IT WAS A TERRIBLE TIME and it cost many lives and left haunting memories in the hearts of Bougainvilleans. It came like a thief and took away precious people and belongings.
It was 26 October 1992 when we thought thunder roared and stones fell from the sky. Then we realised what was going on.
There were soldiers everywhere. And they crawled like ants through the bush. Gunshots came from the sea, the sky, through the bushes. Our area was invaded.
My mum cuddled me with a blanket and hugged me close to her chest and kneeled down facing the floor for safety from gunshots coming towards our house.
My people were running here and there, trying to pack their belongings to flee from the invading soldiers and up into the blue mountains.
After some dramatic action between the BRA and the PNGDF, we found ourselves among the fleeing villagers with loads of necessary things to use in the forests.
Small children, still in confusion, were told not to cry. Adults and young people capable of carrying things carried food, clothes, animals and other things.
The fear inside decreased as the ruggedness of the mountains got closer. I was peacefully sleeping in the warmth of my mother’s arms. She carried me carefully through the forest into the safety of the mountains with my father her support.
In the safety of the mountains, we made our shelters. On the first day of our hiding, we saw our houses and other villages going up in flames. We awaited news of victims of war.
Under the big and rocks we sheltered, in caves, wherever the darkness was we settled there. We moved from place to place, up into the dark thick forest and mountains to avoid the rifles.
These first days of absconding were hard, carrying foods, belongings and children, but the food was always in abundance for the forest was made to provide what is needed to sustain a person.
Pigs, birds and cuscus provide us with meat; wild yams. Chinese taro and nuts provide us with energy. Leaves and fruit from plants and trees offer a balanced meal.
The dried bamboo provides a smokeless fire to cook and to be beyond the helicopters’ sight. If there is no bamboo close, the fireplaces can be made between the big tree roots.
And to be on the safe side, the camps are built near rivers or creeks to wash the fire away quickly.
Along the east coast, the fighting was severe and many soldiers were losing lives. The Bougainville Revolutionary Army was pushed back deep into the forest. From there, with the camouflage of the forest, the PNGDF was driven back.
We were in the mountains of Koianu. On the coast, the PNGDF captured Toimonapu and set up camp there.
Among all the families and relatives, my family decided to move to the other side of the mountains because of the good services.
My uncle who was one of the BRA guided us through the mountains and down to Koromira. We followed the mountain tracks to my grandparents’ hideout camp and settled in there.
To be continued ….