LEONARD FONG ROKA | Supported by the Jeff Febi Writing Fellowship
Tampara is a Nasioi word that means ‘good’, so the military code name stood for ‘Operation Goodness’ or ‘Operation Bringing Goodness to Bougainville’.
But it was damning for old Charles Bangki (pictured) of Mosinau village in Panguna who had fled as a refugee to the Kongara 1 area of the Kieta District.
For Charles and the other people of Kieta, the name of the operation was a contradiction. In fact, it hardened people’s minds and hearts against the PNG government and against New Guineans and Papuans.
By the end of the operation, the villagers fully supported the militancy led by Francis Ona.
The PNG government’s brutality against the Bougainville people, who were fighting against PNG and Bougainville Copper Limited’s exploitation of their island, was fierce. The government and BCL supported each other to suppress the militancy for once and for all with every measure available.
The government security forces, as they were known, torched villages and looted gardens; used airborne machine guns, deployed mortars against civilians and killed innocent people.
Two of the many victims were Mrs Maria Bangki and her two-year old daughter, Joyce Bangki.
Upon their arrival in May 1989, the PNGDF concentrated their energies in the areas surrounding BCL’s Panguna mine in the hope of arresting rebel leader Francis Ona.
They began their unlawful acts of torching villages from the west of the mine site, in the Tumpusiong Valley.
When Australia donated four Huey helicopters, the PNGDF took the inaccessible villages of Widoi, Poaru and Mosinau in the Toio River valley, east and south-east of Panguna.
The PNGDF attack on the Toio Valley was overwhelming for the war-primitive militants who had no high-powered guns or mortars.
With mortar platoons perched on the Guava-Kokore ridge shelling the valley below and hovering choppers raking heavy machine gun fire upon the jungles, the government troops torched villages alongthe Toio Valley.
It was then that Charles Bangki and his wife Maria decided to flee for safety with their children to the Bougainvillean highlands in Kongara 1.
In the Kongara area, the family were refugees but safe.
But in October 1989, the PNGDF choppers began routine daily visits into the highlands of Bougainville. Government troops began visiting Sipuru and Kakusira villages in Kongara 2 by road, blocking off Kongara 1.
On a late October morning, the government forces raided the village of Tairima that was a few minutes’ walk from the Bangki family at Dopari. Stunned villagers watched from a distance as the soldiers burned down their homes.
By midday, mortar platoons engaged Dopari village. The Bangki family and the people fled into the inhospitable jungle. Here they erected makeshift shelters to hide from killers and looters.
From the safety of the jungle, they watched as Dopari village went up in flames. People wept for their assets. Then helicopters opened fire on the jungle, keeping the people on the run.
On the morning of 28 October 1989, false silence and peace crept through the hideouts below the jungle canopy. The people thought the enemy might have withdrawn so a small band decided to visit their still-burning homes to fetch whatever property the inferno might have left untouched.
Seeing them, Maria Bangki, with her little daughter Joyce slung on her back, followed other villagers to fetch some belongings they had hidden in a bush in the vicinity of Dopari whilst escaping the gunfire the day before.
Her husband, Charles Bangki, in fear, resisted the move but Maria, as a mother, was not willing to see her 10 children go hungry and without clothes in the jungle.
In the peaceful afternoon air of the jungle next to the Dopari village, returning women, children and two elderly men came upon mother and the daughter and they began making their way deeper into the jungle following an old trail.
On the way the party came upon a freshly felled tree and began slowly cutting their way through the protruding branches when a heavy round of gunfire rained down on them.
The people fled in all directions from the bullets of a PNGDF ambush.
As the lucky escapers began to find into each other and the whole party was regrouping, they realised that Maria Bangki and two-year old Joyce were not in their midst. The mother, who had her daughter playing on her back just minutes ago, was nowhere to be seen.
For days and nights, nobody wandered away from the camp but remained there in mourning.
In the distance, government troops ran from village to village torching homes, looting gardens and killing domesticated animals to top up their Australian rations.
The villagers were reluctant to scour the bush for the bodies in the presence of the enemy.
Finally news reached Mr Bangki that his dear wife and daughter’s bodies had been airlifted by their killers to Arawa General Hospital to the north.
Charles Bangki took a two day journey with piercing sorrow through the jungles and rugged terrains of Kieta till he and his party reached the Pomaa Mountains in the hinterland south of Arawa.
The sight of the distant Arawa town made his knees weaken and, alongside his relatives and family members, he broke into crying on the damp forest floor.
On the third day of his journey, they reached Arawa General Hospital.
There, in a refrigerated shipping container turned into a morgue, was his wife and daughter, whitened by ice and distorted by bullet wounds and blood stains.
Charles Bangki fainted in sorrow and was helped and comforted by weeping relatives and family.
Since his family home of Mosinau in the Panguna area was out of bounds because of undisciplined PNGDF activities, Charles Bangki took the bodies of his wife and daughter to the much safer village of Parai’ano near Aropa airport and buried them there.
“We paid a highest price in our fight for our rights,” Bangki says today, “and it is about time the combatants and politicians take responsibility for their actions and do the right thing so Bougainville becomes independent and free from the irresponsible Papua New Guineans.
“Without the use of weapons in 1988, Bougainville would not be ours; it would have been Papua New Guinean land occupied by their illegal squatter settlements.”
Today Charles Bangki lives in Arawa with his eldest son and regularly visits his wife’s and daughter’s graves to pay respect.
“They left me 23 years ago,” he cried to me, but my wife and daughter are still around me.”