I feel honoured to be able to tell the story of the liklik meri (little lady) from Lae. Although small in stature, this woman is far from little; she is resilient, warm and wise beyond her years. At times while sitting and listening to the story of my good friend and susa (sister), Angela, it felt like I was being told a fairy tale. A story that couldn’t possibly be real and I felt humbled by the small but incredibly strong woman that sat before me sharing some of her most difficult secrets.
It is sometimes the most important stories that are the most difficult to tell; that is why I have decided to tell Angela’s history in her own words, in three parts. I am so grateful to her for trusting me with telling her story, as I know that many of these details haven’t been shared with anyone before but together we hope that her experience can inspire others. Sadly her story isn’t that unusual in Papua New Guinea (PNG) but it shows the unbelievable strength that comes from such adversity.
Angela Roypo is 28 years old and from Anantiya, a small, remote village close to Gulf province in PNG. She is the last-born child of her parents, Robert and Dena and she has three brothers and two sisters. This, is the first part of her story…
I grew up without my Mum as she passed away when I was just one year old. I can’t think of a life living with my whole family, I was just too young and I have no memory of this. I only remember the life that I lived with my Dad who became my Mother and my Father. My life has been so, so tough because of my Father. After I was born he started to become sick with arthritis and it affected his whole life. His body and limbs would lock up and he would be unable to walk. Once a month he may have the strength to do a little bit of gardening or get enough buai (bettlenut) to sell, which would be just enough to pay for soap and school fees. Buai was really the only way to make money in our village.
We had a comfortable home and despite Dad’s sickness life back in the village was good, but jealousy made sure that this didn’t last. My three older brothers were killed by other clans who were jealous of the life that we led. My Father shared land with a man from the same clan. As my Father was well known and respected, the feeling was that my brothers would be in a strong position to take ownership of the land. The other man was jealous and wanted his sons to inherit the land. My brothers, Jaccob, Apo and Asah all died before they reached their teenage years and I didn’t get to meet or grow up with any of them. My Father told me that they all died through witchcraft that had been placed upon them by the other family. They all came home sick and within a few days they had passed away. This left just my sisters and I.
In 1993, when I was nine years old, I went to school for the first time and did my grade 1, but in 1995 the school inspector shut down the village school. From here I went without any education despite desperately wanting to continue. In 1997, at 12 years old, I realised that I had to get some money as my Father was getting worse so I followed the big teenage students to Wau, the biggest town closest to our village, to sell whatever I could find. The walk to Wau took three days and two nights where we had to sleep in the bush. My Dad encouraged me to be strong but often I only made K25 (£6) each time.
So that we could make some more money, my Dad and I went to town together. It took much longer as we were carrying so much and he was so slow. We walked through the cold, rainy bush and I felt so sorry for my Dad as he was so sick. We used a special tree to make candles so that we could walk through the night. We ran out of food but finally we made it to the mining site close to Lae to sell our buai to the local workers. We managed to make around K300 (£75) but the journey took its toll on my Dad.
My sister met a man who lived close to town so we stayed with them so my Father could recover a little; from there my Father returned and I decided that it would be better to stay in town rather than in the village. I started living with three different families but I didn’t really understand the town lifestyle; I had barely had any education and didn’t know what people were talking about. They started using me as a haus meri (house maid) and they gave me many things to do. I couldn’t say ‘no’ as they were giving me somewhere to live. I then started living permanently with a man from my village who was married to a highlander women. They adopted me into their family. I was so tired but I learnt lots, from cleaning clothes properly to improving my Tok Pisin. I kept thinking that it was a good opportunity for me. During those times working as a haus meri I was always aiming and dreaming to live life like other people in town, being clean, wearing nice clothes; I wanted to live like that too, I wanted to be like them. That’s what inspired me to learn as much as possible.
“During those times working as a haus meri I was always aiming and dreaming to live life like other people in town, being clean, wearing nice clothes; I wanted to live like that too, I wanted to be like them. That’s what inspired me to learn as much as possible.”
