LEONARD Fong Roka really needs no introduction to readers of PNG Attitude.
And now the prolific 35-year old Bougainvillean writer - this year completing a PNG Studies and International relations degree at Divine Word University - has won Papua New Guinea’s first Book of the Year Award for his civil war memoir, Brokenville.
“I salute Ok Tedi Mining and its endeavours in this politically sick PNG climate to aim high for the ordinary people since the greatest thing is for us all to serve humanity in our own ways,” the straight-talking man they call ‘Captain Bougainville’ told me.
“And I thank Ok Tedi and the judges for considering my memoir, Brokenville, a story of a child, a family and a nation of Bougainville.”
Leonard started writing while a Grade 7 student at Arawa High School in 1997.
“We were coerced to write poetry about Bougainville issues by our English teacher, an Eastern Highlander, William Mania,” he said.
“But deeper insight and a feel for the English language came in Grade 9 when our Kiwi English teacher and ornithologist, Don Hadden, author of Birds and Bird Lore of Bougainville and North Solomons which was published in2004.”
Leonard says of Brokenville: “I had in mind that I had to tell my story of the crisis years, 1988 to 1997.
“I knew I would get married one day and my kids would need my tales of what history would tell them.
“My daughter, Dollorose Fong Roka, was born at Piano Health Center in Buin, South Bougainville, on 19 June this year and she has Brokenville to read and know what her father endured in those Kieta mountains.”
The judges’ citation
I recently commented to Keith Jackson, writes Phil Fitzpatrick, that someone needs to hose down Leonard Fong Roka before he spontaneously combusts.
Captain Bougainville is like a machine gone mad, spitting out reams of text, all different and all stunning to behold.
I often wonder when it will all stop, surely he has to run out of steam soon, but deep down I know he never will, at least not while he is breathing the fecund air of his great love, Bougainville.
He is the winner of the inaugural Ok Tedi Mining Book of the Yearwith his wonderful memoir, Brokenville, about growing up on his war-torn island.
What makes this award special is the stiff competition he was up against.
Choosing a winner was not easy. Brokenville was stacked up against his other works, the collection of short stories, Moments in Bougainville, and his book of poetry, The Pomong Utau of Dreams, as well as Francis Nii’s compelling highlands novel, Fitman, Raitman and Cooks: Paradise in Peril, Sil Bolkin’s meticulous exploration of a Simbu diaspora, The Flight of Galkope, and the seminal collection of poetry, At Another Crossroads, by Papua New Guinea’s unofficial poet laureate, Michael Dom.
All of these works deserve an award because they are very special in a very special year. Unfortunately there is only one prize and Captain Bougainville has carried it away.
“I do feel bad being a free rider but fight this feeling off because I hope to give more after completing school here at DWU, which I will do this October, and securing a job back in Bougainville to get a financial base.”
Leonard, whose origins are in the mine-affected communities around Panguna, has high praise for Ok Tedi Mining, the sponsor of the Award.
“I love very much Ok Tedi and its sustainable development programs that I feel the PNG government has now corrupted and harmed.
“Part of this was a game-changing hydro project for Central Bougainville.
“The colonial Australian administration, CRA and, since 1975, the PNG government have not created something along these lines for us Bougainvilleans.”