LEONARD FONG ROKA
THE TONANAU VILLAGERS in the Tumpusiong Valley of Panguna knew that the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) had burned down the neighboring hamlet of Kavarongnau but decided to remain at Tonanau because they knew they were an innocent party because none of their youth was in the bush with the militants.
Traditional beliefs had sustained their progenitors since time immemorial, so the important feast they had prepared for a dead relative had to be executed despite the guns. The villagers, led by the family of the late Itamari, were halfway through preparing for an overnight feasting ceremony when the PNGDF raided and torched nearby Kavarongnau.
In the midst of the grieving family was Ansca Siraori, a young man and relative from Kupe in the hinterland of Arawa, who was helping the mostly women and children with the feast. He had never joined the young men of Tumpusiong who were in the militancy.
Reacting to the torching of Kavarongnau, the villagers sped up work on preparation and sent out messages to distant stakeholders to come to the feast at Tonanau.
“We had 13 to 15 live pigs prepared,” Ansca Siraori told me, as he busied himself with gold panning. “Food, especially taro, was brought in from the slopes around Tonanau.”
On the final day of preparations, Ansca and other men built the pupu, a traditional bamboo cage for feasting where live pigs are kept for slaughtering and distribution.
Along with the preparation of the pigs, the men also built the komu, a wooden structure erected to hold food for the feast like taro, yam, and coconut. In the morning of the feast, the pork is parcelled with this food and distributed to participants. Later the women and children watched as the men climbed the komu and placed the food into position.
During the night the happy villagers rested and looked forward to welcome the invited guests the next afternoon.
Exhausted with the preparatory work, Ansca left the workers early and went to shower and to bed. After the feast he had plans to go home to Kupe.
Early the next morning the women began to sing and cook breakfast. Ansca set sat warming his body near the burning fire on the open lawn as the PNGDF arrived.
Occupied with the excitement and the singing, the villagers never heard the convoy coming to a stop on the main road. They felt their presence only when they stood shouting at them and firing gunshots at houses and animals.
“Olgeta kam sanap lo hia (Everybody move here).”
“A PNGDF soldier ordered us to the centre of the village,” Ansca recalled.
“Kam lo hia yupla laikim gun lo singautim yupla (Come; or do you want the gun to call you here)?”
Everywhere Ansca looked there were PNGDF soldiers wandering about searching for militants. The villagers watched as they shot at their dogs and a few chickens. At the edge of the village, the house where Ansca had been sleeping was in flames.
“I watched in fear as a big Tolai man came and stared angrily at me,” Ansca said. “Then he walked away down towards the main road. In a matter of seconds a bunch of redskin soldiers came back on us; looked me and dragged me out of the group and towards the road.”
Away from the eyes of the villagers, Ansca was beaten. He was kicked, gun butted and banged against the rocks that infest Tonanau before being brought to the road where he saw the long convoy of BCL transport vehicles used by the PNGDF.
Bringing him to the road they directed him to the big Tolai man. So he staggered on with his weak legs that were unable to carry his body. He was also sobbing with tears running profusely.
“Yes, em yu tasol boi blong Francis Ona, ah (So, it’s you the Francis Ona’s boy)?” the big Tolai man asked him as he looked up. “Yu tok, bos blong yu Francis Ona stap we (Tell us, where is your boss, Francis Ona)?”
Ansca could not utter a word and a gun butt struck his mouth and he collapsed on the ground unconscious.
Hours later he woke up at the Panguna police cell. His front teeth had gone and he was bleeding badly so a police vehicle rushed him to the medical centre where he was treated. The medical officers cleaned his mouth and operated on him. They replaced his lost row of teeth with false teeth held in position by a stainless steel rod.
He was then brought to the Arawa police cells to await his court case where the PNGDF accused him of being a close aide to Francis Ona, the militant leader. This accusation was in the Post-Courier newspaper in 1989 with Ansca’s picture on the paper.
In court, Ansca Siraori was found not guilty.
Today, the false teeth and the steel rod that holds them together, remind him of the brutal PNGDF who harmed him. He regularly shed tears thinking about those moments of his life.
Ansca now lives in the Kupe Mountains panning gold in the former 1930s Kupe gold mine to support his kids in school. His first born child is now in secondary school and he hopes that his child will positively contribute in the freedom struggle for Bougainville that he suffered for.