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Bougainville: assassination & requital

RebelsMARLENE DEE GRAY POTOURA

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.

SoldiersThe land they loved and cherished so much. And now the referendum is on and my heart weeps.

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....

Panguna freedom fighterWhen rifles reigned

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
Rifles fired!

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.

Comments

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Marlene Dee Gray Potoura

Thank you all for your heart warming comments. Thank you for being my friends here on PNG Attitude.

This blog is where my voice continues to be heard.

When you find something that you need to do to continue living: then do it.

To me, it is my writing. I write, so I can continue to live.

Arthur Williams

Thanks Marlene for fleshing out the sad emotional back story so often now described in the media merely as the ‘Bougainville Civil War'.

Just three cold heartless words that describe something that was far from civil and which has left its mark on so many persons many unknown in any media or official reports nor beyond the homes of its victims.

Sean Dorney expressed it so well in the few words of his post on this topic. Sadly I suffer occasionally from what my friendly critics say is ‘verbal diarrhoea’ but that never gives me the proverbial....

Indeed I’m still squat, not on my WC but by my PC as a dedicated key-aholic; so for me it’s a laxative of enjoyment.

Just like many other artists who have composed, painted, sculpted or written with no commercial goal being part of their efforts. With fame may come fortune but there are quite a few tales in history of artists of all genre who have destroyed their work or works.

So start writing now or just continue writing. Here are some reasons by Shannon l Alder at
www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/stories?page=3

Choose one, two or all! I liked the last and several others.

“I write to find strength.
I write to become the person that hides inside me.
I write to light the way through the darkness for others.
I write to be seen and heard.
I write to be near those I love.
I write by accident, promptings, purposefully and anywhere there is paper.
I write because my heart speaks a different language that someone needs to hear.
I write past the embarrassment of exposure.
I write because hypocrisy doesn’t need answers, rather it needs questions to heal.
I write myself out of nightmares.
I write because I am nostalgic, romantic and demand happy endings.
I write to remember.
I write knowing conversations don’t always take place.
I write because speaking can’t be reread.
I write to sooth a mind that races.
I write because you can play on the page like a child left alone in the sand.
I write because my emotions belong to the moon; high tide, low tide.
I write knowing I will fall on my words, but no one will say it was for very long.
I write because I want to paint the world the way I see love should be.
I write to provide a legacy.
I write to make sense out of senselessness.
I write knowing I will be killed by my own words, stabbed by critics, crucified by both misunderstanding and understanding.
I write for the haters, the lovers, the lonely, the brokenhearted and the dreamers.
I write because one day someone will tell me that my emotions were not a waste of time.
I write because God loves stories.
I write because one day I will be gone, but what I believed and felt will live on.”

Arnold Mundua

This is one of the most powerful stories that I have ever read.

Only last week, one of my colleague foresters based in Bougainville put something on Facebook (that he had never mentioned to me over the long years after the crisis) that brought me to tears.

This is the second of such stories after the crisis. Mi sore tru olsem dispela samting i kamap.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Marlene Dee Grey Potoura is a very talented writer. Whether her stories and books are aimed at adults or children they invariably land in exactly the right spot.

She can write about tragedy with deep feeling and humour with a whimsical mischievousness. In short she is an accomplished and skilful writer.

However, like many writers the world over she handicapped by the realities of her trade. Success as a writer unfortunately depends upon commercial opportunities.

In Papua New Guinea the existence of such opportunities is effectively zero.

In Australia the average annual income of a writer is about AU$12,900. When you take into account the outlays required to make that piddling amount it doesn't even add up to a fair rate of pocket money.

No one has calculated the average annual income of a writer in Papua New Guinea but I would guess that if they did it would be a negative amount.

In Australia a few writers who don't achieve economic success nevertheless enjoy a degree of critical success. Their books are read by people who appreciate fine literature. Critical success is a fine offset to commercial success, which often tends to be of poor literary quality.

Many of Australia's most famous writers struggled throughout their lives and often died in poverty but they at least had the satisfaction of knowing that people were reading their books.

In Papua New Guinea there is not even the attraction of critical success to spur writers on.

Literature in Papua New Guinea does not even rate a mention in the pantheon of success. Success in Papua New Guinea is almost wholly predicated on the accumulation of wealth.

Writers stand no chance in such a predatory environment.

Marlene, like many Papua New Guinean writers, started out with great expectations. She was hopeful of making a few kina out of her books and stories but if that wasn't possible she was prepared to simply accept some form of critical appreciation.

Neither of those things happened. She didn't make any money and apart from a small coterie of fans received little recognition for her work.

And yet she continued to write, just like so many other Papua New Guinean writers continue to write. Marlene and those other writers all now know through bitter experience that their love of writing will bring them no rewards, monetary or otherwise.

Their motivations are many and complex but are driven firstly by a love of literature and secondly by the knowledge that if they don't do it no one else will.

In all their stricken circumstances they represent the soul of Papua New Guinea. It is a soul that is in dire need of nurture.

Bernard Corden

Dear Marlene,

An extremely emotional article that has sent me searching for my copy of Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones.

Well done.

Sean Dorney

The more people write about their experiences the greater will be the knowledge and understanding of those tough years.

Dianne Laugier

How it all whirls in your heads and hearts - both those in Bougainville AND Papua

Trusting their/your vote, brings solace, long awaited

My heart with you all

Kenny Pawa Ambaisi

So sad

Caroline Evari

Nothing but goosebumps and tears as I read. A strong and powerful article.

I instantly connected with your father through his first name as my youngest son's name is Nehemiah - a name I gave because Nehemiah represents bravery.

May his name and legacy live on through your writing.

Betty Gabriel Wakia

This is the most heartfelt piece I ever read on PNG Attitude. 😥😓

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