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Comment: Unforgettable Journey To Farewell Ona

Comment: Unforgettable Journey To Farewell Ona

By Gorethy Kenneth

BUKA (Wansolwara Online/Pacific Media Watch): It wasn't easy getting up to Guava, the home of the late Me'ekamui leader Francis Ona.

It took me three letters, two hand written and one sent via email plus verbal "almost begging" messages on the phone to get up to Panguna, Guava village, where the body of Ona was laid in state.

When I received news of Ona¹s death, I missed a heart beat and the first thing I said to those who brought the news was: "How could he die of illness, I was just there not so long ago and he looked so healthy."

My urge to get up to Guava started on that fateful day on Sunday I learned of Ona's death. I immediately sent an email to my contacts and made phone calls for a green light to go up to the mountains.

No word on Monday and no hope after the Me'ekamui faxed a notice that stated no "unofficial entries including journalists, politicians and others allowed up Guava" - but the comforting thing was a message addressed to me to make an appointment.

What held me back in Buka was the fact that the Bougainville Autonomous Government and the administration were negotiating for the body to be flown to Buka by the United Nation sponsored helicopter for a state funeral.

By close of business on Monday, the chances of the body coming down to Buka were very slim.

Come Tuesday morning and the answer was no, so I made it immediately to Arawa by PMV.

Heaven helped my heart - a few seconds after I had settled a group of men approached me and told me they would get me up to Guava. To cut a long story short, I wrote three letters and sent them with three different people on Tuesday and Wednesday for permission to attend the funeral.

I knew no shame that day as I had one thing in mind - to get up to Guava and cover the death and funeral of the man the world knew about - the one who orchestrated the Bougainville crisis that resulted in the shutting down of the giant CRA run Bougainville Copper Mine.

By 5pm on Wednesday, I gave up hope and started making my bookings back to Buka for Thursday.

I visited the Arawa district office for comfort because I was really upset, even to the extent of just going and turning back at the Morgan Junction Roadblock.

The fact that government officials and a lot more people were turned back did not help much.
There were three more journalists with me. We all made plans to return to Buka.

But alas! the Lord was on my side I guess, or bet my angel felt sorry for me because I did not want to return empty handed.

I even missed dinner and totally refused to take anything in my mouth - but the kicks in my stomach told me I had to feed someone else as I forced myself to bite on a muffin that night.

Just as I was heading to bed, the people that I longed to hear from dropped by and told me I was the only one accepted and that I was to be picked up at 6am for the funeral service Ð I nearly fainted.

The next morning, heavy rains, muddy roads proved a struggle with the Moses family - in a double cabin Hilux that had no four-wheel drive. I didn¹t care much about that - I longed to get up to Guava.

We were to stop halfway and walk a fair distance but magic did it - Edwin Moses, famous son of Chief Henry Moses who was very close to Ona, spoke and kept on speaking in a language to get us up to his place.

We made it - without the four-wheel drive and a truck full!

That was amazing - miracles do happen and I believed it.

The place was packed and tense: Soldiers with guns, people with axes, straight faces, unhappy ones, sad and red faces, I looked like an ant. I went to the funeral service and joined family members and thousands of others as they paid homage to the late Ona.

It was a day I will remember. I shed a lot of tears last week for wanting to get up to Guava. I also broke down in front of the coffin because I suddenly remembered the day I conducted an exclusive interview with Ona - including the many stories I have heard of him from my teenage years.

But today, I am proud and thankful that I was the last journalist in the world to have interviewed him face to face and also the only reporter to have seen him buried in his Guava throne.



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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