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Date Posted: 03:13:59 09/15/06 Fri
Author: Vikki John
Subject: Bougainville: The journey for peace and freedom
The National, Weekender 15 September 2006
The journey for peace and freedom
A book recently released tells of the suffering Bougainvillean women endured during the crisis and their strength to rebuild their lives. YEHIURA HRIEHWAZI reports
WITH a K2million bounty placed on the head of her husband Sam Kauona, she automatically became the wife of the "most wanted person" and fled into the deep jungles of Central Bougainville.
Josephine Tankunani Kauona-Siviri went home to Bougainville from Madang's Divine Word University in the Christmas of 1988 after completing a year of business studies. She fell ill and was not able to return to school. Sam was at that time a young captain in the PNG Defence Force, training soldiers at the Goldie River Training Depot, outside Port Moresby.
She was then his fiancÚ. When he learnt that she was ill, he got approval to visit her in her village outside Kieta. "I became very ill and Sam didn't want to return and the military got suspicious and went after him," she explains. By then the guerilla war against security forces were intensifying and Sam and Josephine escaped into the jungles to begin the 10-year fugitive journey.
In armed conflicts, women and children, are always the worst affected. Bougainville is no exception.
Horrifying accounts of rape, torture and killings are told by some Bougainvillean women in a book released in 2004 by Australian National University's publishing arm, Pandanus Books.
The book is titled: As Mothers of the Land and subtitled: The Birth of Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom.
Only a limited number were released. The National newspaper was fortunate to meet one of the authors and co-editors in Buka last week and obtained a copy with permission to publish excerpts.
Josephine Tankunani Kauona-Sirivi - the wife of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army General, Sam Kauona - talks about her struggles, giving birth to her daughter, Melanie, under trees in the jungles, narrow escapes from the marauding PNGDF soldiers and the formation of a movement for peace and freedom.
Her husband had a bounty of K2 million placed on his head during the height the pacific region's deadliest wars - she by association - was also one of the 'most wanted persons'. Several of her former school mates from Passam National High School in East Sepik Province, who were soldiers on Bougainville, recognized her at roadblocks, greeted her with a slight wink and allowed her through before others realized who she was.
She describes these incidents as acts of protection from God during the 10-year crisis which began in 1989.
Josephine is the godmother of Secretary General of the Commonwealth Don McKinnon's son, James who was born in 1998.
Mr McKinnon who was involved in the Bougainville peace process before his commonwealth duties, describes "As Mothers of the Land" as a unique publication which tells the story of one of the deadliest crises of the last decades and the peace process that followed, not through the eyes of politicians and generals but of ordinary women who worked behind the scenes.
"This book tells stories of women who had to flee their homes and take to the jungle to escape violence. It tells stories of women who lived on the run, giving birth in leaf shelters and caring for the frail and the elderly. It tells stories of women who used traditional and self-reliance to rebuild community structures in the heart of the jungle," wrote Mr McKinnon.
Josephine tells of Australian-donated Iroquis helicopters flying over villages at tree-top height and strafing houses.
One morning the choppers flew deep into the Kongara area and landed troops in a disused Bansikuna airstrip and soldiers walked up to Mmarura and No'antavu villages and set houses on fire. Mmarura is where Kauona's family lived.
Josephine had earlier grabbed her daughter Melanie and a bag of clothes and Sam had walked them deep into the jungle to one of their hideouts when they heard the sound of approaching enemy choppers. From a high altitude vantage point, Sam witnessed the carnage unfolding below.
Sam conducted meetings with his leaders from various jungle camps, listened in on PNGDF radio conversations and planned his battle strategies for engagement with troops. Josephine had the tough task of ensuing there was enough garden food to feed visitors to the camps.
Another woman, Marcelline Kokiai Tunim, of Vito village 16km north of Arawa, tells how her brother, Kaea, was taken away by soldiers. She later found his knife wounded and bullet riddled body at the Arawa hospital morgue. Outside the morgue were 10 other decomposing bodies of young men from Wakunai. The morgue was full, their bodies had to be buried at Aropa by security forces.
