” ALTHOUGH it is one of the less-visited places in our region, Kangu Hill, Kangu Beach and this generally remote bottom end of Bougainville have their share of fame (and infamy).
Kangu’s fame predates Panguna’s; its immortality came by way of the relics, tunnels, dungeons and remains Asians and Caucasians left behind after WW2 – and by way of Melanesians whose wounds and scars from the Bougainville crisis and conflict are more recent and fresh.”
At one time, Kangu attracted international attention as a sphere of wartime activity. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of Japan’s combined fleet, was shot down over Buin on April 18, 1943.
Admiral Yamamoto, a few hours before his death, saluting Japanese naval pilots at Rabaul, April 18, 1943
About 25km north of Buin along the south of Bougainville lies the wreck of the Japanese Betty bomber which was intercepted and shot down by Allied Forces on 18th April 1943.
On board that plane was WWII’s most famous Japanese commander and mastermind of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.
He was on an inspection tour of forward positions in the Solomon Islands when his aircraft (a Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber) was shot down during an ambush by American P-38 Lightning fighter planes.
His death was a major blow to Japanese military morale during World War II.
The site is covered in thick jungle and there are still some landowner issues, but if you arranged yourself early and got in touch with Bougainville Experience Tours , they can get you there.
Bougainville WW2 history :
After the war this area became the district HQ for south Bougainville during the colonial administration. Kangu had its own police station on the hill, a hospital and power station by the beach, some colonial government housing and its share of Chinese traders and merchants.
Before Kangu got its jetty in 2003, cargo ships used to anchor off shore. Back then a trickling of crocodile hunters used to come through the area, after the reptiles for their skins. Scavengers of WW2 relics turned up from time to time, but they found they couldn’t possibly take much of evidence of the war away with them. This was out of the way for them, original land owners still had customary rights over land and their visits waned over time. And, in any case, who could remove the concrete bunkers from ‘Little Tokyo’ or the huge guns along the beaches that were left pointing to the south Solomons? Or the sunken vessels out here at sea.
Some of the places of most historical interest are relics of the church and the state.
Patupatuai near Kangu was one of the oldest mission sites and came complete with a Catholic cathedral. Bougainville’s oldest technical school was here, next to the Buin primary school at Kangu beach. I still have very fond memories going to the primary school with many boys from other parts of the Island as far away as Haku, Halia, Petats and Solos.
Further down the beach from Patupatuai Catholic mission, the Methodists ran the lively Kihili Girls Vocational Centre. It enrolled girls from both sides of the Solomons.
It’s quite amazing how much the colonial administration and the churches did in the early days with very little money, but with a lot of thought, faith, effort and initiative.
I sometimes wonder what would happen if the four Bougainville national MPs put even a fraction of that thought and effort into planning together how best to spend the DSIP and other funds in their stewardship. Just imagine what could be achieved for the people of Bougainville if that K30 – K40 million or so a year – over some six hundred million kina a term – was carefully and strategically put to good use for the people of Bougainville!
In the mid-60s, as the new Buin town became the district centre and site for merchants and businesses, Kangu was slowly deserted. The rituals that were part of the Kangu outpost – and were probably common in colonial administration centres throughout most of the territory at the time – started to fade. At a certain time of the day, may be at the raising and lowering of the colonial flag in the morning and in the afternoon, the sound of the bugle playing ‘The Last Post’ would ring out among the trees and the buildings.
All these years later the sound still rings vivid in my ears.
Of course, Kangu Hill and Kangu Beach have a rich history that predates WW2. Now, as Buin township expands, this rich history is tickling the imaginations of the locals, historians, developers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists.
Plans for the facelift of Buin town include sealing the road all the way down to Kangu.
The plan holds a lot of potential for locals and tourists alike. When the new Buin market buildings are complete and the bitumen goes all the way to Kangu beach, this will no longer be a road less travelled.
I can imagine Saturdays where people from as far as Wakunai, Arawa and Kieta will converge on the area, mixing with the locals and with the increasing numbers of fishermen from the Shortland Islands, giving the market an international flavour.
To sell her produce Regina Puia travels 45 minutes by boat every Saturday from the Solomon Islands to Kangu and then onto Buin Market or further north to Evo, her matrilineal home.
The mother of four, who comes from mixed Evo (Central Bougainville) and Shortland (Solomon Islands) parentage, lives in Nila Catholic Mission on the east coast of Shortland Island where her husband is a fisherman.
“It takes us less than an hour Story Leonard Fong Roka
The policeman playing the bugle at the rising and going down of the sun, ringing and reverberating in my head, would now be drowned out by the boom and thump of rock and reggae coming out of the Bluetooth speakers that are quite affordable and plentiful amongst young revellers all around the Island.
Of course, the pain and the wounds that gave Kangu its immortality remain.
Those bitter memories, along with the warm nostalgia for a past that will never return, are all part of what makes this place what it is today. And they will continue to be part of what it will be tomorrow and into the future, even as many people in this part of Bougainville crave to ‘catch up with the rest of the world’, whatever that may mean.