An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
STEVEN Mangkona, now a certified boiler maker and running his private equipment and trade hire service on Buka, still finds it hard talking about the incident.
In 1994, outside Arawa, soldiers of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force killed his mother and injured his little brother, Brian, then aged three.
“Every night the PNGDF bombarded us in BRA-controlled areas with radio jingles,” Mangkona (pictured) recalls, blinking rapidly to keep-back tears.
“They called on us to surrender, get their services and find peace. But PNG gave me and my brother the heartbreak of not having a loving and caring mother that today we wander around trying to make ends meet.”
In Chapter 19 of my crisis memoir, Brokenville (Pukpuk Publications 2014), I write:
After Tonani’s walk to freedom others made the attempt. A refugee mother and her child from Siae living with extended family members at Pomong’s neighbouring hamlet, Kairang, left in search of freedom but was gunned down by the Redskin army.
Theresa had two sons. Her elder son, Mangkona was my school mate in 1986 at Piruana Village Tokples School. His father was Theresa’s elder sister’s husband. Her next son, 3 year old Brian, was from her short crisis-interrupted marriage to a man from New Ireland.
In early 1990, when all the redskins were evacuating from Bougainville in fear of their lives, the husband fled, leaving behind his wife and her sons.
Like Tonani before them, Theresa left with her youngest son in the early dawn for Kiriano, a little satellite hamlet of Pavaire Village on the Arawa-Topinang feeder road. This place was a PNGDF forward-base on the north bank of the Bovong River.
Early the next morning some wandering boys arrived at Pomong and told us that the mother and her child were missing and after an unsuccessful search everyone concluded that they heading for Arawa. Apparently the BRA was tracking them towards Kiriano on the edge of town.
We had heard heavy gunfire in the early hours of the morning coming from across the mountains in the direction of Kiriano and I was silently wondering about the fate of the family.
I heard the outcome a fortnight later.
Theresa and Brian had successfully cut through the BRA lines onto the Arawa-Topinang Road and were slowly making their way to Kiriano. As they approached the camp at about 4am a Sepik soldier manning a MAG 58 machinegun and keeping his eyes on the road opened fire. One of his raging bullets pierced the mother through her chest killing her instantly.
When the sun was high enough to scare the BRA away the soldier went to investigate what he had fired at in the night. And there in the moist grass was little Brian sitting calmly on his dead mother’s belly with a bullet wound in his tiny wrist.
I learned that people from the Arawa Care Centre had collected Theresa’s body from the PNGDF and had buried it at Mentonung hamlet, outside the old Peter Lahis Community School.
Mangkona was not at Kupe when his mother and brother left, for he had fled with his aunties into the inland Aropa area but regular came to Kupe.
When his entire family gathered at Kairang hamlet he was lost but had the confidence to join the BRA and do justice to his mother and brother. The peace process interrupted his ambition to fight the PNG army.
In October 1994, during the Arawa Peace Conference and under the security provided in Arawa by the South Pacific Peace Keeping Force, the brothers united. Tears were shared by all of Arawa even just hearing about the scene of the motherless brothers:
When Brian was brought to where his Siae family was by local adoptive parents in the care centre he eyed his relatives one by one until he spotted his big brother, Mangkona. He released himself from a hug of crying aunty and darted at his brother, Mangkona, who now sobbed hysterically.
Mangkona entered school and graduated from a technical school in East New Britain in 2008. He married in Malasang Village on Buka Island.
His little brother Brian went to teachers college in the PNG Highlands but left because of funding difficulties and lived with Mangkona in Buka.
After saving enough money, Brian eventually graduated as a teacher and is now back on Bougainville.