Australian-born Marilyn Taleo Havini - wife of prominent Bougainvillean leader Moses Havini - recorded accounts of atrocities, sexual assault and indignities on women and girls by soldiers.
Education Minister Michael Laimo, the then premier and now Autonomous Bougainville President Joseph Kabui were made to lick their own blood after they were bashed by soldiers. One of Mr Laimo's eyes was knocked out of its socket by the barrel of an M16 rifle.
Other women leaders like Catholic nun, Sister Lorraine Garasu, Daphne Zale, Sholastica Raren Miriori, Sr Ruby Mirinka and Ruth Saovanna Spriggs tell of their experiences and how they all came together and mobilized women to take part in the long and protracted peace processes and the establishment of a strong movement - Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom (PWPF).
Josephine became the founding chairperson of the PWPF until she and Sam left for New Zealand on studies. Upon return, she re-assumed the leading role.
She is building an open learning centre at Tunania, south of Aropa Airport, on a beautiful beachfront to teach young people that grew up during the crisis period.
The centre will teach young people basic skills like carpentry, joinery and literacy. Josephine also overseas the Arawa Women's Training Centre helping a lot of disadvantaged women.
Bougainville is a matrimonial society where women are custodians of the land and during the crises period, many women became unwilling pawns in the fight political fight for self-rule and independence.
The war forced many women to escape into the jungles to escape violence, rape and military rule while others were herded into care-centers. Normal society was fractured as fear and anarchy took hold. With no access to health, education and basic community services, the women turned to traditional medicines and knowledge to rebuild a "sense of community in the jungle" from which they started the movement for peace and freedom.
As Mothers of the Land is a record of the years of war told by women who lived through it and made remarkable achievements for peace in a region torn apart by violent struggle.
Following are excerpts of a song by Josephine talking about her struggles in the jungles and the long and difficult journey for peace and freedom.
BOOM BOOM! Goes the mortar bomb echoing in the still air, trembling through the flesh of our land. The house I am sleeping in seems so small. I feel like moving into the bush and sleeping underneath trees.
What a night to remember.
I leave my own village in fear of the Defence Force of Papua New Guinea.
Daughter Melanie is six months old. We have spent the past six months in the jungle. I have become a mother "on the run' after giving birth in the bush, underneath big trees. I suffer postnatal complications, but thanks to mother ...
I survive to nurse my beautiful baby.
Never have I experienced a time of peace to bring up my child.
Only one week old when we started the journey of ten years of war, she does not experience a normal way of life in the village.
No one for company, we are alone in our camp most of the time.
That is why we have come to my cousin's village, to rest from roaming the damned wet jungle.
This night feels so wet and friendly among relatives.
So much going on within me. After my usual evening prayer ... I draw close to my fragile baby, my hope and my future.
As I lay down to sleep, there comes the BOOM echoing ... through the dark, still night. Cutting thin air of our island. Gets into my nerves, I sit up with fright, I remember once again, Im still in a war, still a 'most wanted' person.
In the dark of the night, I hear my daughter's heartbeat, I hold her, cuddle her in my arms, to feel her warmth and remember my responsibility, to protect her right to live. We need other's strength. She is my strength, my hope. I pray with tears to our Heavenly Father for protection.
I gaze into the darkness ... I see nothing.
Total darkness that echoes a bleak future.
Boom! Boom! Tong! Tong! Two different sounds from the PNG troops. All are now awakened by the noise
A big fight is on ... with our BRA, my husband in the lead.
I shake off sleep, I pray to God for protection. Baby soundly asleep, I'm worried, frightened ...of what this crazy night might bring.
Boom! Boom! Tong! Tong! Again ring into the night. Prayers interrupted ... don't know what to do ... cannot take baby now ... tonight, to move to a new location ... With husband not here to move to a new hiding place, my heart is heavy , like a log that I cannot carry.
... I grab my daughter on my lap. I cry and cry. Tears flow ... Feelings pour out of me, no one knows the depth of my suffering. No one to share with me, I must be brave to release my husband.
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