Barbra Damaya - Oral History interview recorded on 04 April 2017 at Alotau, Milne Bay Province


Mrs Barbra Dayama tells the story of her grandfather Mr Joash Damaya who was recruited by the Papuan Infantry Battalion as a soldier during the war.



Warning: This site contains stories of war. Some of these interviews may include detailed and graphic descriptions of events and experiences that may be disturbing for some individuals.

This is an interview with Barbra Damaya from Pem village in the Rabaraba area, Cape Vogel. She is going to talk about her grandfather Joash Damaya who was a PIB [Papuan Infantry Battalion] soldier.
My grandfather actually, like you know he's a witchy man like I have to admit. He practised both sorcery and witchcraft and why he practises that and because he has a very big land. He has a very big land and his father, my great grandfather has three wives. My great grandfather died and my grandfather was the one who participated during World War Two (WW2). He travelled all around Milne Bay Province even he came to Samarai, around here [Alotau town]. He even went to Moresby, and then Popondetta and Gona. He took part in the war with others who also took part. Billy is one of them. Billy is from Midino. Billy I don't know his what. That's their leader. My grandfather's leader is that Billy there. Their leader or what. You'll find out from his grandson Philip Magewa. That's my grandfather's leader is that one, Billy there.
So they went around like at Popondetta especially Gona and then Moresby then at Baniara Island. That was the Station. There was no Rabaraba. Our Station was at Baniara so they ended it there, the war. He was recruited in the village. Billy was the one who recruited him because that's their gang leader something like that. Billy is from the next village, Midino. So the right information is you get it from his bubu there Philip Magewa. He's still here at the transit. He's the right .. ANGAU officers came around and he was with them. I was still here and then these Europeans went down and then I missed out. I was here and the Europeans went and they went around with Philip Magewa.
Only two of them from the Rabaraba area joined the PIB. My grandfather and that Billy there. You should find out from Mukawa if there were other men who joined. Okay that old man died in 2015, Steward Baipa. He was one of them but he died in 2015. He served first around the Rabaraba area he came to Samarai and then part of it here. And then he went to Gona. From Gona he went to Moresby. Moresby and he came and end it at the village.
That's right, a lot of Japanese were stationed at Rabaraba.
Oh they really like came and mistreated the village people. That's what my old man told me, my late father told me. He said they used to treat them like slaves. They'll tell them to go and carry like heavy loads like pipes and what . and if they don't listen to their orders they used to beat them up. They killed some of our village people who disobeyed.
They established some camps at my village on the mountain. It's on the mountain. That was where their main base was overlooking down to Milne Bay because they stationed one gun there as well. A big machine gun. What I'm telling you is about my father's father. As I said, everything is recorded in that cassette. That cassette is right now with my brother. You should . on the what there . you gonna read everything. But last time I went home and I asked my big brother, can you bring that cassette and I'll take it in case these University students, anybody might come and ask for this type of information. But he said if you meet them tell them to come down to the village. That's what he told me. He said we can take them to that Port where they were what yah . like they were stationed there. That's what my small brother told me so I said okay.
My father was a little boy. He was about .. He was born in 1941. 1942 his father took part. Actually, his mother ran away with him. They went and hid in the cave and my grandfather went and he had to fight. My father was little, a baby. I don't know how many months. His father went and fought in the war. My grandmother with my father went and hid in the cave. That was in 1942. I believe he was one year already or how many months.
They lived in the cave from 1942 to 1945. They found it very hard but they had to stay there for their lives, their safety. Anyway, they stayed until the end of the war when my grandfather came back and took them out from the cave and they came back to the village. There were some people living with them in the cave, like that old man Steward. Old man Steward and there's another one. I'll find out from . they are from another village. There were a couple of them. That's their main camp, where our village.
No, the Japanese did not find them in the cave. They did custom like you know as I said my grandfather is a witchy man so he did custom and they hid the place. They were eating these wild yams, they go and roast them on the fire and they survived by eating them. And they also spear wild pigs and wallabies and cook them in the cave and they survived. I have seen the cave when I went up in 2014. The cave is very big. Like I said if you people have time, I'll take you and we go up. It's a very big cave. If you people have time, I'll take you and we'll go up to the mountain. It's a five hour trip from Alotau to Rabaraba by dinghy. It's still five hours straight to my village. From the village and if we walk up to the mountain is like one hour, walking from the village right up to the cave I'm talking about. So that cave there is like because my grandfather, like my ancestors were witchy people. That's their cave. They go and kill human beings in that cave and they eat the human flesh. I mean I have to say it out ah. Like I don't have to like ah ..
