Leonard Fong Roka
The company and the colonial administration were not creatively proactive in dealing understandably with the people on the ground.
Just like the Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) and the state of Papua New Guinea were playing pranks with the Solomon people of Bougainville without really knowing the weakness and strengths of their subjects, the late Francis Ona’s grandfather, Nakonang did invested in division and hatred in his family by marrying his own first born daughter before the Panguna mine was born.
The Guava village, home to the rebel leader, the late Francis Ona, consists of two clans that are Kurabang and Bakoringku that intermarried.
But in the Nasioi clan setting, a clan does not exist within a village. But a clan is the umbrella that covers the whole geographical map of the Nasioi people or the Kieta society. So a particular clan exists across the Nasioi society in sub-clan tentacles or units.
Thus in the village of Guava the Bakoringku sub-clan that Nakonang was a member was simpirako and his wife, Hali, whom had already a daughter out of wedlock, was from the Kurabang sub-clan called, karaponto.
Nakonang was naturally an aggressive village leader known far and wide and his wife, Hali, before marrying Nakonang, had a daughter called Siakunu, out of wedlock. After they got married, Nakonang and Hali had seven children (which included three daughters excluding Siakunu).
Originally, Nakonang was known as Odengkara, which meant aggressive. But after years of raising his children, he then felt in love with his first born biological daughter with Hali, called Nobonu. This is when he was re-named Nakonang which means ‘to destroy himself’. So he was in a polygamous marriage with his real wife and their own daughter.
Out of this crisis created by incest in the household and shame in the community, the only daughter that was immune was Siakunu since she was not a biological offspring of Nakonang. Thus she had kept her distance and grew up and later got married to a person called Nadaa and one of their notable sons was the late Mathew Kove.
Furthermore, Siakunu, being the first born child of Hali, she was the customary power of the family in land ownership, decision making and so on; that is, she was in the chieftain position in the family. And where incest was present, Siakunu mostly disregarded all Nakonang’s children with her biological mother, Hali.
Subjected to torturing by his own growing and matured children, the aging Nakonang also began slowly to align himself with Siakunu who was merciful to him. He began a good elder to Siakunu’s children as he distanced himself from his biological family.
In the process of this family conflict, Siakunu exploited the rest; she had much authority over the usage of land with her stepfather, Nakonang, now by her side. Her children like Mathew Kove, had much insight and say into the land ownership of Guava then Nakonang’s blood children and grand children.
So in the 1960s, when Conzinc RioTinto Australia (CRA) and the colonial administration arrived in what is now the Panguna mine site, to lay the foundations of the mine, Siakunu’s siblings documented every land available for the company leases under their name; and the sibling that was now the recognized by the company as big landowner of Guava (Panguna mine site) was Mathew Kove.
Nakonang’s own biological daughters, starting from his daughter-wife Nobonu (first born) to the next two, of whom the last born was called Maneu and was the mother of the late Francis Ona, got nothing.
With the Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) profiteering, Mathew Kove rose in status and fortune as his other family members like the late Francis Ona that share with him the same grandmother but a different grandfather watched in pain.
But as Mathew Kove built his status and fortune by building fine houses and buying cars with his wife and children from the simpirako sub-clan of the Bakoringku clan with all the monies they got from the BCL, his relatives that Hali had with Nakonang, pursued education with little they earned especially in the sale of vegetables in the market places for when they asked Mathew Kove for financial help, he had often burned banknotes before their eyes.
Under such anti-social relationship in the family, the divide widened.
When the late Francis Ona completed his education and got employed with BCL in the early 1980s, his relative, Mathew Kove was already a rich tycoon with considerable influence in the Panguna Landowners Association (PLA) that was formed in 1979 and other bodies associated or created for the landowners.
The PLA, according to Ulukalala Lavaka Ata’s 1998 article, The Bougainville Crisis and PNG-Australia Relations, was formed ‘as the result of the feelings of inadequate compensation for loss of
crops, fishing and hunting grounds’. But to most people, it did nothing positive for the landowners and the people of Bougainville.
With the family problem under the skin and backed by his sister, the late Perpetua Seroro, the late Francis Ona and other younger people began a political sabotage to topple Mathew Kove and his cronies who they claimed were corrupt and not landowner oriented. Nearly all executives in the PLA were rich men with high standards of living whilst the landowners were on the backwater and subjected to harassment and exploitation by the rising population of New Guineans and the environmental pollution.
The young people’s call for change around 1986-87 did not produce any good thus the educated elite rebelled and formed the New PLA in 1987.
According to Bougainvillean Divine Word University’s Associate Professor Jerome Semos PhD’s May 2013 presentation, entitled The Bougainville Conflict and Sovereignty Implications for Bougainville, PNG and the Pacific Region, it stated that, ‘New PLA, under the leadership of Perpetua Seroro and Francis Ona as secretary…was militant. It pushed for a 1987 Melanesian Alliance (MA) campaign proposal of a Bougainville Initiative Fund (BIF) to BCL to get more funds for Bougainville now to BCL and the Namaliu government.
‘Francis Ona and the New PLA said that if the demands were not met they would shut the mine down’.
With all the external confrontations going on it is said that Mathew Kove and his cronies in the old PLA were having sleepless nights to counter the threat on their advantageous positions further irritating the New PLA.