MY FATHER WAS FROM UNEA (commonly referred to as Bali) Island in the Witu Island group of the West New Britain Province of papua New Guinea.
As an auto-mechanic apprentice in the Panguna Mining School and in his work at Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) Light Vehicles Workshop, he had many Bougainvillean friends.
Dad met my mother (a blood niece of Bougainville leaders, the brothers Martin Miriori and the late Joseph Kabui), an Arawa High School student, in the late 1970s.
They married and I was born in 1979 at Arawa General Hospital. A young man, Leonard Fong from Hoskins in West New Britain, decided I should inherit his name.
In the early 1980s, my nuclear family left our home hamlet, Kavarongnau, in the Panguna District’s Tumpusiong Valley and resettled in the mountainous Kupe area inland from Arawa where Bougainville’s first gold mining operation existed in the early 1930s.
My family reclaimed a piece of land my grandmother had previously purchased from her in-laws, the family members of my grandfather.
In the mid-1980s my father resigned from BCL and aligned himself with a religious life at Kupe and in 1986 I began my formal education at Piruana Village Tokples School, a pre-school located between Arawa and the Kupe Mountains.
While in school an illness attacked that nearly had me paralysed and dead. My grandmother and others declared it was a attack from our spiritual masters for having missed a required initiation so I was taken to live with an old woman relative at Parakake on the Port-Mine (Loloho-Panguna) access road.
Whilst I was here, for the whole of 1986, father went to do his catechist training at Mabiri Ministry School some 20 kilometers north of Arawa. Then he began working as a catechist in the developing Arawa Parish with the late American, Fr Gerard Palettea.
After completing my traditional healing process, I began schooling at Peter Lahis Community School in Arawa in 1987.
Practicing his church work, dad was also a member of a community group known as Matau Nerinaving that was pressuring the North Solomons Provincial Government to remove the New Guinean squatter settlers.
This was group had been created by the people inland from Arawa whose land was being taken over by urbanisation and slums.
On weekends I attended Matau Nerinaving meetings with my father.
In 1988, I was doing Grade 2, when PNG police brutality sprouted against my Bougainville people. In 1989, with the crisis intensifying, dad left Arawa to be close to the rest of the family in the Kupe Mountains.
My brother and I were transferred to Kaperia Community School, dwelling with our relative, the late Joseph Kabui, then premier of North Solomons.
In late July 1989, the Kupe villagers were evacuated to Kaino village, my brother and I attended school there until 1990 when the Australia-backed PNG blockade on my island was enforced and services were shut down.
I witnessed the whole Bougainville conflict. I lost my father in 1993 when he was shot by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA).
My father and his religious life had tended to deny me exposure to my people and culture. But his death opened me to learning our way of life and to be a man. I mingled with my people and learned skills like building houses.
In 1994, after hearing that the PNG Defence Force wouldestablish schools in Arawa where a care centre was being built, my mother led us out to Arawa at midnight in order to evade BRA elements. We arrived safe and a month later the PNGDF attempted to recapture the Panguna mine.
The next year, with the late Theodore Miriung leading a peace-building effort in Bougainville, I resumed school at what was formerly the Bovo International Primary School until 1996.
By this time, my religious mother had remarried another religious man from Panguna.
From 1997 to 2000, I was at Arawa High School. In Grade 7, teacher William Mania from the Eastern Highlands ordered us to write poems every day and Kiwi author and ornithologist Don Hadden was my English teacher for three consecutive years.
In 2001 and 2002 I was at Hutjena Secondary School where the freedom got me drinking and womanising. In 2003 I attended the University of Papua New Guinea with a dream to study literature. Here also I had my first piece of poetry published by University News.
This period was interrupted by my unofficial departure from the university in 2004 due to a personal financial crisis.
Taking up part-times jobs I then remained in Bougainville for almost seven years before enrolling at Divine Word University. This period also took my family back to the Tumpusiong Valley since back in Kupe, our hamlet and gardens had been looted and destroyed.
I purchased second hand roofing iron in Arawa, hired a chainsaw man and built a semi-permanent four-room house in a desolated hamlet in the Tumpusiong Valley out of Kavarongnau. My Arawa family began heading into Tumpusiong adding more houses to my creation.
I led the family by planting a 3,000 cocoa tree plantation on our land in the Bana District in South Bougainville. Leaving this to the other family members, I then created a plot in another area at Tumpusiong where I erected my second house. I was to expand this site from the 500 cocoa trees but my coming to DWU interrupted the work.
My desire to come to DWU was not generated by my will to study but by a book that carried the words ‘Published by the DWU Press’.
Having written a collection of 18 short stories and over 100 poems during my seven years at home (I had exchanged letters with author Dr Steven Winduo at UPNG who advised me to write the 100 poems but I later lost contact with him), I thought if I went to DWU as a student maybe it could help my urge to write.
It did not work out the way I thought it would but my 2011 Communication Skills lecturer, Mrs Aiva Ore, in her lectures mentioned blogging as an avenue of self-publishing and that captured my attention.
After her lecture, I went to Google and conceived a blog that bore my own name, Leonard Fong Roka. In the course of that same fortnight, looking for support information for my blog, I discovered the Crocodile Prize that eventually led me to PNG Attitude.
Writing for PNG Attitude since 2011 has made me feel a lot like a writer; and there has also been much improvement in my writing. But more is yet to be done. PNG Attitude is a venue where I decant my thoughts, stories and dreams to a wider audience.
School work is the great impediment for me to dominate PNG Attitude with my writings and improve my writing skills, or even work towards a novel or any other type of book.
I am currently bogged down with an autobiography of my Bougainville crisis experience as well as an anthropological work recording my family history. A rough version was in the Crocodile Prize 2012 Anthology, and Crawford House gave me positive feedback after reading it.
I have confidence in myself that before I die I will caress a book with ‘by Leonard Fong Roka’ on the cover and leave behind a legacy of a pile of writings - in PNG Attitude’s words - being a ‘lonely Bougainvillean voice’ for Bougainvilleans to love or hate.