My name is Mary Mamatau, I was born in 1963.
From 1971 to 1975 I was in primary school. From 1975 to 1979 were my high school years. In 1980 I attended Arawa Technical College which was one of my high points. In 1981, I was forced into a customary arranged marriage to a man from my village. It was not of my wish but that of my parents. But life goes on and I had my first child in 1981. I continued to have the rest of my children and cared for them which was quite hard while my husband was working at the time. By 1989 I had had six children. This was also the time that the crisis began in Bougainville.
In 1992, we went to a Care Centre and life there was very difficult for mothers especially for women like us who had many children and not enough money to feed them. It continued on to 1994, there were so many killing occurring at the Care Centre and we couldn’t stay there so we had to move. So my people wanted to go back to their own area and build a care centre there, however the same treatment continued on.
So it was 1996 when the army decided to move us to another location altogether, not in our area because they wanted to take all the people to one location. So we were moved to Konnou for not even one year before our boys and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) came up with the idea of killing the army.
At the same time I was chosen to attend an inter-church forum in Arawa. That was the first time I was seen as a leader. I never thought I would be chosen by the women or by the people to be one of the leaders. This trip made me a confidant woman, telling me that I can take the lead. Since then I have taken a leadership role among the women.
When I came back from Arawa, killings were still continuing, so we had to relocate to the bush, that’s a long story but we went and stayed in the bush. In 1997, one of my children died, but that didn’t stop be from continuing my work with the women. Even though we were living in the bush, it did not stop me from mobilising the women in spiritual groups and programmes, we found ways to help ourselves and eachother in how we could meet our needs. Sometime we would help to go and sell produce we would grow in our gardens like ‘kumu’ (sweet potatoe). We have to walk a long way to a district, local town in Buin. So there were many ups and downs, but the women did not give up. We continued to pray for peace, we continued to talk to our children who were still into the guns.
In 1998, the Bougainville Pan Meeting which was conducted in Buin district, which is where the negotiations and signing of peace agreements took place. I was chosen to represent my COE once again. So those experiences helped me raise my morale and leadership role.
During that period I was also representing women on the BRA side and the meetings on the BRA Government side. A helicopter used to come and get me from my own location and bring me up to Kieta that’s where we used to conduct women’s meetings for peace and freedom. So that continued on, but I still played the role of the woman’s leader at the district level too.
My COE area was one of the fighting zones. In 2000, another shoot out happened between the factions, so the women had to work even harder for peace. We had to talk, we had to go from place to place to talk to the factions.
By 2002, the PNG Census was conducted and I was selected by the district to assist with the census in my COE. So because of the conflict and fear, only a few people to conduct the census and I was one of them brave enough to go to the no-go-zones. I have to get women and make a network of women in order to enter the no-go zones.
In 2005, I contested in the elections at a sub-regional level, but unfortunately I did not succeed. I did not give up and continued to work with the women in various programmes. I continued to attend trainings and workshops building this capacity for myself. Maybe this is just my point of view, but having this capacity helped me work with the women and to continue with the peace process – talking to our children, reconciliation talks.
In 2008 to around 2011, there were still some disagreements and it stopped a lot of our women’s programmes. The factions were fighting each other: the BRA, the women and so on. Maybe they had issues and I don’t know all the details, but this problem stopped a lot of our women and COE programmes and whatever that was helping us.
In 2011, we decided to talk with our Chiefs. I can say it was just a miracle that the reconciliation happened on the 29th of November. All the factions came together and negotiated to come up with a process to continue. All the ABG members cam and witnessed. From that time the women continued to maintain the peace and that this peace in our area won’t go backwards.
In 2012, I attended a Honiara Peace Dialogue Workshop. I learnt more about how to go about dialogues and reconciliations. After coming back from Honiara we had the Women’s Federation launching. Now, just a few weeks ago we had training that could help us come up with strategies beneficial for our own areas.