Honar Dogari - Oral History interview recorded on 10 June 2016 at Sanananda, Northern Province, PNG


Mrs Honar Dogari describes the Japanese landing and living in the bush and then in Inonda care centre.


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.

[MT] Tell us the story of what you have seen with your own eyes when the war came up.
The war came up between Gona and Oro Bay, there was beating of bamboos—not the noise of the boats but the noise of the beating of bamboos, and the ground was shaking. It got us surprised and we ran, we didn't know where our parents were, we had never seen this kind of thing before so we were crouching and running. We ran up to the head of the river you have crossed over and we stopped there. The whole place was full of Japanese. We were unable to move further.
[ME] The boats you saw, were they a few small boats or many big boats?
Ah, ah, ah! There were so many big boats, it can't compare with this place. On top of the boats, the planes were like dancing to and fro over the boats like they were protecting them as they were coming up. We were not able to stand and see it, the noise made us run away.
[ME] When people saw this did they stay in the village or they ran away?
They did not take any food, they did not take anything, they just ran, but we were prepared, we put our food in the basket and ran up to the head of this river, the rest of them went further up towards Gevoto. We were there and the place was filled with people. Japanese filled up the place and found a few men and women. The people got scared and ran further up into the bush. One women was spoilt (raped). After that, people were scared and went further into the forest. When that happened, people were scattered, scared and the forest that you are unable to go through, you are unable to go through our forest, unlike yours. You [to Margaret] are from the mountain where it is alright for you. But here the swamp, the thorns, the mud is knee-deep to go through.
We slowly and carefully walked up to a place called Sigori, but we couldn't live there. So we got the people from Sigori and we walked back into the forest in search of where the rest of Buna people were living. There was shooting taking place in the sea and on the land, we had never seen such things before so we were trembling and people ran into the bush, not thinking of your daughter or your husband. We ran all the way to Buna and stopped there. Where will we find food in the middle of the jungle, there was no food. We ate nuts and fruits and barks of edible trees and pandanus fruits. We had no clothes, we dipped into the mud where the pigs have been and ran to take cover at the back of the big tree trunks and the undergrowth in the swamps. There was no food to eat. Where could we go where there were no Japanese?
[ME] When these people landed, what did they do after that mother?
They came to fight so they started fighting at Sanananda village, and from Kokoda they cut through the bush and came down. We went further up the forest and they came and took over Sanananda. This place was not a good place but the fighting started here and pushed on. As we were moving further in, we were young girls so the people were telling us what was happening as we moved on, fearing death and the noise.
I am telling the story but that is something that you can't be able to see, you can't be able to eat, our body was covered with dirt as we never slept on good beds. This happened as we were going up to the head of the Buna river.
[MT] When you began your story about the landing of boats, you said something about the beating of bamboos, what did you mean by that?
Bamboo? The beating of bamboo [against the decks of the ships] continued as they came as far as the shallow waters and then they stopped beating it. They wanted people to run away so the Buka people beat the bamboos. Men, women and children were scattered and ran away.
It was not good at all. There was noise on the land and noise in the sky, with that you could not eat or sleep well and we had no clothes at all.
With all these happenings, we continued to move on while sleeping along the way when night came. Where there were rivers, we made rafts and went across, and started walking again into the forest. We were heading towards the head of the Buna river and that's where we found Buna people.
[ME] When you and the people of Buna got together, did you all run away or what did you do?
We got scared and dug the ground and got in there, some dug holes next to the river banks and some dug holes, put sticks over the holes, covered it up and stayed in there, some near the tree trunks. Other tree trunks were taken over by the people from Eroro with their children, and our people used to chase them but where would they go and sleep? We would all heap up in one place and wait. When we heard the sound of the bombs being thrown, we would look up to the sky to see where the bomb was going. It would then go and hit a plane. We would watch to see where it would fall, then we'd see it fall into the sea.
At a place called—a couple felt hungry so they went to their yam house to find food to eat. They walked to the head of Buna river and were trying to cross. Americans were already at the cross roads of Buna/Ango, they built their camps already and the place was as if no one was around. Their boss was standing at the cross roads with a gun as if to fire at the couple. They both were so terrified and scared that they couldn't say a word nor move or make a gesture. The man with the gun walked towards them and said, ''Don't run away, where is Buna?'' The husband said they were from Buna and they were at the head of Buna river to find some yam at their garden house. As soon as he had said that, from all around them, people crawled out of the kunai grass. Both the husband and wife were shocked and the husband told them we will go this way.
Amongst the thorny swamps, they had their camps so the husband and wife were told to sit down and they were given some food to eat. After that the American boss separated the soldiers into two groups and told them which way to go. One group went up to the head of the Buna river. The other group went with their food and cargoes with both the husband and wife down to where the people were. As they were walking, they called out in tok ples, ''We are coming with men'' and the people thought they were coming with the Japanese. People living there ran all over the place, all covered with dust. Koiaba the husband came out and repeated in tok ples, ''I have come with men.'' There was a medical from Dogura who was at Buna, he knew how to speak English, John Dau. Using this man, they were able to put people in their village groups.
The soldiers who came down with the husband and wife distributed the food they brought with them amongst the Sigori, Buna and Sanananda people. There were so many Americans.
