Will the old Lae please stand up again?
Girl from Bougainville versus Mining Giant

The heart can kill, or it can liberate

Leonard Roka holding coconut
Author Leonard Roka is now a farmer and educational entrepreneur in Bougainville


Award-winning author Leonard Roka is the brother of Theonila Roka Matbob. He was among the 15 losing candidates who stood in the seat Theonila won in the recent Bougainville election. This story was originally published in PNG Attitude on 29 November 2015

BUKA - At the peak of the Bougainville Crisis my father was gunned to death while my mother struggled to save his life as she confronted blood-hungry Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) men from our own Kieta society in Central Bougainville.

So it was that great inhumanity murdered my dad, John Roka, who so loved Bougainville and his Bougainvillean family. Inhumanity was perpetrated in the name of Bougainville freedom.

This was an irony so grim, exterminating a man in betrayal of Bougainville and of the peace and harmony the BRA was fighting for.

The BRA had a gun to kill my dad; and a gun is not a living thing that can react to every stimulus with assertiveness to restore or destroy.

I, along with my four siblings, had living and changing hearts that reacted with disbelief and trauma to the cruelty the BRA did to us.

We knew every word and every action of these BRA men as they struggled with our mother to kill our dad.

Using the laws of the land, we knew what to do to those men when the Bougainville referendum was held and the result known, whether it was independence or not.

Every man we met across the land said to us, “Those BRA men and leaders who have taken the blood of your innocent father will have to pay for their cruelty.

“Just sit and wait for the time when you will hold them up by the ears to answer to the law.”

John Roka
Leonard and Theonila's father John Roka - assassinated by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army in 1993

But over that time since the year 1993 when my father was killed in the name of freedom, our pain and suffering was the curse of the BRA men who had taken his life from him and from us.

As victims who lost our daddy, we made it through the educational institutions one after another – and with excellence - while hardly any offspring of those BRA men who took our father down had a son or a daughter in the education boat.

The boat that is now the only hope for Bougainville peace and harmony.

As victims we can now talk and write openly and freely about Bougainville independence while the BRA men hide in their backyards destabilising a fragile peace while pursuing their own interests and benefits.

As time went by we, as victims of the Bougainville Crisis, began to access power in Bougainville spheres of influence. We provided services to the Bougainville peace building and recovery process.

The men who killed our father in the name of freedom were pushed to the periphery of Bougainville development.

Our hearts sobbed for them.

“See those BRA men….

“During the peak of the Bougainville Crisis they fought to save us and our land but now, under their own peace agreement, they are fighting over cars, money, personal prestige and power.

“They are becoming corrupt and deviating from the focus of our years of political struggle.

“How do we save them? How do we bring them back to assist our island’s struggles? As victims let us open our hearts to them in reconciliation and peace so they can have meaning and see the culmination of what they fought and suffered for alongside us, as we all were Bougainvilleans.”

Yes we felt sorry for the BRA men who killed our father. They had no future in them as former soldiers of Bougainville freedom.

Their own children were not soldiers of Bougainville freedom in the many educational institutions in Bougainville and Papua New Guinea.

We knew by heart that, everywhere in our encounters with them, they were melting away in guilt while we were free and advancing.

But these were our fellow Bougainvilleans, our partners to hold hands together in building this new Bougainville.

Unity was our only strength. As a victim of the Bougainville Crisis, who was I not to open my hands to reconcile with and save the BRA man who killed my father?

Nature knew I had suffered in the name of Bougainville freedom and was rewarding me with blessings in accordance with the pain I had endured.

For the BRA man, nature was punishing him for all the pain he had inflicted upon me. But he was a Bougainvillean and I needed him by me to help save Bougainville.

All of us—victims and perpetrators—are Bougainvilleans and our island needs us all for its betterment. Reconciliation was the way; reconciliation was our pathway to peace and harmony throughout the island.

Over the years the spirit of reconciliation for my late daddy, John Roka, has cried in our hearts. We his children heard it; the communities heard it; our leaders heard it; and the BRA men heard it.

The spirit of reconciliation told the BRA men to say sorry to us, John Roka’s children, and it told us to be open and free in accepting the killers of our father with peace.

For when we give peace we save our fellow Bougainvilleans and gain more blessings and good from the nature that owns and creates life.

So on the day of our recent reconciliation and retrieval of the remains of our late father, none of us five Roka children nor our mother broke into tears.

We did not weep while exhuming the tomb of our father, nor when we stood in front of the killers of our father, nor when we spoke to them.

We, the Roka family, as the victims, and the BRA men, as the perpetrators, when reconciling did make Bougainville proud; we did give it more energy to move forward in search of its lasting peace and harmony.


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