LEONARD FONG ROKA
IN 1989, HAVING SATISFIED THEIR APPETITE with the burning of most villages along the road in Panguna’s Tumpusiong Valley, the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) began a careful infiltration of uphill areas away from roads accessible by vehicles.
One hamlet that had a visit from the PNGDF was Enamira, situated at the foot of Panguna’s Deumori Catholic Mission.
The unique fact about this desolate hamlet, situation on the ridge directly above the main entrance of the mine’s pit drainage tunnel, was that it was home to Arenama, a mentally retarded person who had abandoned his wife and children.
Arenama was a blood brother of Michael Pariu, one of the leaders of the old Panguna Landowners Association and currently a leading advocate of the reopening of the mine.
Arenama had been a catechist at Deumori but he got sick and became mentally handicapped. Despite this state of mind, however, he loved his reclusive life. He kept his place clean by sweeping the lawn daily. He planted flowers and did his gardening. He dug little holes under his hut, defecated there and buried his waste. He hated noisy visitors but he was harmless.
On that fateful day in 1989, whilst his uncle was asleep, Anthony Imako (pictured), a militant, and his mate passed through the hamlet to observe the deserted Deumori Catholic Mission where two days earlier the PNGDF had shot at them as they shouted and condemned them from their hiding place on a ridge.
After having satisfied their hunger with ripe bananas in gardens left behind by relatives who had fled to the care centre in Arawa, the two men tracked downstream to get to the cliff below the Catholic mission. Their intention was to climb the cliff-face where the PNGDF would not bother to watch.
But half way through their climb, looking down on the forested stream that runs near Enamira, they spotted an unexpected PNGDF patrol tracking along a trail from Kavarongnau hamlet which they had burned earlier, home to the then North Solomons Provincial Government Premier, Joseph Kabui.
They immediately left to try to persuade Arenama to escape from the patrol.
When they arrived at Enamira, Arenama, as then in his mid-50s, was preparing to cook his breakfast.
They calmly chatted with him and told him there was a patrol of killers approaching. Imako and his mate, both unarmed, left to observe the progress of the infiltrators before returning to Arenama who by now had a pot on the fire.
They told him to move out, which he agreed to do. Chuckling, he told them to be on their way.
At that, the pair traversed down the rocky brae known locally as Katoma as this was the fastest access to the highway at the entrance to the Panguna mine pit drainage tunnel.
But as they neared, they saw a parked convoy of Bougainville Copper Limited trucks with PNGDF soldiers. They changed their course to a safer spot and halted, keeping their eyes on the PNGDF men below.
They had been there for a few minutes when, just above them at Enamira, guns began rattling. They immediately knew their relative was the target.
The noise of crows above the trail from Enamira told the two men that the PNGDF was moving down the track.
But Imako, not realising how far the scent of tobacco travels, got his smoke-pipe burning - alerting the PNGDF men that there was a foe nearby. The soldiers fired rounds in their direction so the friends darted uphill towards Enamira.
Upon arrival on the ridge top, they observed from the nearby bushes and, seeing it was clear, they moved to the lawn. There, the old man’s pot of rice was smashed, his little hut destroyed and his few belongings were burning on the lawn.
Imako felt happy thinking his uncle had escaped. But marching towards the edge of the lawn to look down at the pit drainage tunnel area, there was blood on the ground and on a piece of bush rope left behind.
They slowly tracked down; and saw blood everywhere, with ants feasting and flies hovering. Arenama had been rolled downhill and the bloodied grass was bent as if a heavy drum had rolled over it.
Further down, the pair saw parts of Arenama’s skin against some broken bamboo that he might have being dragged over. The two men immediately left for their village.
The next morning, the militant relayed the story to Arawa where their relatives were in the old colonial plantation fermentary where most of the Tumpusiong Valley people were living, including the late Arenama’s wife, children and grandchildren.
They hesitated for a few days in fear of the PNGDF and police who always harassed the staff of the Arawa General Hospital. But later they ordered Michael Pariu and a few elders to negotiate with the PNGDF at the hospital and were allowed to identify the body.
They searched a refrigerated shipping container piled with bodies. Arguments broke over the death story of Arenama as they searched. But they later identified the body; it was disfigured but the feet helped confirm it was the late Arenama.
He was brought back home and buried where he was shot. Cartridges were inserted into the concrete block over his tomb to indicate he was killed by the gun.