Lucian Mongagi - Oral History interview recorded on 11 June 2016 at Sanananda, Northern Province, PNG


Mr Lucian Mongagi described his experience of the Japanese landing at Sanananda, the Buna and Sanananda communites' experiences of displacement during the War, and the end of the war. Also tells the story of the killing of Sisters Parkinson and Hayman.


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.

Discussion about language. Lucian will talk in Tok Pisin, and Margaret Embahe will translate.
My name is Lucian Mongagi, and I am from Sanananda village. The time that my mum bore me, there was no school, there was no reading and writing, we were just children growing up at that time. When the tourists come here and ask me for my age, when I was born and all that, I tell them I don't even know. They just look at me, then they give their own estimation of how old I should be.
[ME] What happened at that time as you growing up with your friends? When whatever something that took place, can you be able to tell us what happened at that time?
Me and my friends were playing along the beach. At that time as we were playing along the beach, there was this big ship that was at Kikiri, started sailing in. We didn't know what was actually happening, but they did send a message for us here. There was this early missionary, who used to be at Gona, his name is Father James Benson who sent us the word telling us war would be arriving or coming in, and so he was telling us to kill all our pigs and poultry, eat them all and start running away. There was a boy, a little boy from Sanananda who was schooling at Kikiri. He climbed up a coconut tree. When he climbed up a coconut tree, he looked out beyond the ocean and he saw a ship coming in.
While that ship was sailing, there were a lot of plane that were flying over the ship to protect it, and people were looking out and saying, what is actually happening out there? So, this guy after seeing what was happening he came down to the ground as quickly as he could. So, he ran back to the village and spread the story to the community. That's what actually happened when I was playing with my mates along the beach. After that we all ran away. We never picked up anything, sleeping or whatever. We just went empty handed. Whatever we had on our body, we just ran away like that. It was so terrible and so hard, how we ran away to be on the safe side.
Because, that war was a new thing to us, that is why all our grandparents were shivering at that time. They were all shivering. As we were running, whatever clothes the women had, they fell down, they had to go and fall down, and they broke their limbs and their hips. They were so scared, 'are we going to die or not?', that is the thought that came into their minds. Here, I will tell you quite honestly that when the community ran they had to have excreta coming out of their anuses, because they were so scared, with that they continued running. As we ran out that way, Japanese already landed at Kikiri. The planes, the aircraft covered the sky. We were unable to run at distance, so we had to just sit down where we were. It got dark so quickly, so we had to sleep where we were.
No food, we never eat anything, no beddings, we just slept on the grass. The next morning we moved a little bit up. There were people from Buna, Sanananda, Soputa, Ango, we were all running away with that group. We were in a little hamlet along the track that we were going and the Japanese had already packed this place. From here going up to Popondetta, there was no road access for the vehicle to run. The only through road was from Sanananda to Popondetta, where few vehicles used to run. The Japanese walked up to where we were, and they saw us. They asked us if we had seen some white men and we told them, 'we don't know'. They got up and said, 'you people may be telling lies', and they pointed their bayonets at them.
My real father, biological father, is as light skinned as you [to Victoria Stead, present at interview]. His hair was soft. When Japanese saw him they went 'ahhhh' and they came and pointed their bayonet at his side. They told him to get up. There was somebody, maybe a commander, who came and stood next to dad and inspected him, looked at him closely up and down. He told him to open his mouth so that he would see his teeth. When he saw that his teeth was black he knew that he was telling the truth. So, the boss of the group told them to remove all the bayonets that were pointed at daddy. Told them to leave him alone. He told them this a real Papuan not a mixed race. When he said that they left him alone. They asked us, 'what did you people eat?' We told them, 'nothing'.
