And while I’ve never met him, except through the channel of his contributions to PNG Attitude, I feel I know him well.
I guess that’s one sign of a good writer; to so engage the reader.
Leonard is without equal as a chronicler of the recent history and present affairs of Bougainville, as a narrator of the cultural complexities of the island’s people and as a Bougainville nationalist of quiet manner and occasional fiery prose.
For something like a year now, he has provided our readers with insights into the Autonomous Province, scheduled for a vote on its independence in a few year time, that are not available elsewhere. And we’re very grateful for this.
The writer himself, having served as a youngster with the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and losing his father to the bloody civil war, is now, at age 33, a student at Divine Word University in Madang.
He was born in a village at the epicentre of the Bougainville conflict – Kavarongnau near Panguna, where the copper and gold mine was located – perhaps soon to be rejuvenated, a matter of constant interest to Leonard.
“I believe that one front in the fight to restore freedom and a peaceful nationhood in Bougainville is through my writing,” he says.
“I have stories of my experience during the Bougainvillea conflict. There are traditional tales inherited from our ancestors that needs to be written and preserved. After graduation in 2015, I will live a life of writing about Bougainville politics and culture.”
But one might predict a less sedentary future for the young man; who has shown himself to be activist as well as observer – very much in the style of Martyn Awayang Namorong.
It would be no revelation to even the most inattentive student of Bougainville affairs that many of the people of the Autonomous Province have a suspicion of people from the Papua New Guinea mainland, who they see as outsiders and call ‘redskins’.
“Bougainville needs to control the New Guinean visitations,” he says. “People just don't want them.”
And he goes on to cite examples.
An Eastern highlander, married to a Bougainvillean woman, who won a security tender and was killed by the family. A New Britain man who scolded drunks driving in Arawa who descended on him with a car jack and, upon finding he was not dead, necklaced him with a burning Hilux tyre.
And last year’s story of how Panguna Metals brought in nine New Guineans to teach the locals how to cut metal. “A row broke out,” says Leonard, “and the locals were finalising plans to execute the nine but they found out and took off by foot from Panguna to Morgan then to Wakunai and out of Bougainville.”
Such events worry Leonard a great deal and he is searching for solutions which will settle things down.
The state of domestic politics in Bougainville also concerns him.
“All the people know that the Autonomous Bougainville Government is a step towards nationhood, but when a few literate locals read the Bougainville Constitution they see such phrases as 'strengthen unity of PNG' and so wild gossip and condemnation spread.
“The people draw their own conclusions about why the PNG government has not delivered the promised K500 million to ABG and why the Bougainville Peace Agreement has not being reviewed as required.
“The ABG must be vocal on these issues but many local politicians are keeping their village men in the dark, thinking they are fools.
“The politicians we need in Bougainville are the ones who can calmly mix with the man on the street. In ABG we have many on high heels.”
That final sharp volley is typical of the Roka style. There is always a surprise around the corner. And there are no barriers to telling things as they are.
Leonard Roka graduates in 2014 and in the meantime he deeply misses home. “Panguna is where I spent the whole of my life and departing her is a heartbreak,” he says.
The good news is that during the university vacation about to commence he will be back there.
And he’ll be reporting, analysing and reflecting for PNG Attitude all the while.
We look forward to that.