The Japanese just arrived in the village and caught people by surprise. He said when they were in the village and when the Japanese came they killed so many people. Only my grandfather and his wife and my daddy . plus their cousins like the aunties and uncles, they all fled to that cave now I was talking about. That cave like they did custom so they all fled and went and stayed in that cave. So when Japanese came they killed all the other village people but only my own family they went to that cave and they hid. Until when they went away and they came back to the big village. The Japanese stayed in the village until 1945.
The Japanese were already there when my grandfather joined the PIB. My grandfather and his friend volunteered to help in the war. Like for the sake of their people and they volunteered to join the PIB. Those Japanese killed their people in front of them and so they have to sacrifice to take up the job and it's only two of them. They went to Samarai by boat. It was an Anglican mission boat, Saint George. That's Prince Charles ah Queen Elizabeth's boat that's what my late father told me. They went on that St George to Samarai. And that same boat they took it to Moresby and Popondetta. Same Mission boat.
When my grandfather left his relatives really cried and they were really worried. They really really cried. Because he was the one who saved them especially our closest relatives. They were really like . if only this old man was alive he should have like save all of us our lives like . but he died so. Actually like his other witchcraft friend got jealous of him and they killed him. Like witchy they go around together and they kill people, his friend got jealous of him and he killed my grandfather. But otherwise he should be still living. He's a very strong man. That happened after the war when they came back home.
Okay like when those Japanese, I don't know the Japanese fought with the Australians or the Americans. Like when they wounded those Japanese or the Americans like my grandfather used to go and carry them on the stretcher with that Billy there from Midino. Their job is to go and carry them and go and they'll put medicines on them or take them to Gona, transport them to Gona. That's their main job. They were not fighting, they were just carriers. They were carriers. They did enjoy the job. It was very dangerous.
When my grandfather was in the war, my grandmother really cried for the husband. She thought that he'll go and go for good ah. But anyway he came back safe. Billy and him came back safe. Billy is the same problem. His other witchy friend got jealous and killed him. That same what . same reason. Because two of them are the strongest ah. They are the strongest during the war. Their witchy friend got jealous of two of them . my grandfather was killed first and then Billy.
My grandfather was looked after well during the war while he was working as a carrier. They were fed with biscuits and Ox & Palm and whatever and those dollars money they gave them or pounds or what .
My late old man like as I've said the cassette is there. Everything that took part during the war is like everything is in that cassette. That's why and I really beg my brother to like bring that cassette and now we should put it on and we should listen. The main stories that my father told me are the ones I'm telling you. But otherwise all the information is in that cassette there. It's in language, he spoke in language. Pem language. I can interpret it when he's talking like he's saying like this or . during the war.
My grandfather worked in Gona and Buna area, because you know they are the carriers so. He was taken from Pem to Buna, Samarai to Moresby and back. Those were the main places.
The Japanese landed at my village in 1942 and stayed there until 1945. They fought . My grandfather told me is like those Australians they came to chase them. Australians came to chase them, Japanese. That's the main what . As I said like my grandfather is just a carrier so. He was not in the PIB.
He usually carry like medicines for the wounded, food and medicines. That's my grandfather's job for the wounded. He protected himself by custom. Rabaraba area is much stronger with sorcery than here. That's why I said my village called Pem which means 'stone.' That Pem there, that stone you don't think its stone nothing. People used that stone to kill, like for example if I want to kill you, I'll use that stone. Like I'm saying the story. I'll say something like spells to the stone and then I'll put stone in your body and you'll get sick. Okay that stone will be working in your body until it will make very big ulcer in your side here. You'll be sleeping go go and until I'll give you time. When we said this time July 7 you gonna die, ok that stone is going to show up. Because that stone is working in your body, that puripuri ah. So when I said July 7 like you'll go [die]. That stone you gonna see its gonna come out from your body and then you'll go off [die]. That's what they did to my late father. They put very big stone.. He was lying and he did not pekpek for six months. That stone was working inside him when they said July 28 they gave him the time the switch will be off. And then when that stone came out . made very big ulcer when it came out. And same time my old man pekpek and closed his eyes [died]. So the stone is our . That's why and that place is called Pem, meaning stone.
Yeah, we have composed songs like other Papuans to remember the war. Our village boys yah they used to sing that during the war like they sing about my grandfather. They composed about my grandfather. I forgot the words. I said I forgot the words but the village boys can memorize it.
There were plenty people from Pem that supported the Japanese. Okay one old man is still in the village. He has the full story. One old man, you a bit younger. This one got no teeth. But he was a young fellow, young boy when those Japanese came so that man there he has the full story. Because he's seen it with his own eyes. After the war the ANGAU officials did not take any person from Rabaraba to court for assisting the Japanese. The people who were helping the Japanese looked after some of the people well and some they did not. But as for my grandfather who was well looked after by the Japanese. That's what as far as I know.