Japanese said 'if you have not eaten anything, you are going to die. All these leaves here, on the trees, you can eat that one'. The sago we cut it down, we bit it and we started eating that. The pandanus fruits that got ripe and fell on the ground, the mother said to go and collect those and come and eat those things. We had no pots to cook our food. The Japanese helped us and provided pots and tins. And they even told us, 'don't make fire where the smoke will go up. If the Australians and Americans see the smoke they're going to drop the bombs'. There is a little village up there called Gimanasusu, we were all there. We lived there for a year at Gimanasusu. This guy I told you the story about, who was schooling at Kikiri, he saw that the group was starving. He got his big brother, my dad, and they went to the Japanese camp.
They couldn't understand English, so they were just making actions and pointing to their stomach and to their mouths. So, when they saw that they started dishing out food. The Japanese told them to dance. So the two boys dressed themselves up and they started dancing. When they saw the two boys dancing, they killed themselves laughing. When they saw the two boys' dance, they were so happy, so they provided food for us. While we were at Gimanasusu, I had this little abscess that was formed on my shin. As we were running in the thick bushes, the sore became infected, and went big. It was so bad. My dad was so worried about me. He asked my big brother to go and see the Japanese. And they were two Japanese medicals who came. And they saw my sore, and they told my dad 'tomorrow take him to our hospital'.
The next morning daddy took me to the clinic of the Japanese. They cleaned my sore and they gave me injection. They told dad 'every morning bring him here'. When they gave me injection I cried and the Japanese gave me lollies to make me stop crying. We lived there at Gimanasusu for one year. So, at that time the Australians arrived here at Buna and Sanananda. But, here at Buna and Sanananda there were so many Japs who were still around. From Ango the Australians walked through and came down here. It was so hard for the Australian soldiers to get to Buna, because there were so many Japs. Likewise Sanananda. There was one man, I don't know whether they would call it non-government, but then this man came and told us, he asked us, 'where is Buna?' and they told him, 'we are the ones'. 'Sanananda?' and they said, 'over there, hiding in the bush'.
Told the Buna people to go and tell the Sanananda people to all get together. We all gathered at a place called Buanda. It was like 6 months that we lived at Buanda. The Australian soldiers made their camp between Buna and Ango and that's where they used to live. Every morning the Australian soldiers would put on their fighting gear, and come and bypass us, come down to Buna to fight. As we were sitting down, the Buna and Sanananda people, as we were sitting down they would come bypass us and wave bye bye to us and come down to fight. When they came down to Buna, there is a little place called Gerua, they started fighting there at Gerua. The Japs got up and shot the Australian soldiers. The ones that they really got killed, died. The injured ones were carried by the carriers, going back. We'd be sitting down where we are, and they would be walking where the other house is, on the other side.
We could hear the Australian soldiers weeping, and our parents were also weeping too. The airplanes on top were all fighting, and the bullet shells were falling on top of us. But, why didn't the bullets that were falling down touch us, the Buna Sanananda? Or hurt us? The distance where they started fighting at Gerua is just like where you slept [the distance from the site of the interview to the resort, about 100 metres]. The camp up at Buanda is just like where we are. But then there was nothing that happened to us when the bullet or the bomb was fired. We were still at Buanda and there was a serious sickness that got us all at Buanda. We were pekpek [excreting] blood, which is dysentery, we were throwing out [vomiting] with blood, and the children were dying, all the elderlies were dying. I think they were the non-government, the Australians who saw us, and they were very sorry for us. And they didn't want us to live in the bush again. They wanted to shift us back again to the beach. Where they shifted us down to the beach, is a place called Boreo Hariko, where it still in existence. We were living at Boreo Hariko and I did see or witness them fighting with my own eyes.
While we were there, we were told of the initial ANGAU, but I didn't quite understand what it was. So, these are the people who lived with us and took care of us. When the Japanese planes were flying over they would tell us not to make fire, but to stay quietly where we were. There were these big huge torches, one was at Boreo and the other was at Buna. They would have it on and it will light on top. They searched for the planes and they found them. People who were at Doboduru, Oro Bay, Sanananda they would shoot up that way to shoot the aeroplanes. That was what I saw with my own eyes. When they shot this airplane up there there was a big flame which got the airplane. It was in flames and it fell into the ocean. Likewise with the warship. We were up at Boreo Hariko and the Japanese plane came and dropped the bomb on the Australians' warship.
