Wakunai River road block

Jeff Nehi was shot in Southern Bougainville on Sunday the 2nd August 2009. He died from his wounds. Mr Nehi was a man of Wakunai heritage from Central Bougainville. He was visiting family members in Siwai when the fatal event occurred. There are still a decent amount of weapons held over from the crisis in the south, though it would be inaccurate to state that they have the only cache.

A road block was quickly set up on the Bougainville trunk road at the Wakunai River by members of the local community, and vehicle traffic was brought to a stand still.

Demands for compensation, the arrest of the shooter and the disposal of weapons were made by the Wakunai leaders.

Arawa cars had made an appearance at Kokopau on Friday morning (7th August), so it was clear that at least some vehicles were being allowed through along the trunk road.

After a slow trip down the coast in a PMV I got to the road block. A number of 44gal drums were standing upright across the road, with a large steel bar and bits of jungle foliage on top. A single drum on one end could be rolled out of the way to allow passage. A quick head count put about thirty men and boys around barrier. I got out of the car and chatted with those checking cars as they arrived. After explaining why I was there and what I wanted to do, I got down to rolling film through the camera. Snapped a few frames on the little digi for kisim piksa as well. While I worked a few different conversations were struck up with the guys at the barrier.

I soon learned that a meeting was being held the next day between the Wakunai Council of Elders and a delegation from Siwai. With this now on the cards I headed south over the river. A short walk down the road brings you to Wakunai Station. I met the District Manager and a few of the Wakunai chiefs. After another explanation of what I was looking to do I received a very generous offer to stay at the station that evening and permission to attend and photograph the next days meeting. 

Sign on Wakunai road block

A slow wander back north to the road block and I made a few more pictures. A few small signs had made their appearance on the barrier. It got dark and I walked back down to the station, enjoying the cooler dusk air.

The Council of Elders of Wakunai were very generous, and I sat down for a meal with them at Mr Gordon Bure’s house. The discussion, moving between tok ples and pidgin, focused on the next days activities. I excused myself early to ensure they were not inconvenienced by my attendance. Back to the house where a number of us were sleeping, and then out like a light. 

Wakunai meal

Next morning dawned bright and hot. It was assumed that the Siwai delegation would be arriving later in the day due to distance and the need to get everyone together to travel. I got my things and wandered around having a look at the place. I ended up on the beach, enjoying the volcanic sand and the wiggling patterns made by freshwater springs discharging onto the coast. I think I might need to spend a few days on that beach just pointing a camera down at the sand and rocks, even if it sends awful shivers of parroting Weston up my back.

Beach at Wakunai

Cars began arriving from the south just before midday, and continued to come in for a couple of hours. Once the Siwai delegation had assembled a document replying to the Wakunai list of demands was presented. It proposed a time line and set of actions for rectifying the animosity between the two regions.

The two groups then retired for discussions prior to the main meeting. I approached the Siwai delegation to explain my presence, then moved between the meetings photographing the participants. 

Members of the Siwai delegation

By late afternoon the two parties were seated in the Wakunai District conference room. The meeting began with a prayer, and then the negotiation began. Obviously because a murder had led to this meeting it meant that the discussion was at times tense. Still, the meeting did not stall. People voiced their opinions and the problems associated with the demands made by the Wakunais and the reciprical proposed course of action by the Siwais. As the two regions have quite different customs regarding these sort of practices the discussion at times had to cover the culturally specific actions that the two parties were taking. The customs of each side were acknowledged and taken into consideration. 

Meeting at Wakunai Station

As the sun made its way down into the mountains an understanding was reached between the parties. They agreed to meet again in early September to further their discussion on compensation and reconciliation. An official Memorandum Of Understanding was drawn up then signed and witnessed by elders from Wakunai and Siwai.  

Signing of M.O.U

The groups came together to embrace and then share a meal. As the Siwai delegation had travelled, the Wakunais made sure that the visitors were well fed before they started the journey back across the island. 

Close of meeting

As it was Saturday night the chance of me getting back north was slim. Cars don’t generally run along the road on a Sunday, so Monday looked like the earliest chance to head home. With only the clothes i was wearing, a pair of cameras and some exposed film I was a sad looking bit of work. Still, luck fell on my side as a car was leaving Wakunai for Kokopau that night, and a spare seat was available. A few hours later the Buka passage came into view.

Laptop and sticker

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