BY MADELEINE PATRICIA RUGA
THE COOL MORNING BREEZE blew against my face as I stood in the village cemetery and read the inscriptions on the memorial plaques we had just laid in memory of the two beloved men, men who in their lives of sorrow, regret, suffering and sacrifice had earned my respect and love.
On my right lay my father who had passed away at 83 years of age and on my left lay my biological brother whom my dad had given up for adoption and who had passed away one month short of his twentieth birthday.
In life they led separate lives and in death they lay side by side. They came into this world with a known identity and here they both lay behind plaques that told of their borrowed identities.
One Monday morning in mid December 1961, the cries of a baby boy broke the silence to the relief and joy of the eager relatives who were waiting for his arrival. At the sound of his voice tears rolled down the face of his quiet spoken father, Erik, as he remembered how he had promised this child to a relative regardless of its gender.
His mother, Lena, held him and proudly told her sister, Delia, that this bundle of joy was hers. This child was going to be the bond between the sisters. This was the happiest day of Delia and her husband, Wayne’s lives as they were yet to start a family.
On turning three months old little Theo was weaned and taken away by Delia and Wayne when they moved to their new home. Life was perfect for little Theo as he was the only child at home and had his parent’s undivided attention and love.
A couple of years later Delia and Wayne welcomed their new daughter. Theo was delighted with the new arrival and took on the role of the big brother. Not long after Delia had another child and to Wayne’s joy, a son.
When Theo was old enough he was enrolled at the community school which was a few minutes’ walk from home. Life was not the same anymore with two more children at home.
Delia and Wayne’s attention was diverted and Theo was not receiving the same attention and love anymore. As he grew older he began to fall in with the wrong crowd at school. He would spend nights out with his friends on the pretence that he was studying with them and Delia and Wayne failed to keep tabs on him.
His behavioural change went unnoticed because Delia and Wayne were concentrating on the younger siblings and because they also believed that he went out for the right reasons.
One morning Delia and Wayne opened the door to the knock of a police officer. He was there to inform them that Theo was in police lock up after he had been caught with his friends the night before in an attempt to rob a shopping centre.
Upon their arrival at the police station they were met by a Catholic priest who surprised them by showing them police records that showed Theo’s bad record. Because he was young he had to be transferred to a juvenile centre for rehabilitation under the watchful eyes of the priesthood.
Theo and his accomplices were then taken to the juvenile centre in Port Moresby where they spent about four years. Upon recommendation by the priest Theo was then sent out to another juvenile centre in Goroka for further rehabilitation and studies. Three years later he was discharged and sent back home to his parents.
When he arrived back home he felt that life was not the same any more. His parents did not trust him around his siblings. His parents told him openly that he was not a good example for his siblings. He was more like an outsider and was also regarded as a threat to his siblings.
He then decided to follow his cousins back to their home village. He was welcomed warmly on arrival at the village. He settled down easily and adapted to the village way of life. He followed his cousins in making gardens, going fishing, made a lot of friends and enjoyed life. After all, rehabilitation was certainly paying off.
Ten months into his blissful life in the village his life took a new course. One afternoon upon his return from his gardens Theo fell ill. He thought the fever was due to a common cold or a minor stomach upset. However, the fever did not go away and four days later he passed away with one of his biological siblings by his side. Theo’s life ended prematurely in mid November 1981.
Theo’s biological father, Erik, had been born in time unknown to anyone of us but from my recollection of stories told by one or two relatives is that he was the last born of a family of six children.
He had born into a society where sorcery had a great impact on the village people. Though missionaries had already arrived in his village by the time he was born and was brought up, his belief in sorcery remained unchanged.
His parent’s belief in sorcery was cemented when some of his siblings died young and his parents blamed sorcery for their deaths. His parents then decided that he should take on another name to protect and safeguard his identity.
At the tender age of twelve he was taken away from his village life because the war had started and all the young men in the village were needed to assist in the war. This was the beginning of Erik’s life in another society with a new identity. He passed away in early May 2010 and is now survived by his six children who carry on his borrowed identity just to safeguard his true identity.
As I lay fresh flowers on their graves to remember and mark their first and thirtieth anniversaries respectively, I am thankful to the Maker for these great men who have touched my life one way or another.
Through their lives of sorrow, regret, suffering and sacrifice I have come to know perseverance, courage, humbleness, understanding, contentment, friendship and most of all love. They have truly earned my love and respect.
Names and places have been changed to protect people’s identitities
Madeleine Patricia Ruga (48) is of mixed Central and Milne Bay parentage. She works with National Judicial Staff Services and is married “with five beautiful children and three beautiful grandchildren”. Madeleine likes to “travel, read, watch telly, sew and socialise”. She is involved in church activities and “loves local dishes especially pariwa (mashed ripe banana) in thick coconut cream”.