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           Home >  Peace  > Conflict In Bougainville  :

Conflict in Bougainville - Part 5
A Price On The BRA Leaders' Heads
And Danger For Their Wives

Dorothy - 21/4/00

An interview with Josie Kauona Sirivi - part ii

If you have not already read the previous articles in this series, you may wish to begin by reading Part One

A price on the BRA leaders' heads and danger for their wives
The Papua New Guinea (PNG) Defence Force had put a price on the heads of Sam and other leaders in the BRA. Josie was a particular target of the PNG soldiers because of her husband's role. They were hunting for her as a way of being led to Sam. She had to keep moving to keep clear of them.

"After a helicopter flew overhead I decided that it was only safe to travel at night," Josie explained. "For safety I travelled alone rather than have the company of other women, as a big group was too easily identified. I had to travel quietly, and couldn't risk the noise of babies and children attracting the attention of the PNG soldiers. I really admired the efforts of my husband and brothers. They built small neat huts for me made from the materials in the jungle. At least it was warm enough for Melanie.

"All of the other commanders' wives were also at risk. There was no pity for any of us. We were not free to be with other people and many of the other people were afraid to associate with us, so we lived apart without letting other people know where we were."

Problems with the blockade
When a blockade was imposed on the island by the PNG Forces in April 1990 life became even more difficult. There were no medical supplies available and nothing could be bought so the hospitals closed.

1990 cease-fire only a temporary reprieve
Towards the end of 1990 came the first cease-fire and the people returned to what was left of their villages. "That is when we came back to our village and celebrated Melanie's first birthday after growing up in the jungle." said Josie.

Melanie and Josie at Kieta wharf during the first cease-fire in 1990
Melanie and Josie at Kieta wharf during the first cease-fire in 1990

However, by 1992 PNG had redeployed the defence soldiers and declared war on Bougainville again and their army was supplied with arms by the Australian government. The people had to return to the jungle.

Melanie Sirivi, four years old in 1993 at the sixth camp in the jungle
during the second phase of the war.
Melanie Sirivi, four years old in 1993 at the sixth camp in the jungle during the second phase of the war.

Melanie, her mother and her cousin Clarence at their sixth camp in 1993.
Melanie, her mother and her cousin Clarence at their sixth camp in 1993.

The toll on the women
The constant travelling with their families was especially hard for the women, and even harder for those who were pregnant. Many mothers and babies died because they could not get to a hospital or to skilled care.

Imelda's birth
One of the mothers who died in the jungle did not survive because her bleeding could not be stopped. She asked Josie to bring up her baby. Travelling to new locations for safety must have been even more exhausting and stressful with two babies to carry and to care for. Josie and Sam adopted the baby and called her Imelda Miruai.

"Miruai is the name given to her from her great grand mother which means 'meant to be'. Poka'mari - the name given by our family - means adopting her into our family," said Josie.

Imelda and her cousin Louise in 1997.
Imelda and her cousin Louise in 1997.

Life in the jungle
"Each day was a new day but always a day of hard work and suffering," Josie continued. "It was difficult to sleep each night because as the wife of the commander of the BRA I worried about the men's safety. The wives of all the men who were fighting spent anxious sleepless nights.

"Sometimes I was very sorry for my parents because they were not strong enough to keep on moving around. When we had to go up and down steep hills I wanted them to stay in one camp so that we could move without worrying about them. My mother said she was so sad to see her young daughter going through this hard time."

Josie's mother was also haunted by the terror of the wars. "Things became really hard and terrifying for her because of childhood experience of World War II," Josie explained. "She talked about it a lot with so much sadness in her voice. When she was with me at night she would hardly sleep. She stayed up saying her rosary beads. She is a very strong Catholic Christian. Whenever she forecast something or told of her dreams they did come true. My mother and I were always good prayer partners. We used get up at 3.00 am during very difficult times to seek help from God. God was always at our side."

Prayer their only solace
"All the time we are worried," Josie said. "All the night we cannot sleep for thinking ' My husband is there fighting'. That is when we turned to God for comfort. What comforted us was prayer. There was no other way. We comforted each other through prayers. Even though we were going through this struggle prayer was an important part of our lives. We had prayer days, and fasting-and-prayer days. Families met together for Sunday services.

"For some people normal family life went on but for me all my freedom was taken away. I had to keep away from most of the villagers, even my relatives. My brothers would sometimes visit us and bring us food, but many times they were not allowed to do this in case someone saw them and followed them."

The suffering of the children
The schools closed when the people left the villages so the children were not being educated. They suffered with dysentery and no medicines were available because of the blockade.

Melanie's serious illness
In 1995 Melanie was critically ill. By this time the BRA had largely defeated the PNG Defence Force and were in a strong position and had begun the peace process. The PNG government had said that it would grant an amnesty to the BRA. Josie had to surrender to them to get medical care for Melanie.

"Before that I had fear, but because of saving Melanie all the fear just went," Josie explained.

Sam continued, &qout;Before that we had prayed in the night and said, 'God if You really want us to save Melanie in this way by bringing her to the hospital to be put on a drip for water, we want to see a sign. We have a car. If we are driving to a district you must bring an escort from the BRA side between two chosen points. When we see that there are some of our members coming that way towards Arawa we will continue, but if we don't find anybody we are going to come back.'

"That is exactly what happened. I drove them down. I have to leave them on the way. I cannot go to Arawa our main centre yet. A BRA truck came behind us. These guys were the only ones going to Arawa and talking to the Defence Force. We said, 'Okay, that confirms it.'

"These BRA guys took Josie and Melanie to the hospital. When they got there Melanie had become unconscious. Josie prayed for three days without food. The food that the relatives brought was given to other sick people that were there. Within three days Melanie was up and running around. It was a miracle. God had cured her so that they could get away again.

"On the third day we were monitoring all the frequencies on the radio," Sam continued. "They started talking about Josie and Melanie from the headquarters saying 'Keep a close eye on them - how they are recovering.' What they meant we didn't know, but we were suspicious, as they were still our enemies. The moment I heard that one I said to our boys, 'Go and get them,' and Josie and Melanie were brought back again without finishing the medication and treatment."

Many grieve but believe their loved ones died for the cause of freedom.
"Melanie's recovery was a miracle, but for others we had no chance to save them," Josie added with deep sorrow in her voice. "They just died. In some of the families with us the women were war widows, and they lost some of their children. You can say 'Sorry', but you can't really help them lift out the weight in their hearts. Their loved ones died in the struggle for freedom and today if you ask their relatives about a fallen one they will tell you that if we get independence that is enough, for that is the cause that they died for. They get some acceptance because they know that those who died are heroes."

Photos supplied by Josie Kauona Sirivi.

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