LEONARD FONG ROKA
People who had sailed and flown to his island to exploit its wealth of opportunity and in doing so suppress the indigenous people of Panguna.
Born in 1998, with the peace process underway, he did not see the pre-crisis reality that caused the rebellion that killed some 20,000 of his people, one of whom was his uncle killed by government troops in Torokina’s Papona village.
If you drive from the village of Maingku on the port-mine-access road into Panguna and down Tumpusiong Valley to Jaba where Panguna District meets Nagovis and you might work out why young Paul Monoung is significant to Panguna.
Along this section of Arawa - South Bougainville highway you won’t go hungry or thirsty, for retail outlets are lined by the roadside from the Maingku area (Pakia) into the Panguna mine site and down to the Tumpusiong Valley.
The roadside business activities within the Panguna District is accelerating: there are retail stores, tyre services, fuel stations, vehicle workshops, liquor outlets, traditional food and goods stores, cooked food bars, and markets for fresh garden produce for travellers to and from south Bougainville.
This great change in the Panguna people is being driven by the money culture built on the back of alluvial gold mining.
Paul Monoung completed elementary school in 2010 and should be in Grade 5 now but he spends most of his time panning gold in the Tumpusiong Valley. He is one of the many kids in Tumpusiong Valley known as ‘koro batauinanunaving’ which means ‘gold chaser’.
These kids inherited the tag because of their practice, whenever a miner taps more gold in a particular spot along the Kavarong river (still polluted from the BCL copper mine), of migrating there with home-made equipment. They will stick around the spot until the gold infested block runs dry and then they move on.
In 2012 Monoung made K5,000 and decided to compete with three other kids of his age who also had canteens nearby who were members of his gold chasing gang.
He ordered his elder sister’s husband to hand-lumber timber and purchased a few old roofing iron sheets for K600 from his father’s kitchen hut. Then, with his brother-in-law, he began building his semi-permanent canteen.
He is now selling all except refrigerated goods since he has no mini-hydro of his own but he’s intending to buy a generator in Arawa which will be dismantled and used to operate a freezer he plans to buy.
“Nephew, that store where you photographed me when you helped me to weave the bamboo wall is doing fine,” he told me over the phone.
“Stationery is doing well because of the students at Kavarongnau School. I just purchased a big stereo system to lure customers and it is happening.
“My money is growing and I will build myself a permanent house soon after constructing the hydro electricity.”
Paul Monoung said he loves his business but says his mother and sisters irritate him by claiming a lot of credit in his canteen.