LEONARD FONG ROKA
AFTER 1997, WHEN THE Bougainville Peace Process slowly gained momentum, the people on the coastal plains of Nasioi, especially around Arawa, slowly began to rehabilitate their old cocoa and coconut plantations.
At the higher altitudes like Panguna, where cocoa does not yield, people sought means to earn the cash the coastal people were enjoying; so most young men began to labour for the coastal people.
For those in the villages, there was a search for a resource that would counter the cash economy the coastal people were enjoying. Panguna people attempted butterfly, coffee, vanilla and spice farming but it did not work well.
By chance in 1998, the Moroni and Dapera villagers began sharing tales of the world‘s oldest precious mineral, gold. They knew through oral history had it that it was first mined in the mountains of Kupe in 1929-30 and later in the Barapinang (now the Panguna area).
They also knew the tales of the heyday of Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) when gold was processed in the Panguna mine’s concentrator. With curiosity, they began to sample the area using old methods of panning.
They then discovered that the most valuable mineral since the Biblical times was there waiting for them.
A gold rush dawned. People as far as Siwai in South Bougainville and Arawa on the east coast flocked to Panguna to tap in. The BCL tailings affected Tumpusiong Valley and people there also joined the rush for gold.
By the middle of 1999, the entire concentrator zone of the Panguna site was controlled by landowners and a few Bougainville Revolutionary Army leaders. Tumpusiong miners were pushed to the periphery and their numbers slowly declined.
The Tumpusiong people developed the notion that the vast sedimentation from Panguna that BCL had left in their valley should yield traces of gold.
So, without the entire valley being told, in late 2000 Boniface Arunara began sampling for the mineral. He had previously been an avid Panguna panner but, after being wounded in the left leg by the Papua New Guinea military, could not walk the long trails.
Arunara identified gold at a spot known as Sinari-tave in the Tumpusiong Valley. He secretly mined for a few weeks but was discovered and excitement diffused the entire valley and the search for gold was on.
Gold panning greatly improved the Tumpusiong living standard. Small businesses mushroomed and everybody has money earned with hard clean labour.