LAE - My father was assassinated by the rebels in Bougainville on 23 August 1993. I left Bougainville at the end of November that same year.
The war had begun many years before; my father had been faithful and loyal; but still he died. And we hid in the jungle and waited.
Then the day we longed for came. As I write this, so many years later, it seems like yesterday that the Papua New Guinea Defence Force set foot in Oria.
With my late cousin Kiatui and our younger siblings, we had gone to collect galip nuts at Aukunu gardens, a large piece of land belonging to the Kokinai family, my cousins.
We collected the nuts until around 3pm, in Bougainville pretty much late in the afternoon, and made our way home through the dense forest and then the cocoa trees. We hurried, telling nonsense jokes in our mother tongue to keep up our spirits.
At the time we did not know that Bravo Platoon from Wewak, under the command of Lieutenant Nelson Rapola, had heard our laughter and taken cover in the thick shrub and undergrowth.
When they heard of my father and his cousins’ assassinations, the platoon had walked all the way from Buin to Oria.
As soon as we arrived at my family’s hamlet, Nakomai, we heard the best news we had longed to hear during those months we had been fugitives in the jungle.
“Hey, the PNG Army has arrived and they are at Lonbeno.”
My cousin Kerosi brought the news to us as we were about to put our ahotos [heavy knapsacks] in the thatched kitchen.
We looked across the airstrip from the veranda of our house and saw men in uniforms walking towards the youth hall. The one leading them, the lieutenant, was tall, well-built and light-skinned.
They were guided by my uncle, Dandava Tukunoe, who had stood beside my father when he was gunned down on the Luluai bridge.
Dandava led the soldiers to the youth hall next to the Oria Adventist Church. All the village folk assembled there, greeting the visitors.
The redskin soldiers had tears in their eyes when they met the hospitable Orian people for the first time.
There was gunfire for the next two days as the PNGDF moved against the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, but what God has allowed cannot be stopped. The PNG army took over the Oria stronghold.
Before the week ended, services and goods returned to Oria. Choppers landed, supplying loads of store goods. People from surrounding villages arrived to seek solace and protection.
The people of Oria welcomed everyone with a smile. The Oria Care [refugee] Centre was born. Cocoa trees were chopped down and the airstrip got cleaned up. Later, Air-Link planes started landing.
After three years of blockade and being fugitives in the jungle, I felt that I would taste chips and chicken again, and drink an icy cold Coke.
But the first insight I got was that, when people came to the care centre, all they wanted was peace, nothing more.
I was able to leave Bougainville while the war still raged, but for many years after I was a wretched woman with a huge hole in my heart. I was very much affected by the war.
I couldn’t understand why brothers were killing brothers. I couldn’t accept the fact that my father, who had donated his shotgun and a .22 calibre rifle to the Bougainville freedom fighters, had been killed by his own.
These years were heartbreaking as I tried to cope in Papua New Guinea. There was so much anger, and an overwhelming sadness I didn’t know how to handle.
I found a new solace through writing and have written for the last 20 years. Writing. A complete release that has made me accept and forgive those responsible.
My father was a believer in his land. A paramount chief he had a heart for his people of Pauluaku, Bogisago, Rukauko, Paghui and the whole Wisai area. He was a full supporter of Bougainville island’s sovereignty.
War confuses people and makes the worst come out in them. This is something I have come to realise and have accepted.
My father, Nehemiah Gray Potoura, his cousins, Sila and Tunu, plus uncle Joel Naisy, were the first to go in Oria. I never knew that many more would follow, but so many followed. All my people lost to their land.
The blood of more than 20,000 Bougainvilleans has splattered these islands by both armies during the crisis. The land coloured like their skin. I appeal to all Bougainvilleans to vote right on what belongs to us all.
I want to thank Bravo Platoon for setting foot in Oria, answering the prayers of many Christians who cried for the bloodshed to end. Your arrival cleared way for students to travel across the Solomon Sea to PNG to get educated. I did that and attended university.
Whatever, happens to Bougainville, whatever road it takes, I wish for peace to reign. Only peace among the same people of Bougainville.
I will always love Bougainville and PNG. I am a cut between the two.
Many years ago, on my journey to recovery, I wrote this poem. It poem has been read and pondered in the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand.
It is dedicated to my beloved father and to all the innocent people who were died in Bougainville. May forgiveness reign among all peoples of Bougainville and may the souls of those mercilessly killed rest in peace....
Thus embedded in my heart
Dawn came as a curse
Grandpa mist dragged them in
Not his fault though
My awakening that stood still
For Rifles’ rule I saw!
Came hurdling at my door
Sleepy eyed, I witnessed
Nest I called home destroyed
Ransacked to ashes and ruins
Scattered, as I fled and escaped
Rifles fired over my head!
Mothers held their daughters hands
And wept, as the distance closed
Fathers and sons bounded
As they bled and cried
‘Leave our daughters be’
‘Leave our mothers be’
Rifles whacked them!
Brotherhood and colour
Came all to nothingness
Bloodlines and dynasties
Disrespected and destroyed
Love, respect and honour
Erased by the power of rifles!
A long march you took
Beaten and disgraced
No court, no magistrate, no judge
Heard your case
A man without summons
Sentenced by the mandate of rifles!
Two sons turned away
Their backs they gave you
Not hate, not cowardice, not fear
It was love, it was respect, it was admiration
For blood was about to be shed
As rifles were raised and aimed!
For on the bridge you stood
Bravely, powerfully, peacefully
A man sentenced without a hearing
A failed constitution, a failed court house
A failed race, a failed lineage
Gift of life ended!
Rolled over that bridge!
Like a criminal!
Like a murderer!
Like a convict!
Like a nothing!
Innocence; twice proven by Divine powers
By One who Created! Magistrate!
By Only Life Giver! Judge!
Crocodiles’ mouths He shut!
Like lions of Daniel!
Rifles ruled; Creator is Ruler!
Now, you rest dear papa
Laid in your own soil
Ground you walked on
Coloured like your skin
Land you loved and treasured
Home of your ancestors
REST IN PEACE.