LEONARD FONG ROKA
PANGUNA – “When election times comes around,” a Kanauro community leader exclaimed, “I see our three sitting members in parliament are really friendly to us.
“But when they are in power, they are really angry looking. “I fear them.
“So how can I tell them that the Kana people of Paubake need a trafficable road?”
The Kana people of South Bougainville had just voted for Bougainville’s independence. They saw road access to the outside world as vital.
These villagers have long complained for someone to upgrade the tractor track shown above, known locally as the Oruru Road, that bogs vehicles in the rainy season and passes for their connection to the outside world.
The three kilometre track runs through parts of Kanauro down to Nakorei. It is only trafficable by four-wheel drives during dry periods.
In 2017, after talking for a long time, the villagers decided to write their pleas. They took the form of an eight-page letter signed by 199 villagers.
It was addressed to the regional member for Bougainville, Joe Lera, with copies to the member for South Bougainville, Timothy Masiu, and the member for Paubake Constituency in the Bougainville government, Jacob Tooke.
So it was written and signed but it took a long time to deliver. Eventually the Kana people decided to hand it to the MPs’ offices in September 2019.
The people of Kana Ward are mainly subsistence farmers. Cocoa, seasonal in these parts, is their only cash crop. Other produce like wild fowl (eggs and meat), possums and fish intermittently supplement cocoa as a money earner and, when available, make their way to Buin Market.
The most affected village is Nakorei and its more than 2,000 people. The land here is a waterlogged plain, its agriculture dictated by the wet season.
Before the Bougainville crisis of 1988-1997, the main coastal trunk road from Siwai to Buin passed through Nakorei. However, continuous silting of the Silibai and Porou rivers led to a re-routing by the government.
This change denied the Nakorei people of ready access to vital services.
“Our only reliable road would be the Oruru, if the leaders can help us,” they say. “The land here is not so waterlogged, it is stable.”
The Oruru Road runs through no marshland nor does it cross unpredictable waterways. The route is drained by many streams.
According to the people, the Oruru Road did capture the government’s attention at one time.
“Some years ago,” they say, “the technical team from the Buin District Office did some assessment. But they have not told us what has happened, even though we have regularly informally talked about the enterprise with the current member of parliament, Hon Timothy Masiu.”
This talk about the upgrading of the Oruru Road has gone on for a very long time. Now their only hope is that their leaders Jacob Tooke, Timothy Masiu and Joe Lera will look at their signatures and act upon their plea.
“In terms of development we are stagnant not because we know nothing,” they say.
“It is because we do not have all-weather road access. Vehicles fear entering our area during the wet season. Thus we are left out.”
For me, a Panguna man, the Nakorei people’s cry is the longest I have known.