[ME] When the Japanese landed at Buna did they fight and go up towards the Orokaiva area?
Yes, from Kokoda too, they fought along the road and came down to Sanananda.
[ME] The story you are telling now, you were a little girl at that time, did your mum tell you or you saw it with your own eyes?
I saw it with my own eyes.
[ME] At that time the war was on, did the soldiers do anything bad to the women, have you been told of that?
The Japanese were rough, they spoilt one Sanananda woman, but the Australians and Americans did not do anything.
[ME] Did you see or hear of any mothers cooking or doing laundry for the soldiers?
They did that at Inonda, they got the bigger girls to do that.
[ME] Did they get any girls from Buna/Sanananda to do that job too?
Yes, they got them too.
[ME] Would you know their names?
Veronica, Cynthia and Ether Mary.
[ME] Where are they from?
Veronica is from Sanananda and Ether Mary is from Gerua and Cynthia is from Buna. I don't know the names of the others.
[ME] Did they get women as nurses to give medicine, would you know?
I don't know.
When the war came and was moving inland, what was Buna/Sanananda like? Was it quiet or still noisy?
Quiet. We went up and stopped at Gerua because of the stench of the Japanese bodies floating in the river. Where would we get food to eat. Prawns were eating the flesh of the dead Japanese. We would collect those ones, wash them and boil them to eat. If we went further to find food, we would die. That's what we used to do.
Were there any other sicknesses that affected the people?
Along the way, someone would die and we'd dig the hole and bury them, the old people. We did that all the way up to the head of the Buna river.
[ME] Were they dying because of smelling the stench of the dead bodies or of hunger?
They were dying of hunger. When we came out to the open area, that's when we smelled the bad odour.
[ME] Thank you very much for telling the experience of war. The war ended and you met your husband and got married, would you know what year you got married?
I don't know, I was still growing, he was a bigger person. They were leaving the young ones and getting the bigger boys to carry cartridges and bombs up while the others were loaded on the barge and sent to Rabaul.
We left the kunai area and went to Gerua to collect sago leaves used to make houses [sisoro]. We were on our way to collect the sago leaves and there was a policeman and one of the village men, from the Tindeba clan. They came to a spot where there were other people, but they were standing a way away. The Japanese pulled the string on the bomb [grenade] and threw it. The policeman and Tindeba man were closer to where the Japanese were. The grenade exploded and blew them into pieces.
They made a very big village, Inonda. Boreo people on one side, Buna people on the other side of this village. There were so many people and that's where we used to live there.
The war continued while we were at that big village, until it came to an end. There were people, Australians, Americans, negroes, those ones with no faces. We used to get scared of them because they were new faces to us. That's where I was given something to wear.
[ME] While you were living at Inonda, who used to give you food to eat?
Yes, my daughter, there was so much. My big son who came up here, he would be given his share, that other one there, his would be separate, all had their own shares, there was so much.
[ME] Who used to supply the food?
The Australians and the Americans. Nearly everyday, but on Saturdays, there would be more supply coming. All kinds of food, fruits, handkerchiefs or money, nothing was left out. Where the parent stood with their children, there was a big heap of food given. For garden food, we would do barter system with the middle Orokaiva people.
That's how we lived until they put up canvases along our beaches where all our foods were brought down. After that, separate tents were built where truck loads of rations were brought down and stored.
Living on the rations, brothers and sisters from neighbouring villages would help supply taros, bananas and sugarcane for us to eat.
[ME] While living on the rations, you started making your gardens?
Yes, we had to make feast [bondo] back to Yega/Bafa clans [down towards Gona] for their support and help.
[ME] When you returned to your village, what was it like?
No, it wasn't like before. Sirori, our village, had coconuts. Buna had no coconuts, likewise Sanananda and Gerua. They got the coconuts from Joroba. Police and army would go into the surrounding bushes and collect bombs and cartridges and destroy them.
[ME] Thank you mother for your story. During that time you grew up and you got married. In that marriage, how many children have you got?
When we got back, I was in the bush when the volcano [Mt Lamington] erupted [in 1951]. He sailed with the rest of the men to go to school at Dogura.
[ME] What's your husband' s name?
[ME] From there, when he finished schooling?
He finished schooling at Dogura and came back and rebuilt the Buna village [after the eruption]. Villages like Gerua, Sanananda and Sigori all came together at Buna. While living there, without my knowing, he went to Gona and told the priest we were engaged to get married. When he got back, he told my brother to tell me that the Priest wanted to talk to me.
Mum and dad were sitting next to the fire and the man approached them and told them he wanted to marry me. Dad told him, my big boys are not married yet so you can't marry my daughter. But mum said ''I was the one who felt the pain during her birth so you can marry my daughter.'' My mum said, ''she is my daughter so you can take her away and marry her''. My first-born daughter is the one who is married at Barevoturu village [Margaret's village].
[ME] How many children have you got?
Five children, three girls and two boys. One died.
[ME] Would you know how many grandchildren you have?
[Discussion between Honar and her son Damien]
[ME] Now that you are still alive, would you like to see anything bad happen to you or not?
I have gone through hardships and I don't want to see it again. How I went through as a little girl, we never slept in a good place, how I saw things happen, I don't that to happen again. I used to run, because I didn't know what to do I used to run and hold on to the big trees while the bombs and bullets were flying everywhere. I don't want it to happen again.
[ME] Thank you, Mavis have you any questions to ask Mrs. Dogari?
[MT] Nothing
[ME] Thank you for your time and for telling us the story.

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“Honar Dogari - Oral History interview recorded on 10 June 2016 at Sanananda, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed July 17, 2024, https://pngvoices.deakin.edu.au/items/show/396.