He drove to my village in search of me. He was told, 'he is in Madang but during the break he walked into your valley to hunt for information'.

The man told my uncle he will behead the old man who welcomed Morumbi Resources Inc into his area.

He called me by phone and I told him: 'You leaders are leaders in the ABG parliament and you just do not know your own people and that is why you a shocked by my story'.

He was a notorious BRA commander before the peace process and now plans to be my link into the house.

Corney K. Alone

Hi Leonard, That background picture looks a bit strange :).

Yes indeed! You are a writer, a thinker and a leader in your own right.

Believe in yourself and don’t lose faith in your late Catechist father’s God.

Thanks again for telling us who you are. You have been a constant inspiration for many readers and writers alike at PNG Attitude.

I would also like to read that book written by a Papua New Guinean first - and a Bougainvillean second - from you.

“My Mother Calls Me Yaltep” by one of our famous national and Simbu statesman, Sir Ignatius Kilage, was my first reading book (written by a PNGean) at community school. It inspired my reading.

Who knows, you may be able to inspire (in fact you are doing that already) a lot other youngsters everywhere.

Coupling your West New Britain connection (linkage), you may be the "Ignatius Kilage of Bougainville" who will lead a pool of talented writers from that part of the region.

Sir Ignatius Kilage may be one of the reasons why we are seeing a lot of young articulate and talented writers like Jimmy Drekore, Michael Dom, your fellowship sponsor Jeffery Febi, Bernard Yegiora and others coming out of those magical limestone enclaved mountains and fast flowing rivers of Simbu (that partly answers a question that was posed here recently :) )

Aside from learning new things and ideas, writing and reading develops critical thinking. You are a leader, Leonard.

If no one else has told you this already, let me be the ribbon cutter in your life to tell you that.

You have already shown leadership traits there with your "others" - new ground-breaking in building houses and planting cocoa trees and the like.

Continue to keep up with your artistic flair in writing.

You are fortunate to be at Divine Word University (DWU) - an educational institution in PNG that is leading the country with learning through ICT.

Telikom PNG continues to be proud of being associated with DWU. That high speed fibre based internet link to the world is being put to great use.

Your lecturers, the likes of Mrs Aiva Ore, Bernard Yegiora, my classmate from Anditale High School - Fr. Dr. Robert Plews Laka and others there are also proud of you.

You will soon begin to have a lot competition coming from UPNG in this literary contest - as they have been enabled with high speed internet service by fibre too.

As a sponsoring family member of SWEP, my wife and I would like to congratulate you on your many writings so far and look forward to reading more this year and the years to come.

Keep thinking, writing and leading, Leonard!

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