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The true tale of the yellow rocks of Andru Johanna

Lutheran Shipping, Voco PointARNOLD MUNDUA

An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Government Award for Short Stories

A bulldozer constructing a logging road through Andru Johanna Forest near Kandrian exposed a rich deposit of rock. The heavy greyish-yellow rock glittered in the direct sunlight.

Immediately in the minds of everyone who saw it flashed the word ‘gold’.

Soon the discovery was trumpeted to every ear across Arawe territory and, within days, a gold rush was on and every able-bodied person from all walks of life rushed to the site located 50km into the interior of Melenglo Island, close to the base of the Whitman Range.

In the week that followed the everyday routines of the local people and company employees changed. Log production plummeted as the workforce diverted its attention to the yellow rocks. In Kandrian, public servants malingered from work to try their luck.

Local entrepreneurs equipped with portable generators erected makeshift tents and went into business trading basic store goods to feed the hungry multitude. Day and night there was hardly a moment of rest as prospectors and miners from far and near searched and dug every inch of the prospect.

As the days slipped by, countless stories from unconfirmed sources about the handsome returns a few fortunate miners were earning from the yellow rocks did the rounds of Kandrian.

The excitement soared each time a new story reached Arawe land and, soon after the discovery, the yellow rocks of Andru Johanna were being openly traded for goods.

Many small time businessmen with high expectations traded their merchandise for the yellow rocks. In Kandrian a bottle shop owner reportedly gave away eleven cartons of SP for them. Public servants and other interested people who could not reach the digging site offered cash for them.

The true excitement came when 16 immediate Arawe landowners from near the discovery site set out to sell their yellow rocks in Lae.

With an agreement between them and Tom, an Arawe trade store owner in Kandrian who was also a tambu (in-law) to the miners, the Arawes sailed out of Kandrian on MV Nagada for the Morobean capital.

Tom was promised a handsome percentage of the profit from the sale of the yellow rocks in return for financing the entire trip.

Elated, Tom paid the fares for everyone in the group and made sure none went hungry during the trip. He also took care of light refreshments sold on the ship and made it his duty to see that none of his 16 tambus took a break from lighting a fresh cigarette.

Deep inside his imagination, as the ship splashed across the Solomon Sea, Tom thought of a brand new Toyota Hilux and a new banana boat fitted with a 40HP Yamaha engine after he collected his promised share from the sale of the yellow rocks.

The MV Nagada docked at Lutheran Shipping’s Voco Point wharf after 24 hours at sea. The Arawes quickly disembarked, careful not to be followed. They checked in at the Salvos guest house in Eriku. It was cheap at two kina a head but, noticing the lodging was provided in an open space that made it too risky to be robbed of their precious cargo, they vacated it for a safer location.

The new place in Taraka was an unoccupied home of a highlander. There was security fence surrounding it and rooms with doors and everyone felt safe. However their host, upon learning that his guests were in the city for a big deal, increased the rent.

When he disclosed the increased rate to the Arawes they welcomed it with open arms. “Be cool, that is no big deal,” they told their host. In return their excited highlander host tightened up security.

The dawn of a new day brought much excitement to the Arawes. Many refused breakfast until after the sale of the yellow rocks. In a perked up mood they entered the University of Technology campus and stood at the entrance to the Analytical Laboratory before 7 o’clock.

The excitement intensified after eight when the yellow rocks, hidden in tightly sealed bags, were taken into the laboratory for testing and identification.

But it did not take long to get the results. Less than five minutes after the yellow rocks were taken into the laboratory, a lab technician emerged and waved the excited Arawes across to him and broke the news that the yellow rocks of Andru Johanna were cuprites, or fool’s gold, and of no value.

Chaos reigned amongst the disheartened Arawes. But no one spoke a word. With no Plan B they were lost and confused. When asked to take their rocks away, the Arawes told the lab technician to keep them until they returned.

At Taraka their highlander host, learning that their yellow rocks were fool’s gold, pressured the Arawes to pay their debts and get out of his sight.

With great reluctance Tom paid the bill. He had brought with him a substantial amount of cash to purchase trade store goods for his canteen in Kandrian and diverted the money to pay the rent.

With his dreams shattered Tom realised he was now faced another nightmare: to get his 16 in-laws safely back to Kandrian.

There was no weekly shipping service to Kandrian so at K80 per head Tom purchased tickets for the Kimbe route. But, added to the list of misfortunes, the ship was not to depart Lae for three days and so, after three more unproductive days in Lae at Tom’s expense, the Arawes finally boarded MV Kondor for their journey to Kimbe.

Tom never did purchase the cargo for his trade store because he was already turning his wallet upside down.

In Kimbe, counting what was left in him, Tom hired a Toyota Dyna to transport the 16 Arawes to Amio where they finally reached home by dinghy. 

Before boarding the Arawes went down on their knees and promised Tom to repay what they owed him after selling their copra.

But, as it turned out, it was the last time Tom saw and heard from his golden tambus, as none of them ever fronted to express gratitude and fulfil the promise.

The incident became an almost forgotten experience … as were the yellow rocks of Adru Johanna.

Story based on a true incident that occurred in the 1990s related to the author by Tom


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John Kaupa Kamasua

Fools gold, laka?

A story with a good lesson for all!

Arnold Mundua

Yeah, definitely bro. Francis...I lived among the Arawes in Kandrian for 3 years (1999-2003) and found them to be a unique ethnic group.

They like to crack jokes and do things without any seriousness only to regret, joke about it and forget if what ever they are doing goes wrong or does not turn out as planned or expected.

There many funny stories linked with the Arawes and many who are familiar with this group of people will agree with me. Thanks bro.

Francis Nii

The Arawes seem to be the funniest characters in the New Britain like the crocodile in the hotel room and this one; ha-ha the Arawes!

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