The boat broke into pieces and was thrown all over the place. That was what I saw with my own eyes. So, what actually took place when they fought in the jungle I wouldn't know. As we were living in Boreo they made a very big camp up at Girua. When it was built they shifted us up from Boreo to Girua. When we were at Girua camp, the war ended down here at the beach, Buna Sanananda. Over there in Rabaul, Kavieng they were still fight taking place there. All the Americans came in a barge and they landed at a place called Joroba. The Australians, 49th battalion, about 600 soldiers, they came through the jungle on the other side. Those Japanese were living down here, the Australians came down and scattered them. The Americans who were up at Joroba they were pushing the Japanese backwards. The Australians were living at Sanananda, walked up, forced the Japanese to move back, and that's when the war broke out.
Australians and Americans cleaned up Buna and Sanananda. There were no Japanese. The Japanese walked up towards the Kokoda, there is a mountain called Ioribaiwa. The Australians coming down from Ioribaiwa came and pushed the Japanese backwards. They pushed them all the way back, to Kokoda Government Station. They pushed them all the way back to Sanananda and that was a big clean up. They sent the Japanese warship that was in Rabaul, and they sailed all the way to Sanananda in the night. Those Japanese soldiers who came here to fight all boarded this warship. So, as they were getting on there was this early missionary, Father James Benson, that they captured and took him with them in this warship. So, there were two Japanese warships that ran, Father James Benson in the other warship and there was another one, they both ran together.
The Japanese [correction: Australians/Americans] bombed the other one. When they tried to bomb the warship that had Father James Benson in it, they never succeeded. It went and berthed in Rabaul. As soon as Father James Benson put his feet on the shores of Rabaul, they bombed the ship that he sailed in. We were still up at Girua camp. This way Buna, Sanananda, Guna there were no more Japanese. The Australian army built a camp here. While we were up at Girua, there was a message that came from Bougainville. There was this man that I talked about, ANGAU, who came and stood in the middle and made an announcement. He told us, 'clap hands and be happy, the war is over, you dance'. 'The war between Australians and Japanese is over'. We were very happy at that time. So, we had to stay another six months up at Girua. While we were there, the soldiers from the Australians and Americans they went up and inspected all the bushes where we were, just to find out whether there were some live ammunitions lying around.
So, when they didn't find anything they went and told ANGAU. So ANGAU started to move us down this way. When ANGAU moved us down to our place, there was no food. The Australians built one tall house here in Sanananda. In that house there were these tins of biscuits all packed in that house. When we came down ANGAU told us, 'whatever is in that house, the biscuits and things they are all yours, help yourselves'. ANGAU gave us tents, we erected the tents to sleep. Some of us used to sleep in the war barge of the Japanese. While we were there ANGAU went looking for seedlings, taro suckers, banana, tapioca for us to plant. With these they told us 'make your gardens and grow all these ones'. When ANGAU started feeding us there was never short of rations, more that kept on coming in.
When our food crops that the ANGAU gave us to plant, when they were ready, the village constable he harvested some and went to show the ANGAU. That's when they stopped giving us rations. He told us, 'don't go cleaning up the bushes anyhow'. 'If you clear up the place and you want to burn it, send the word down to me so that I can send the soldiers this way'.
[ME] Why did they do that?
That was for our safety. There might be some live ammunitions around and if we tried to make fire to make our gardens, they might explode and hurt us. The soldiers themselves would come and dig up the place themselves first. While doing that they would tell their parents to come to the village. Then our gardens that we have cleared would be all burnt out. It was then that ANGAU stopped the rations coming to us.
