LEONARD FONG ROKA
Arawa is fast becoming a centre for all sorts of activity and a transit point for travellers.
With Bank South Pacific now established, most central and south Bougainville people do business here.
This month Arawa hosted a Bougainville-wide football tournament where men and women’s soccer teams from across Bougainville came flocking for nine days of games.
The non-Bougainvillean population is rising, and this is getting old Ambrose Taruko worried.
Taruko is the majority traditional landowner of nearly 55 residential areas in Arawa town, including where the former Arawa General Hospital and Arawa High School stood.
Taruko says he and his family were kicked out of Arawa before the crisis. He says Bougainville Copper Limited, the PNG government and the provincial government paid no heed to them.
Far worse, to Taruko, were the erereng (Papua New Guineans) brought in by BCL and the PNG government. Taruko says he and his people were robbed of their life as it was.
He says it was the Bougainville crisis that rescued them from extinction, so he has respect for Bougainville Revolutionary Army leader the late Francis Ona and former combatants.
He says that now the conflict is over, landowners like him are respected by the Autonomous Bougainville Government.
“Me and my family were saved by the war from losing all our land,” he says.
“The little we had after the PNG government and BCL took everything was taken over by the reckless spread of erereng slums.”
Now Taruko is worried by the increasing erereng population in Arawa, even though they are just a handful. He fears this is the start of something big – “That is the trend me and my family suffered in the past.”
In the 1960s Taruko was a young man and watched the development of Arawa town. It brought in many companies and the contractors brought in erereng to work and not Bougainvilleans.
The erereng then brought in their relatives and a few married into the local population. Arawa became not a town on Bougainville but a town in some part of PNG. To Taruko history is repeating itself.
“Erereng illegal settlers took over our gardening land. Every day they claimed a land area. I drew a line that they should not cross. But the next morning they unrooted the sticks I buried and slashed them to pieces.
“When I went to see their leader to settle the dispute, they terrorised me with knives. They stole our cocoa and coconut plantation and raped our women. They also looted our gardens and fruit trees, too.’
Taruko and a few other landowners of Arawa are worried that the Bougainville government is not concerned about the welfare of Bougainvilleans and that it is not creating an environment where Bougainvilleans can advance themselves without the infiltrating erereng people.
To them the Autonomous Bougainville Government has gone off track and they think the current leaders must be changed for the betterment of the Bougainville people.