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Regis Stella: Gutsini Posa (Rough Seas)

The novel is nominally set in Port Kavakava, capital of Koikoi, of which the island of Torogegai is politically a part, though one thousand miles away. However, it is very clear that they refer to, respectively, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea and Bougainville. At the start of the novel the civil war in Torogegai/Bougainville is raging with cruelties on both sides, but particularly by the government troops. Pengagi, who is from Torogegai, is living and working in Port Kavakava, in the real estate sector. He lives in a flat in a slum area with Jamila. She had been living with an Australian called Smith, till she found out that he had a wife and family back in Australia. Times are hard for both of them. She is unwell, while Pengagi has a tough boss who wants better results in a very difficult economic climate. The whole environment is stressful. There is political and economic chaos, massive corruption and civil war. There are natural disasters – during the course of the book, there is a volcano eruption, a tsunami and several earthquakes.

Pengagi goes off to work, miserable as usual. When he returns, Jamila is not there. He does not know where she is and suspects that she may have run off with someone else. He has one good friend, Tom, an army lieutenant, and he meet Tom and his colleague, Captain Gawi, for a drink. As well as discussing his problems with Jamila, Pengagi expounds his views on the deteriorating political situation. The two army officers share his views. Unbeknown to Pengagi, but known to us, the army are planning a military coup. Pengagi is called home, as his father has been shot by the military and is dying. He manages to get home but he is too late, as his father has already died. His home village is in chaos but he is hurriedly moved out as he risks arrest. Back home he finds a letter from Jamila, saying that she had been ill and been in hospital but, as he has not visited her, she does not want to see him again. Again, unbeknown to him but known to us, we learn that she has gone to Torogegai as a guerrilla leader.

The political situation deteriorates and Pengagi becomes more politically active. We also follow the story of his brother, Gorai, who is involved with the guerrillas, is captured but then escapes. It is only a matter of time before Pengagi joins the guerrillas. The rest of the story is about the plans for the coup and the activities of Gawi and Tom, as well as the civil war in Torogegai. Stella gives us an unremittingly black picture of cruelty, corruption, depredation and war. He very much makes the claim that, as he puts it, unity in diversity is a myth (citing both the case of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union). Minorities within larger groups should be allowed separate political identities, in other words balkanisation. In an epilogue, if we were in any doubt as to the identity of Torogegai, Stella explains that it is Bougainville. It is a sad story and one that is probably not very well known to most Europeans and Americans but a fascinating account by Stella.

Publishing history

First published 1999 by Mana Publications