My grandfather, my father's father. He was working for the Australians but the Japanese did not mistreat him. Because you know he was using like custom, you know he's a puripuri man. They got scared of... his power like it touched them so they were doing good to him. They did not mistreat him because he was a sorcery man. So like he said some spells before he went out to do his job or what .. So he was not mistreated. His other friends were with him. Yeah many Rabaraba people were killed especially those volunteer ones.
The women too were mistreated too. Like they were trying luck on the local women and the women refused . they were abusing them. That's why and like they got killed. They refused those Japanese men. They refused to go with them so they got up and they killed them. The Japanese people killed the women. The Rabaraba men got scared so they had to run for their lives. They had to run to the mountains. They saw guns so they have to think of their lives so they ran away.
Only my grandfather is a puripuri man so he was worried about his own life. He looked after only his immediate family members so they were safe. Only those others nothing, non-relatives. Yes there were some bombing in the Rabaraba area by the Japanese and Australians. That's the one I said if you people have enough time then we should go and you talk to that old man with no teeth. Because he was there when the war took place. His memory is still good. The last time I was in the village, I went and he told me about that plane wreck around his area during the World War. He was telling me like can we go and make way for government people to come and . so I already make way and we started to tell stories about the war. That's my grandfather, my late father's uncle. He said my bubu if you go and people are talking about war, you come and my mind is still what . I can tell them the story because I am one of the eye witnesses. That's what he told me. I'm one of the . I was a young boy and saw it. I was one of them who ran away to the mountains. I ran for my life. That's what he told me. So that old man is in the better position to tell you people the real story. I talked to him just lately before I came. February this year, I talked to him and later I came to town. So he said if anybody talking about the war you just bring them while I am alive I can give them the right information. And the son is there. If you people want then we go down so you can go and talk to the son so he can go and tell the old man. Or if the son knows the story then he can relay the story to you people. Because I have a trust in that old man because you know the way he was talking showed that he was one of the eyewitnesses. But this one I'm saying it is what my bubu told me is only the main one. But not the whole one. Only the main ones he told me that he was a carrier but bomb or whatever is that old man, he knows the whole story.
My grandfather like he enjoyed it. He said he enjoyed it like very nice job. But you know because he used like custom so .. My grandfather doesn't speak English but when he was going around with those Japanese and he knows how to speak English. He was speaking language and lucky there was an interpreter who went with my grandfather, like no this old man is saying like this and this . So they'll be interpreting it. My grandfather said through those Japanese and he started to speak English. He worked with the Japanese before he worked with the Australians. So he worked with both of them.
He changed his mind to work for the Australians because he reckoned that we are under Australian colonial rule. That's what he thought so he changed his mind again.
He helped the Japanese as a carrier also. He cooks for them, boils their tea. That was his main jobs every day. He did not regret leaving the Japanese to work for the Australians. After he found out that we will be under Australia he said bagarim the Japanese, I have to go for the Australians so he went for the Australians. He worked for the Japanese because the Japanese arrived there early before the Australians came. He was not forced to work for the Japanese he volunteered to work for them. He just offered to work for the Japanese.
You know those types of people so they have to offer themselves. They are these types of people so . like you know witchy type. Because even he's working for them night times he's already out. You are thinking that he's with the Japanese but night he's already somewhere we don't know. I mean that's what he told us.
They were sleeping and .. My grandfather's story, he was sleeping with those Japanese and somehow he out. One of the Japanese wanted to drink tea so they woke him up and no answer. And then they got scared. Those Japanese there they spoke and said eh we are waking this old man up and how and . that one his spirit already.. Later when he came back in the morning and that Japanese, his best friend said, eh last night we were waking you up we wanted you to like boil tea and we drink yah . I don't know what did he say to them. He said oh I was already out. I flew out somewhere. That's what he said, he has to tell them the truth that I flew out somewhere. They got scared when they heard about it. Those Japanese got up and spoke in their language and said they don't tell me this one is one of the . The Japanese could feel the power ah . there was something wrong and that's why and they were . This story of my grandfather not waking up was passed onto my father then my father told us. But he was very lucky that he taped the whole story. He taped it so we are very very lucky. So we are lucky now. He recorded everything in the cassette so we kept it.
All right, thank you.

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“Barbra Damaya - Oral History interview recorded on 04 April 2017 at Alotau, Milne Bay Province,” Voices from the War, accessed July 17, 2024,