BY LEONARD FONG ROKA
THE ORAL HISTORIES of people in the Kieta area of Bougainville and all of South Bougainville record that the original inhabitants of these places came across the Bougainville Strait from what is now the Western Province of the Solomon Islands.
Geography, traditions, cultures and language support this fact. The most recent immigrants along this route into Bougainville were the Torau’an, who today occupy Rorovana, Tarara and Vito villages in Central Bougainville.
The Torau’ans did not come into Bougainville by chance. The route was well known to them. It was a crossing made by their kinsmen long before.
They saw their lost kinsmen’s descendants’ criss-crossing the Bougainville Strait much later on peaceful visits or to trade as well as to make war and carry out bride kidnappings.
So, they also set paddled across and up the East Coast of Bougainville.
All these adventures or interactions, were guided, nurtured or blessed by Bougainvillean gods. Known across Melanesia to dwell in the wilderness, these gods were venerated or paid homage to in order to gain positive results in all endeavours.
Barama was the shepherd of my ancestors. He dictated what to do and what not to do. He was the security and provider. When angered or saddened, he attacked and killed his minders and enemies alike. The duty of my people was to pacify him through food offerings and by living a good life in his presence.
After generations passed, my ancestors reached Haisi in Siwai. Here they dwelled for years and multiplied. Later on they moved into the wilderness of the Banoni area and settled down in the Birosii plains of Bana District. For ages they colonised this area and slowly began to move further northward to the Nagovis area.
In Nagovis, they maintained their presence for a prolonged period in the Takemari area on the Nagovis plains and at O’karu, a mountain area of Nagovis bordering Kieta’s Kongara area villages.
It was from Takemari that the idea to conquer the mountainous Panguna area of Kieta was born. Their O’karu relatives would come from the mountains and prompt them to explore the bluish ridges to the north-east. Hunters that reached the Pagara River also reported that yonder on the edges of Nagovis there were wild mountains. Both of these things excited Barama and his human relatives.
So one fine day, a woman told a gathering: ‘Ning baru’baru e ono’ai nani’ (I will move and settle a bit further). She said this pointing in the direction in which the gatherers and hunters said the great Pagara River flowed.
The woman thus left and settled near the Pagara River and called the place, Baruu’baruu. Whilst, maintaining relations with their Takemari and O’karu relatives, her family line extended and with their shepherd, Barama colonised the whole area as far as what is now Sikoreva Village.
After many decades, a couple of the woman’s descendants climbed the Siko’reva ridge. The present day, Darenai and Oune village areas to the north looked beautiful. The Kavarong River below and the Biam’pa tributary attracted them. They moved on and settled on the imposing landscape of the Darenai area called Dato’etu.
They were the first group of people to enter what is now known as the Tumpusiong Valley that comprises the villages of Damara and Enamira on the east bank of the Kavarong River and Oune and Darenai on the west bank.
For years they were based on the top of the Dato’etu “boulder” and explored the area and interacted or went to war with those entering the area from the west into what is now known as the Kosia.
The worst dilemma my ancestors on Dato’etu had was related to marriage and a shortage of wives. They had to get their wives from further afield at Nagovis. There is a reason for this shortage of women.
Legend has it that on Dato’etu, people did not know that labouring women delivered babies through the birth canal. So, when labour pains dawned upon a woman, the men or women, slashed opened the woman’s belly; freed the infant, and disposed of the woman’s corpse over a cliff.
One day, a woman was in labour and the women were at work to execute the delivery process when a visitor from Takemari arrived.
The husband was weeping on the ground with his eyes fixed on his fading sun of love. ‘What’s all this commotion for?’ the visitor, asked. ‘Your daughter is about to deliver.’
‘We think you do not deliver in a proper manner,’ she told them. ‘This is why you are not multiplying.’ She carried out the delivery and the woman was not killed.
Grief and regret flowed through the settlement. Men wept for their dead wives.
