By Leonard Fong Roka
On 18 March 1993, Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) commander Steven Topesi led a group of about 30 fighters to kill my unarmed and innocent father. The group were sent a message by other BRA men and village elders from then our home, Kupe Village in North Nasioi Constituency, claiming that they had discovered and captured a PNG spy.
After a brief struggle with my mother, Therese Pokamari, who was protesting and protective of her husband, Steven Topesi fired the M16 round that penetrated his skull from the face. When he had landed on the ground and gasping for breath another BRA man, Hendry Dupinu, finished him off with a .22 rifle round through the chest twice.
After 22 years, I and my siblings with our mother stood face-to-face with Steven Topesi and two of his men Diutepa and David Lompu (Hendry Dupinu was represented by his uncle) to reconcile for the good of our Bougainville.
We reached the reconciliation venue in Arawa Town’s Section 6 on 9 October 2015 and there were ABG parliamentarians, former ABG politicians and other respected leaders including former BRA fighters and resistance fighters.
Disembarking from the transport, I scanned the area for the BRA men I have heard since 1993 (recorded in Chapter 7 of my Bougainville Crisis memoir, Brokenville) and with whom I was to hold hands.
Back in 1993 my family gleaned that Diutepa (the elder brother of Steven Topesi) was the man who fired the first shot at my father’s head, followed my Hendry Dupinu.
I was occupied trying to figure out the men when the call came for my family to take one side of the ceremonial venue while the 3 BRA men took the other side for the ceremony to begin.
They lined up at one end of the venue. The ceremony began the cultural way known in Nasioi as the karekara (coming home or peace); we had to exchange betel-nut and chew. After that we all marched to a newly dug up hole and spit into it. Then a senior person in the gathering places a rock on the spittle and the contents are buried signifying that the row is over.
After the sharing and chewing of the areca-nut came the moment of sharing and eating of food between us the victims (me, my siblings, our mother and the other West New Britain relatives) and the perpetrators (the 3 BRA men and the Henry Dupinu’s uncle) while the gathering watched on.
After the session of betelnut and food came the final part of the event and that is the shaking of hands; the giving of dukuu (Solomon archipelago shell money) and some cash by the perpetrators to my family.
I and my sister, Theonilla, represented our Panguna family and our late father’s sister, Helen Devoku, represented my late father’s family on Bali Island, West New Britain. On the BRA side stood Steven Topesi, his brother Diutepa and David Lompu.
Topesi, who fired the initial shot at my father, led the way to my aunty Helen Devoku. They took each other’s hands; and Topesi sobbed his remarks. His emphasized message was that my father had greatly invested for the good of Bougainville through us his children who have so far climbed higher in education.
My weeping aunty who had travelled all the way from Kimbe for this moment wept her acceptance. Then Topesi placed the dukuu around aunt’s neck and shook her hands with the little cash and they disengaged.
Diutepa did the same with Theonilla and David Lompu had me. All of us were emotional and open. We were free and I felt my life was complete.
All the speeches that followed featured one thing and that is reconciliation of crisis related issues was the key to the betterment of Bougainville.
“You have to tell me the truth about my father and I will feel peace in my heart and together we built our Bougainville, for you and I are all victims,” I said to the BRA men.
“Our island Bougainville was damned by colonization.”
After having the food that was prepared my family left to Kapanasi Hamlet of Siae Village to finally unearth the remains of my father that was buried there by the residents at BRA gunpoint on 18 March 1993.
We drove home and overnighted with many other family friends and relatives at our Mako’si Hamlet in the Tumpusiong Valley of Panguna District. In the morning of 10 October 2015, a priest celebrated mass and together the gathering laid my father to rest at our Enamira family cemetery.
I was enslaved by injustice from my own people from 1993 to 2015. From 18 March 1993 to 8 October 2015, the road was painful and cruel. On 9 October 2015 when I shook hands with the BRA men and saw the remains of my father in the tiny coffin, I felt freedom and peace, for my father had sacrificed his life for the love of Bougainville and Bougainvilleans.