After that I grow up to be a very big boy in my own village. And that is the end of that part of the story. When the Japanese left their place in Tokyo, they never landed in Gona, or at Buna, they landed at the place where you are sitting down, Sanananda. From Sanananda, I told you about the track road going up, they would use that one. Using that road they would ride on their bicycles or using their horses. They went as far as Awala. They went further up to Kumusi River, and made their way up to Kokoda. At that time there were two white men who used to grow coffee in Popondetta. The other person's name is Kevin somebody, whose name I have forgotten. The other one's name who's a mixed race is somebody Holland. They used to plant coffee up in Popondetta. They got these two white men and brought them down to Sanananda, Kevin and Holland.
Because they wanted these two white men's coffee to be exported to their place, Australia, so they brought these two men down here. I didn't tell the story, so I am beginning to tell the story. At Gona there were school teachers and a nursing sister. They were very frightened and they ran away with Father James Benson. Father James Benson ran the other way; the two sisters ran the other way. When these two sisters ran, they went and met Kevin and Holland. They cut through the bush that way to go down to Oro Bay. At that time the Japanese were still around at Buna and Sanananda. There was one black man from Alotau. He was an evangelist. He was my namesake Lucian Tapiedi. I was named after him. I have his photo, but I told mum to look for it, and maybe she didn't find it. They walked with this man and they were having lunch at Girua river. After having their lunch they got up and climbed up the little hill.
There are two different stories, one is the false one which I want to tell you now. After the lunch they got up to walk and they forgot about the mission bank. They climbed the hill up. They told Lucian Tapiedi, 'where we had lunch, we left the mission bank there'. So, Lucian Tapiedi said 'okay, while you wait here I'll run down and pick it up'. But the two sisters told Lucian, 'you can't do that the time is not good, so don't go down'. That is a false story. The true story is, there is a place up that's called Hanakiro. Some part of Hanakiro, they came and picked up the two sisters plus the two white men. The people who got them wanted to rape the two sisters. Lucian Tapiedi didn't want that to happen. He was very cross with the village people. He was so cross. So, they told Lucian Tapiedi 'we are going to behead you'. While they were talking Holland and the other guy, Kevin, had their head down on the ground.
That time they got the ax and they beheaded Lucian Tapiedi on the neck. The two sisters were still standing there. The two sisters told Lucian Tapiedi, 'you don't have to think of anything, everything you must let it go, you don't have to save us, whatever they want to do let them do it'. That's the word from the sisters. When Lucian heard that he put his head down. He told those people, the kanakas, 'just wait'. Lucian went and hid himself in the house. Why he did this because he didn't want to watch the people raping the two sisters. After that they told Lucian to come out. 'Hey boy, you come', so he came out. When he came out he looked the sisters' way and saw what happened and he was very cross. He ran towards the other man and got the handle of the ax that he was holding. They started grabbing the ax to and fro between the two of them. While he was doing that the other man came with an ax and beheaded Lucian Tapiedi from the back.
He fell down dead. They carried him down to the river where they had their lunch. The four white people were ordered to stay where they were, while they carried Lucian's body down. There is a big lake and a big stone. There is this particular cane that they picked and they removed it. They got the big stone and tied Lucian's body with the cane. They moved him over. So, the body of Lucian Tapiedi went down in that lake. So, the weight of the stone took the body of Lucian down into the lake. After doing that they walked back. They went up, got the two white men and white women, and walked with them all the way down to Buna. They handed them over to the Japanese soldiers. These two white men and the two sisters were killed at Buna beach. How they killed them I wouldn't know.
The school teacher by the name of Sister Mavis Parkinson, the mother is from London. She heard that her daughter died at Buna. So, the missionaries came and set down at Buna after the war. They built a chapel, a church, there. After the chapel was built the mother of Mavis Parkinson sent a memory after the daughter, a cross. It is inside the Buna church. That's all.

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“Lucian Mongagi - Oral History interview recorded on 11 June 2016 at Sanananda, Northern Province, PNG,” Voices from the War, accessed June 16, 2024,