Source: Post-Courier (10.03.2010)
My ordeal during the Bougainville crisis
By GORETHY KENNETH
IT’S 21 years since the horrid experience unfolded at Kieta, Central Bougainville.
For 10 years, it was running for cover in the bushes, evading bomb blasts, killings, raids during the terrible fighting.
But it seems it was only yesterday these things happened. It will be hard to forget but it’s a story that tells its own and can never be erased until death.
This story is about a woman whose husband commanded a revolutionary army in Bougainville and because of that, she was also badly affected - to the extent of giving birth in the bush and raising the child for 10 years while running, avoiding gun fights, bomb blasts, raids and most of all, a price of K200,000 (dead or alive) put on her husband’s head after being wanted by the National Government, the PNG Defence Force and the police .
Josephine Tanaa-Tankunani was born on July 12, 1967 at Taunparu village, Kieta in Central Bougainville. Her mother gave birth to her in the bushes and covered her with a biruko - a traditional umbrella normally used by the women for everything. Little did she know that her only daughter, Melanie, would be borne the same way - 22 years later.
Educated at Bougainville’s only girls high school, Asitavi, Josephine went on to Passam National High School and later was accepted to do business studies at Divine Word University but could not complete her years there because she met Sam Kauona, who she married and is still with him after more than 20 years.
She has written a book about all her experiences from day one when she entered the jungle to the day she left for New Zealand to study with her husband Sam and daughter Melanie. The book is titled As Mothers of the Land.
It was July 1989, at the height of the Bougainville Crisis and the PNGDF soldiers and police were already in Kieta. She was seven months pregnant.
Sam was already preparing to go to battle with his fellow Bougainvilleans. It was midnight when she took to the bushes with Sam, a small bag of baby clothes and two pairs of clothes for herself. There was no time to pack everything. Josie’s mother and other relatives were to join them in the bush later that night.
It was September 19, 1989 at camp one: Josie had labour pains. She delivered their only daughter Melanie that night amidst gunfire and killings. Melanie was covered with a few nappies and as smart as she is known, Josie trained her baby with the tricks of surviving in the bushes — one of which was for her not to cry at odd times, the other was to adapt to the bush life which she endured for the duration of the crisis.
“Melanie was one week old when we started to run in the bushes. She was well trained not to cry at odd times and she behaved for the last 10 years we were on the run,” Mrs Kauona said smiling. “From 1989 to 1998, it was a life on the run, with my daughter. We also changed camps 10 times in 10 years because of changing locations and it was such a hard life but I always smiled and looked at the positive side to survive, for the sake of my daughter and for the sake of Sam, my husband.
“I always tried to be happy for his sake, for I knew how tough it must be for him and because I loved him so much,
“I had to put up with these as a wife. But this is where we learnt to survive in fights — for example, nappy drying was done at times when the sun was hot and as soon as we heard choppers hovering above, the nappies came down or when it was raining we would dry Melanie’s nappies on the fire and sometimes use bed sheets as nappies. Most of the time she was naked.
“Life was so much harder for me in those years but I found the strength to raise myself and baby Melanie.”
Josie had to travel long distances to garden, the pain of having to walk these distances without proper medication, the 1990 Marara village raid where three choppers were badly hit was another experience for her with her baby in her hands. From 1989-90 the first ceasefire (first phase) was recorded but still they were in the bush.
In 1997 they managed to escape to Honiara and leave Melanie with friends and relatives across that island where she spent five years. That same year, Josie became the president of the Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom movement.
In 1999-2001 they went to New Zealand where Sam, a former PNGDF soldier, studied aviation while she did business computing.
“We returned to Bougainville in 2002 and in 2003 I had a vision and that was to start an open learning centre to cater for those who missed out on education, like my daughter Melanie. I saw there was a big gap in education and I took it on myself to save our future by caring and coming together as one united Bougainville. I knew the future for Bougainville — to invest in human resources. I don’t want school leavers. I want to see something positive for Bougainville. We got to have a sustainable way forward. We have to have a strong base for our economic recovery, real impact projects for Bougainville so we can talk about it.”
In 2007 Josephine joined UNDP as a local human rights consultant. Currently she is focused on the learning centre she started to help children like her daughter Melanie who is one of those studying at the centre.
“Melanie always tells me even to this day, I’m not your daughter, your daughter is the peace process, because Sam and I had made it our duty to get involved in the peace process from day one,” she was smiling.