The “boulder” then earned its name, Dato’etu which means, ‘they cut’ in the Nasioi language. My ancestors also called themselves, the Taing’kuu (now a sub-clan of the Basikaang clan in the Tumpusiong Valley), which means, ‘were eaten’ because when they disposed of the women’s bodies, the cuscus and other animals ate them.
From there, my ancestors moved down to the banks of the Kavarong River, crossed at Dingkuu’mori and made their way up the Damara ridge and settled at a place called Doraro. They interacted with the Damara people for years but then explored and settled on the next “boulder”, today known as, Deumori (Catholic Missionaries built a station there in the colonial era).
At Deumori, my ancestors were vulnerable to regular lightening strikes, so they left and settled at the northern foot of Deumori and called the new place Enamira, which means, ‘let me breath’.
The shepherd eel, Bamara, also had its place; a network of waterfalls and caves known as Toro’vau, on the tributary is called Tonau’a. Here it was fed and cared for by my people, the Taing’kuu. The Barama enjoyed its place and socialisation with its human relatives. So, the Enamira people rose in power and prestige across the Panguna, Evo and Kieta areas. Through trade and war they influenced neighbouring clans and people.
One day, at the peak of these glory days, the people received an invitation by some new settlers at Deumori to come to a feast. The villages left a lazy youth, called Paku’musii and his brother, Nuku’eii, to mind the eel for a day. Late in the afternoon, he got some food and visited Toro’vau.
In disrespect, he called: ‘Barama-birama, here is your food’. The eel grabbed him instantly with its tail and knocked him against the rock walls of Toro’vau. Paku’musii died as his brother Nuku’eii wept facing the Deumori “boulder”.
Barama was also saddened for killing his relative. With guilty tears, it left Toro’vau. Rain, thunder and earth tremors followed as the Barama made its way down the Tonau’a River smashing into rocks as it went.
Reaching the Kavarong River, it turned upstream. It then, followed the scent trail that the Enamira people had left. It left the Kavarong River and travelled up the Oionari tributary. By dawn, it reached the Mai’nokii villages in Evo (near present day Paruparu station). Here it made itself visible to a friendly relative of the Enamira people, a chief called Pirikuu.
Pirikuu and his people, built Barama a grassy compound, fenced entirely with the saplings of a tree known as kempareva. He lived at Mai’nokii silently moaning in guilt.
Then one day, a child hunter who was passing by made fun of him. Barama killed him. The people attempted to kill him in retaliation, but he escaped with a painful bamboo spear (called kabakii) driven into his flesh. He went down the great Kuraro River of Evo, leaving behind a jungle of kempareva in his wake. Sensing humans everywhere Barama by-passed the Siuema villages and headed towards a hillock called Kire.
A plain of silent jungle dotted with wild hills and ridges opened before his pained eyes. He made his way slowly down a stream called, Mo’rong. As he moved in pain he twisted his body around creating a pool in the zigzagging rock wall, called Mero’mero, which means, ‘and it turned round and round’.
In agony, Barama reached a river, called Asi’manaa. The current took him downstream. Still feeling insecure, he left the river and went into a stream called Kuru’aa. Slowly he slipped under a tangle of a tree’s gigantic roots and the spear was trapped and released and the pain died away. The released spear grew into the largest kabakii field in the marshland of Asi’manaa.
Barama finally, settled on the Kuru’aa marshland at the foot of Banekana Hill inland from Koiare, a place south of Torokina.
The Enamira people slowly followed after Barama and occupied this isolated area of Bougainville.
Today, because of Barama, my family has a long kinship line from Haisi to Birosii to O’karu to Baru’baruu. We also have recognised land ownership in Birosii, O’karu and Baru’baruu stretching across to the Banekana plains. Our sacred sites are dotted all over Banoni, Nagovis, and Kieta and into the Evo areas. From Enamira we maintain the relations set for us by Barama and pay visits regularly.