Leonard Fong Roka
After the devastating setback of the 10 year Bougainville crisis from 1988, the once booming provincial township of Arawa is getting back to the appreciative status in terms of its economic and social activities.
This month it had hosted Bougainville wide soccer tournament where soccer teams of both man and woman teams from across Bougainville came flocking in for some 9 days of games. It is fast becoming a center of Bougainville activities; or for travellers, a transit point. With banking services by the Bank of South Pacific (BSP) established, most central and south Bougainville people do business here. Business activities had increased and non-Bougainvillean population is rising and getting old Ambrose Taruko worried.
There are now a number of Asians and a handful of redskins (erereng) that Taruko really is not interested in for he and his family did suffer on their hands before 1990 where the Bougainville conflict kicked them out of Arawa to their relieve.
Of the nearly 55 residential areas of the former Arawa town, the areas known as Section 17 (host to former Arawa General Hospital), Arawa High, Section 19, Section 37 and Section 35, Taruko is known to be the majority traditional landowner.
In the post conflict Bougainville, such landowners like Taruko are respected by the government but before the conflict the Bougainville Copper Limited, the PNG government and the provincial government paid no heed to them.
Far worst, to Taruko, the erereng illegal visitors brought in by the BCL and the PNG government robbed them their life and it was the Bougainville crisis that rescued them from extinction so he has respect to the late Francis Ona and the young former combatants.
‘Me and my family were saved by the war,’ he said, ‘from losing all our land. The little we had after the PNG government and the BCL robbed everything, was being taken over day by day by the reckless spread of the slums by the erereng.’
He is more worried not of Asians but of the increasing erereng population.
‘The Asians,’ he said, ‘dwell in the urban areas and do their business activities that help us but these erereng they are like the flood that runs everywhere. This town had seen a number of them being killed recently but they are coming; they are shameless.
‘There is a couple who are renting a house in this section and selling their goods, mostly secondhand clothing in the Arawa market nearly every day. But our people are running after the Chinese well the real enemy that destroyed us is here; they are coming as teachers, missionaries, contractors and our students going outside to study in the universities are bringing them here in marriage.
‘The good comfort one feels here and tells his villagers back home will bring the whole tribe into Bougainville. That is the trend me and my family suffered in the past.’
In the 1960s Taruko was a young man and watched the development of the Arawa town. It brought in many companies and all these contractors brought in the erereng to work and not Bougainvilleans, the owners of this island.
The few erereng then brought in their relatives or few married into the local population. In a few years, the township of Arawa was not a town on Bougainville but a town in some parts of PNG. To Taruko history is repeating itself.
He said with frustration, ‘When the BCL began to built the Section 35, the moved us further away; satisfied in number of years, they came for more area thus my family have to move further away. They did not respect us as humans.
‘Later they brought in the erereng illegal settlers. These people took over our gardening land with threat and intimidation. Every day they claim a land area, I went to draw a line that they should not cross. But the next morning they unrooted the sticks I buried and slashed them to pieces.
‘When I went to see their leader and settle the dispute, they terrorized me with knives or they went more reckless. They stole our cocoa and coconut plantation and raped our women. They also looted our gardens and fruit trees, too.’
Taruko and a few other landowners of Arawa are worried. The Bougainville government is not concerned about the welfare of the Bougainvilleans. It is not creating a conducive environment where Bougainvilleans can advance themselves without the infiltrating erereng people.
To them the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) has gone off track from the very reasons why Bougainvilleans had gone to war and died. To them, the current kind of leaders must be changed for the betterment of Bougainville people.