MARLENE DEE GRAY
An entry in the Rivers Prize
But still I remember my dear mana Roandi: my grandmother from Watabung. And I ask a question: is intermarriage a solution to acceptance in the diverse cultures of PNG?
I live at 4 Mile in Lae, Morobe Province. This area is known for hold ups and robberies. ‘Four Mile is not safe,’ the residents of Lae will tell you.
Ethnic groups which settle on blocks of land like 4 Mile, build strong ties, appoint leaders whom they respect and make powerful communities. These communities protect their own - vagrants, criminals, drug dealers and working class people alike. If you are a newcomer to a block, you are most likely to be assaulted first.
In Lae, this kind of ‘find your place to settle and blend in thing’ is overwhelming.
Ethnic ties are our own traditional constitution.
Before, I moved to 4 Mile, I resided at 1 Mile. One foggy afternoon, I was walking home from work and a man crawled out of the drain and pointed a homemade gun at me. Somehow, I got away and ran.
The funny thing was that a boy started chasing me. I fell into a deep drain full of debris and he daringly came at me with a gleaming dagger. I struggled out of the filthy ditch, dropped all the things I was carrying and ran for dear life. There were curious onlookers, who did nothing to assist me
I realised I was not safe living at 1 Mile.
I moved across town to East Taraka. There, a mugger nearly ended my life.
I was walking to the Unitech gate bus stop, talking to my brother on my mobile, when I felt my whole living being knocked out of me. My head reeled and I fell into the murky puddles. I slowly got up and saw a man walking away with my bag and mobile phone. There were people everywhere, but none of them helped me.
As I cried and walked to the bus stop, I felt an apple size lump under my left ear. I am doing no one any harm, just walking on the road, talking to my brother and someone nearly killed me.
When I moved to the 4 mile area some years ago, I was terrified. I mean, knowing this place and the stories I’ve heard plus the experiences, I had been through, I was quite alarmed.
‘Which part of Bougainville, are you from?’ my Simbu neighbours asked me the first time I moved here.
‘I am from Buin, as you can see from my skin colour. But in fact, my mother’s mother is from Watabung in Eastern Highlands Province.’ I clearly did not want to be another victim again. I decided to try out my origins and see if it would help me blend into this community.
Word spread around the community like this ‘bilak sikin yia, tasol, tumbuna meri blo em blo Warabung yia. Boda blo Simbu na Goroka.’
‘Aiiiiiya, tru ah! Naispla yia!’Bestie yia, sikin tasol yia. Kam gut yia!
A first glance at me, one wouldn’t be mistaken that I am a true blue Bougainvillean.
My grandfather, Kauva, was a policeman in Goroka. During World War 2, he joined the allied forces and fought the Japanese through the rough and mountainous terrains of Simbu.
After the World, he married my mana Roandi. They settled in Goroka and had six children.
In June 1959, Kauva decided to take his family to his homeland Buin in Bougainville. They travelled down to Lae and then fared a long, tedious voyage by ship to Rabaul and then to Bougainville.
Mana Roandi was kind, generous and hardworking. Her sharp-tongued and loudness also made people feared her. But she found her place and standing in that strange land Kauva brought her to.
As a child, I remembered mana Roandi looking at the sky and crying. Once I asked her why and this was what she said to me, ‘See the blue sky up there? My love ones and relatives see the same sky, moon and sun. But, I cannot converse with them, yet we see the same things every day.’
I did not understand what she mean then, but now I do.
When I moved to 4mile and settled among the Simbus. I have not encountered any of the previous experiences I had. I have blended in well with them.
I go out at night, to the tucker boxes when I run out of sugar or when I want to buy a flex and get on Face Book. No one bothers me. I am part of this community.
I feel comfortable living here, because I know that I am part of this people. And them knowing about my grandmother accepted me as one of them.
I am reminded once again that, blood is thicker and stronger.