LEONARD FONG ROKA
The Avaipa consisted of six major villages - Kosia, Sipuru, Mainoki, Sirovai, Siuema and Kaspeke - before the Bougainville crisis and today is also dotted by hamlets.
Geographically the area is a plain sourced from the Banoni coast of South Bougainville and protected by the Crown Prince Range to the north, the Kosia ridge to the east and the Piruo Mountains further west towards the Karato area. It was not linked by a road even though it was just near the multi-million kina Panguna mine that promised Bougainville so much and gave nothing.
The centre of activity for the area is the Paruparu Catholic station (sub-parish of Deumori) which includes a primary school and health centre. Popular during the peak of the Bougainville crisis as an educational facility, the peace on Bougainville saw its demise as people were pulled towards the cash economy.
The Panguna mine funded PNG but gave nothing to Bougainville’s Avaipa area. To access government services, the Avaipa people walked for hours across rivers and mountains to Tumpusiong in the south-east or Borumai in the north-east.
But in post crisis Bougainville, a Bougainville without a multi-million dollar Panguna mine, there blew a wind of change. The people’s hours of shouldering wet-bean or fermented cocoa bags will soon be history and stretchers for their sick and dead will be no more because of the newly constructed road from the Tumpusiong Valley into Paruparu.
The road was first dreamt of by the Autonomous Bougainville Government which funded a 2009 survey from Borumai over the rugged Crown Prince Range into Paruparu. It cost some K100 thousand. The surveyors discovered that Paruparu was so close to Tumpusiong that a road from Tumpusiong would be less costly than from Borumai.
So, at a rough cost of another K100 000 of public money, the surveyors with local community leaders did another survey from Tumpusiong’s Pingnari section where one of the local leaders, Wendelinus Bitanuma, had his home.
But land related conflict about where the road would run was created by community leaders, scaring away the ABG. The project was called off; the village leaders were not to be seen.
Then in mid-2012, the national MP for central Bougainville, Jimmy Miringtoro, came to the rescue. He allocated some millions of kina to the dead project and it was revived, much to the joy of the people.
The surveyors came back to life with another round of surveying. Groups of people from Avaipa cleared the jungle trail and the bulldozers dug up the top soil for trucks to dump gravel from the Tumpusiong’s Panguna created tailings.
The contract was awarded to Kompaini Transport, a local company from the Koromira area of central Bougainville. They did not waste time when the funding was delayed, but used their own money to start the work and liberate the Avaipa people from being slaves of their own geography. The company was later reimbursed.
By Christmas 2012, transport vehicles were already visiting the Pangtaresi ridge (photo) that is a halfway point on the Tumpusiong to Avaipa trail.
Situated high on a ridge, walkers rest here with a view of Avaipa to the north-west and Tumpusiong to the south-west.
The road is certainly a road of change for the Avaipa people and those communities which surround them.