Nauru: A dog barked but was not heard. It barks yet

Our sacred land and the lies, suffering & death


ON 14 SEPTEMBER 2012, the blog New Dawn on Bougainville reported a story entitled Situation tense in Bana after a person was killed in the Jaba area of Panguna as a result of a conflict that started some three months earlier.

The conflict was a land related issue at the former Bougainville Copper Limited’s farm site at Mananau, purchased and settled by the Nagovis mountain people of Damane in the hinterland of the Bana district.

The crisis and death of the late Kakaleu was over a piece of land that over time had passed through a number of hands. Thus, as we know of oral history, it had been subjected to ‘addition and subtraction’ over time.

In my observation, both the killers and the killed were victims of an issue that went wrong somewhere down history lane, affecting a generation that adopted wrong stories and wrong land boundaries.

After a long period of confrontation over the piece of land, Kakaleu knifed Poarima, his rival, and some of his family members, seriously wounding them. Then he fled into the Tumpusiong Valley where he was occupied with alluvial gold mining.

His victims were hospitalised at Buka and survived to come back for him.

After a brief search, he was identified by a spy, and Poarima, armed with guns and knives, raided Kakaleu’s hideout in the morning hours, catching him off guard occupied with his gold panning tasks just below my hamlet.

Kakaleu was shot and then slashed with bush knives as pay back.

To get deeper into the conflict, a little insight into the nature of the Nagovis area, where my roots are, to give some underlying factors to many issues of conflict related to land; issues that are causing death through killing and sorcery.

Wikipedia claims that the Solomon Island of Bougainville was settled some 33,000 years ago. If so, these recorded dates should refer to south Bougainville where oral history says the majority of us in central and north Bougainville originated.

From here people went into the mountainous areas of Damane and beyond into the Kongara area of Kieta; people went into the Banoni and beyond into the Torokina; people crossed into Panguna and more. All these prehistoric movements began from Nagovis.

This history makes Nagovis a volatile region to the changes triggered by the movement of people; there is an imprint. That scar carried Nagovis into the era of colonisation, when the Germans established copra and cocoa plantations on Kekereka, what is now Arawa.

But modernisation interrupted that movement and people settled in stable village lifestyles. But the Nagovis area, under modernisation, had other factors that kept people on the move.

Around 60-70% of the Nagovis land is a plain starting from the coast. A large portion of this plain is made up of marshland with patches of fertile land. The marshland, as you might expect, is thinly populated but it is the largest land area of the Nagovis.

Linked to this is a thin line of fertile and over populated land that stretches parallel to the Nagovis marshlands starting from the Panguna area and ending in the hinterland of the Baitsi area near Siwai. Most of the Panguna to Siwai highway is located within this belt.

This overpopulated and fertile land is the product of ages of erosion of the steep Damane mountains which build to create one of Bougainville’s highest peaks, Mount Takuang.

The main villages that make up the Damane area are Sipi, Okaru, Sikoto and Siandaro.

The Damane people, being in an economically hostile environment, have invested in the marshlands of Nagovis where the population is thin. They buy land and settle here on their cocoa blocks and operate retail outlets and even transport businesses.

They also operate retail outlets in Arawa, Panguna and all corners of Bougainville. They make up the majority of the alluvial gold miners in my home, the Tumpusiong Valley.

But as I observe the Nagovis transmigration from the Damane to the marshlands of Nagovis, there is a lack of permanency. People move to and fro, thus creating avenues of problems.

I asked some of these Damane people, who were my clansmen, the stories of the land purchasing in the plains and was told that buying land in the plains existed into pre-history.

This extended into modern times and skyrocketed after the 1970s. This created room for liars to impinge boundaries and create new boundaries; con men to fool the original landowner that he is a relative of the man who bought land from him years ago, or a rascal who sells off land.

So conflict is now centred on these shortfalls of land and, in Bougainville, where there are guns, man has to suffer and die.


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