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They were the days of the mud bombs, and they are gone

Wewak mangrovesKEITH ANGEN

SOMEWHERE between 1980 and 1985, the young males in the East Sepik provincial capital Wewak fought a war in the mangroves. The boys were from the native labour compound in the township.

The native labour compound was also called Admin Compound or Mongniol Compound. But the youths of the 1980s called the place Bronx. Named after the Bronx (after the borough in New York in the USA).

World War II and its history was a favourite subject for the lads born in the 1970s and the wars fought in the mangroves imitated live actions by our war heroes, like Sir Pita Simogun and Yawiga.

Ambushes were conducted by a group of soldiers led by Lt Kex Wari from the 24th Infantry Division of the Makock Tribal Defence Regiment. They lay in the knee-deep water with only their heads above the surface, predicting the path of the enemy as they lay in wait.

The rival army, under the command of Capt Pokkee Ramee of Segeben Special Unit in the United Wabur Army, conducted patrols in search of the Makock Tribal Defence Regiment.

Segeben moved about in numbers while scouring the dense mangrove forest and secret hiding places. Confrontations occurred as the two troops came into face-to-face contact.

Lt Wari's soldiers deployed scouts that conducted reconnaissance missions. Face and body paint along with mud helped camouflage their warriors. Their soldiers scouted, creeping like crocodiles in the salty brown water to spy on the enemy.

Their bodies from the neck down were fully submerged. Only their head were silhouetted above the water.

Capt Pokkee was a brilliant fighter. He knew how to identify the tracks of enemies who had recently moved along a path. He figured out the footprints. Freshly cut trees or broken twigs pinpointed the tracks. On the water, bubbles or foam indicated somebody had just moved past.

Pokkee observed the seemingly serene water and knew something was moving there. Juvenile crocodiles and swamp lizards also moved in the mangroves. But when the swamp animals suddenly fled, he knew something human was in the area.

It was Vietnam war movies that provided the military ideas to the mud soldiers. Some of these movies were shot in the swamps. And the young Wewak boys played out every aspect. These days were the happiest of our childhood.

We practiced military techniques during the mud war. Ambushes and patrols and confrontations. Normally there were just two warring factions.

The weapons used were toys made out of mud from the mangroves near Viag Police Station. The mud was moulded into round fist-sized balls, to be thrown by hand.

Each side fired mud bombs aimed at each other. It hurt when the mud got into the eyes. And sometimes the body got hurt when the mud was baked in the sun and became hard.

In the beginning of these encounters, there were no rules. Later the guys developed rules of engagement, the most important of which stated that the bombs were not to be aimed at the head.

The war games eventually came to the end when some rough guys secretly put stones, sticks and mangrove shells into the mud bombs. The boys feared for their safety and abandoned the game.

We all grew up. By the time the young boys started primary school the game was forgotten. The younger ones never played the game. The mud bomb war was played out by one generation and faded away.

The mangroves in Wewak town still contain the hidden history of war games played out with mud bombs. The boys of the Bronx were the mud warriors as played out with mud bombs.


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Raymond Sigimet

Great one Keith. Those were the days of our generations carefree youthful days. War games amongst the mangroves, kunai patches, river banks, forested reserves and mountain sides. I can recall the crudely made weapons, head bands, group commanders and game rules. Of course, mostly influenced by Hollywood's portrayal of the Vietnam war and those one man war action movies. Truly, those were the best days.

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