By Eleanor Maineke
The Bougainville crisis divided families and clans in our communities. It is a war that destroyed the social structure that existed from pre-historic times and was upheld by our forefathers.
In the Manetai area of Central Bougainville, a crisis-related reconciliation was staged on the 13th of April, to rebuild this fabric.
The reconciliation was made possible with the will of two courageous women from the perpetrator’s immediate family. These two women had the courage to approach the victims’ families to open up for the reconciliation to take place with their own willing hearts.
“The scripture says that there is time for everything,” said Grace during the reconciliation ceremony, a sister of the deceased.
“I admired the process of this reconciliation because the leading key people are two women from the perpetrator’s end.”
Grace was also a victim of the crisis, who was apprehended by the same people who took her brother and killed him.
It was late December of 1994 and at that time the Manetai Catholic Mission served as a care-centre to the people of Manetai area.
On that particular day, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army set up an ambush beyond the fringes of the care-centre. Without any knowledge of the danger ahead, two boys, Lazarus Kerepas (23) and Herman Siroke (13), went to take a bath at the river during the day.
Unfortunately, they were trapped in an ambush and were captured by the BRA fighters and taken away. A few hours later, some people from the care-centre informed the family members that the two were taken away.
With that, Lazarus’s mother, sister and niece (Herman’s sister) followed them and were also captured by the BRA members. When they asked about Lazarus and Herman they were told that the boys were taken up to Panguna. They kept the three women at Atamo care centre and were released the following day believing that Lazarus and Herman were taken up to Panguna. From that day, the family were looking for them because they were not satisfied with the answer given.
Sadly, in 1995, news reached them that the two men’s bodies were rotting away not so far from Manetai. They had been killed that same day ten months before at Atamo Junction. The family went and collected deceased boys’ bones and gave them a proper burial. The state of the remains were scattered meaning that animals had probably fed on them.
It is human not to find the space of forgiveness, especially having lost a loved one in such a manner, but there is always the right time that forgiveness calls out so that we own the issues and we unite for better future. True peace comes from one’s heart and in its own time.
It is important for perpetrators to own up, come forward and reconcile with the victims. It is now time for reconciliations to continue. Through self-giving and owning up without fear, everyone will be free. The souls and spirits of the deceased will also be given freedom with the reconciliations.
The reconciliation was initiated and mediated by the people themselves led by the women. No financial support was given from any NGO’s or governmental agencies. Only logistic support was provided by the ABG Member for Eivo/Torau Constituency, Hon. Clarence Dency, and the ABG ex-combatant member for Central Bougainville, Hon. Noah Doko.
This shows that the financial dependency load can be lessened with the willingness of the conflicting parties to reconcile. It was a good example to other Bougainvilleans to take up the responsibility of settling these issues.
Each society in Bougainville has its own tradition and values its culture. The reconciliation was inculturated with Christianity. The testament of inculturation was seen in the prayerful reconciliations and the ritual cleansing of the parents of the deceased.
The stages of the reconciliation were the exchange of mustard, betelnut and chewing of the betelnut; the exchange and eating of Tamatama (a traditional dish); the shaking of hands; The cleansing ceremony (washing and oiling with sacred herbal leaves); and the presentation of gifts to the victims as a sign of peace
“You cannot solve a problem with a problem.” The onus is on every Bougainvillean. We must work together and willingly own up and help each other. The next phase is for the other conflicts and persons connected to the case to own up and reconcile with the victim’s families.