I used to be so scared of white people. I never used to see people like this in my village with their translucent skin and soft hair. My Dad used to tell me that I would see lots of skin colours in town and that I had to be brave. One day when I was on my street a mixed race lady approached me to be the babysitter for her two year-old daughter and stay in her house. By now I knew that I needed to ask what I would get in return and she said that she would pay me. At the time I didn’t know the words for it but I knew that it was a good opportunity. She took me home, gave me some clothes, made me some food and gave me a clean room in her house. I stayed with her until her daughter was 9 years old. In that time she had four more children.
Those seven years weren’t easy though. After a short time they started to mistreat me. They were a very violent, aggressive family and they used to drink, shout and swear. They would hit me with anything they could find and there would be lots of boys in the house that would abuse me. I couldn’t run away because I felt that this was the best life that I could live so I stayed. Sometimes they would put my head in the toilet bowl, they would try to rape me and would do so many terrible things to me. They said that they could kill me and throw me away and nobody would ever know. I tried to become invisible but they would always find me.
Because of the life that I was leading, in 2003 I decided to move to Lae. I started to do marketing and I would move back and forth to my village to visit my Father. My Dad often asked me if I wanted to go back to the village but when I visited I saw with fresh eyes how men treated women and realised that I had adapted to town life; I didn’t just want to be a mother. Even though I still had no education I wanted to understand the world and live a different life.
“My Dad often asked me if I wanted to go back to the village but when I visited I saw with fresh eyes how men treated women and realised that I had adapted to town life; I didn’t just want to be a mother. Even though I still had no education I wanted to understand the world and live a different life.”
After a few months living in Lae I met Peter, the Dad of my first son. He was my neighbour in Lae and was a 39 year old, Fillipino. One day, when the water supply wasn’t working he came over to my house to ask for water. He saw me doing laundry in the back garden using tank water and asked to use some. After that, every time he would leave the house he would always look in to see me and he would call me over to the fence and give me fruit, food and drinks. On one of our meetings by the fence he asked me if I drunk beer, I said that I did but only one bottle. He kept asking me to drink with him but I said no as I knew that this would get me in trouble.
A few months passed with our chats through the wire fence, topped with barbed wire, but it didn’t go unnoticed; one of the boys that I was living with saw me with him and they beat me so badly that my clothes were ripped. I had to climb the fence to get away from them and I was covered in blood. They were jealous and they just wanted me to be their slave. I managed to jump safely over the fence without breaking anything but Lae city is not safe to walk around at night; I was so scared that I didn’t think of my own safety. I was screaming for help and as I was calling an old lady was sitting under a laulau tree, she saw me crying and calling. She sent her two grandsons to get me and took me to their house. For the first time in my whole life, she showed me love and told me that I was special. She covered me in a laplap, gave me some food and started to wipe my body. At that moment I felt something totally different from all of the things that I had ever experienced. She gave me medicine, took me upstairs in her big house, gave me a room and said ‘daughter this is your room and you can live here as long as you want.’
I stayed for two weeks with the kind, old lady while the other family was trying to get me back. At that point I wanted to speak to Peter to tell him that he was responsible for what had happened. I got permission and went to visit him. When I saw him I told him everything and he was so shocked he wanted to fight with the boys but I explained that it wouldn’t help, as that is how they had treated me for so long. He told me to visit him again in three days and when I returned he asked me if I wanted to live with him in his apartment. I felt scared again but I asked him his intentions and he explained that he was only living in Lae for a few months for work and then he was going to return to Madang where he lived and he would bring me with him. At that time it seemed like a good idea, an escape, so I moved into his apartment. After a couple of weeks we were sleeping together. It took me a long time to get used to him as he was lighter skinned and spoke very good English. But we were happy and he looked after me. In 2004, after a few months living in the same house, we moved to Madang and I felt like I had left all the bad times behind…