By Leonard Fong Roka
On the morning of 18 March 1993, when my late dad John Roka was taken from our Pomong Hamlet in the Kupe Village for his second interview (this time the BRA men from Kupe and Pooma Villages who came to escort him away said it was BRA Chief Ishmael Toroama’s turn to interview him), dad wore simple clothing for his fateful date.
He had white pants, a blue trousers and a white t-shirt with some Australian designs in the front. He also had a finger-ring type rosary he was using for his prayers and a fancy wrist watch.
Kapanasi, a small hamlet in the Siae Village of North Nasioi Constituency, was the setting that day in 1993 for a BRA administered village court to settle issues amongst the locals of the Siae-Pooma area.
There were many locals gathered around. Amongst them were armed local BRA men who had curious eyes on him. Many want him dead, but he remained aloof for the moment; others hovered around him listening to his stories curious of what life was like in the PNGDF controlled areas, especially Arawa Town.
According to my mother, dad was so relaxed on his final day of life. He was there under the shimmering heat of the sun chewing betelnut with one of his killers, Hendry Dupinu, and others. They shared tales like old friends watching the day winding rapidly down.
During this sharing and friendly gossip my father removed his shirt and had it dangling down one of his shoulders.
Just as the people became bored and decided to make their way home, the perpetrators of my father’s death appeared down the road. Dad remained relaxed in prayer and David Lompu made it straight to my dad angrily, demanding he remove his wrist watch and asking him where he had come from and why.
After a stream of minutes struggling with my defensive mother, Steven Topesi had a bullet through his head and the man dad was sharing betelnut with, Hendry Dupinu, finished him off.
The second the BRA men appeared the entire Kapanasi Hamlet was deserted as people fled in fear. The few who stood by in shock were Mr Bario and his son Boirinu, residents of the hamlet, a handful of other relatives and two other Pooma villagers.
Seeing no one around, the BRA demanded the family to bury my father’s body in the hamlet lawn. But the family resisted that it was their home where their children play and live.
Thus the family, at gun point, collected pieces of my father’s brains and skull and wrapped them in his shirt. They then wrapped his body in a piece of broken canvass and laid him in their cocoa plot.
On the afternoon 9 October 2015, after reconciling with Steven Topesi, his brother Diutepa, David Lompu and a representative of Hendry Dupinu, the Bario family led the unearthing of my father’s remains.
The unearthing began from his leg-side of the grave. Since the tomb was knee-deep originally, his lower leg bones appeared first. Slowly and carefully they removed all the earth and the blue canvass was seen by all.
Bones that made up his toes and lower leg came up carefully. Then the canvass was opened and there dad’s 1993 shirt, short and underwear appeared intact. Only the skull was smashed by the impact of those 1993 gunshots. There was no bullet mark in the chest plate for a .22 hunting rifle was used by Hendry Dupinu.
“We are unearthing so many crisis victims, but I never ever seen one with all his clothes intact,” one attendee said to me.
“Your father’s case is different. All his clothes are still the same; you can wear them if you like.
“His bones are also reddish because of the blood that built up and decomposed in the canvass wrapping.
“In other parts we had collected entirely wide bones and absolutely no clothes in the tombs. Your father was a man of God and so was he innocent to die like this.”
Our family bathed the bones and packed them into a tiny coffin. His clothes were also tucked away into a bucket afterwards and brought home to Panguna where we a keeping them for a proper burning in 2016 in accordance to our traditional customary practices in Kieta.
My late dad’s clothes will be burned with a little feast of burning (katee) alongside my daughter Dollorose Fong Roka’s collection of belongings by 17 or 18 September 2016, the first anniversary of her death.