An entry in the 2015 Rivers Award
for Writing on Peace & Harmony
AFTER a Sunday service in October, the board of management of the local Haisi school in south Bougainville called for a public forum.
To the surprise and dismay of parents, the head teacher announced that classes at the mission school were to be suspended.
There was uproar and people demanded an explanation, especially since Grade 8 examinations were imminent.
The head teacher said the previous night, while the Grade 8 students were at study, a group of drunken men from nearby villages entered school premises.
When a Board member asked the drunks to leave, one ran at him with a long grass knife. Fortunately the Board member leapt aside and the blade struck a wall.
Many women then voiced their concern and fear of drunks roaming freely in the community and along the roadsides. They told how alcohol had an evil grip on the majority of able-bodied men in their families.
After a lengthy discussion, three major resolutions were agreed by the majority of those present.
Firstly, those involved in the Saturday night incident were to be interviewed, reprimanded and fined K50 each by the village chief.
Secondly, other men who previously had been on the mission grounds under the influence of alcohol, whether creating a disturbance or otherwise, would be identified by their respective Village Authority Chiefs. They would be charged a certain amount to prevent the most recent culprits alleging that previous offenders have been let off lightly.
Finally, the women at that forum agreed to stage a peaceful march to places where jungle juice is brewed. There were three known locations and the date was set for the next day.
It was decided that banners and placards would be written with messages requesting the closure of the brewery. The elderly women who could not travel were selected to be “prayer warriors.”
As it happened, there was a dismal turn-up. Those who did arrive at the mission prepared placards but no protest march was staged on the Monday.
So on the Tuesday morning, a few hardy women with three male companions set off to the breweries. They first journeyed to the furthest village of Hiruhiru where they were informed that, had they gone on Monday, they would certainly had been bashed. The irate drinkers and brewers did not want opposition to their practices.
As the group neared the first brewery, they met an obstacle - the removal of a footbridge. They found a log but it broke, so the group waded across the stream.
The leader of the march spoke to the young men, who admitted that they did brew the potent juice.
As they turned west towards the location of the second brewery, they were bombarded with stones, arrows and sticks from the bush along the road. Perhaps the boys were showing a last attempt at retaliation. The stones and arrows were wide off the mark and no-one was hurt.
The women knew they were up against no ordinary foe. It was the devil himself. So they did not chatter but each journeyed in silent supplication to our Blessed Mother Mary and to her son Jesus Christ.
By midday they reached the second destination. There they found only the females of the family who sold the jungle juice. The marchers talked to the women and asked them not to sell it.
As they travelled towards the last brewery each resumed their silent meditation. They met no resistance and were told that the people there were middlemen. Producers brought them their potent brew and they were the retailers. The women articulated their plea to cease the sale of homebrew and returned to the mission.
Though it may seem a minor thing, the march for peace from homebrew showed what the women are feeling.
They are silent sufferers, bearing their sorrows and fears without complaint even when they see their husbands and their sons becoming addicted and the male-oriented jobs undone or incomplete because, whenever a bit of cash is available, off go the men to their jungle juice. They stop drinking only when the money is exhausted.
JJ or jungle juice is one of the worst destroyers of family life and the cause of many deaths through fights and violent attacks.
The ill-equipped Bougainville Revolutionary Army was able to shut down the largest copper mine and we thought that we were free at last from the white man’s clutches.
However, we have been tacitly imprisoned by what was taught to the young men of Bougainville during the operations of Bougainville Copper Limited: how to make jungle juice. Taught by some white men to their Bougainvillean counterparts.
But we continue to hope and pray that the men will realise the truth and evil of JJ and make a firm choice to say “no”.
The day after the march it was heart-warming to see a group of young men go to Haisi Mission to apologise and reconcile for their past involvement in drinking on the premises of the mission and causing disturbances.
So ends the tale of how the suspension of classes led to the mobilisation of women. The reconciliation resulted in the lifting of the suspension so classes resumed on the Thursday.