Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mystery of the 1983 Vanuatu “nuclear free” girl finally solved

June Keitadi (left), now Warigini, with Del Abcede grating coconut at a chance meeting on Aneityum Island
on Christmas Day 2015. Photo by David Robie


So the mystery is finally over. In 1983, I took this photo of a young ni-Vanuatu girl at a nuclear-free Pacific rally in Independence Park, Port Vila. She was aged about five at the time.

June Keitadi with her family's "No nukes" placard
at Independence Park, Port Vila, Vanuatu,1983. 
On the left (yellow tee) is her mother Annie Weitas. 
Photo: David Robie
She was just a delightful happy painted face in the crowd that day. But her message was haunting: “Please don’t spoil my beautiful face” had quite an impact on me. When monochrome and colour versions of this photo were published in various Pacific media and magazines, a question kept tugging at my heart.

“Who is she? Where is she from and what is she doing now?”

Her placard slogan became the inspiration for my 2014 book, Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, Mayhem and Human Rights in the Pacific, published by Little Island Press in New Zealand.

I would have loved to have named her in the book with the cover image of her. So this spurred me onto to more determined efforts to discover her identity.

First of all I posted the photo – and a Hawai’ian solidarity video that also showed the little girl, discovered by Alistar Kata – on my blog Café Pacific last October 10. Almost 1100 people viewed the blog item, but no tip-offs.

Then it was posted on other blogs related to the Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP movement.

June on the cover of David Robie's 2014
book. Image: Little Island Press
Finally, friends at Vanuatu Daily Digest reposted my appeal on February 15 – and hey presto, there she was discovered on the southernmost island of Aneityum (traditional name “Keamu”). And curiously, my wife Del and I were on that island at the same village, Anelgauhat, where she lives, last Christmas Day – but didn't realise who she was.

In fact, we have only recognised her as "June" our village guide that day now that we have seen her photo from the island. After all, this was 32 years after I had seen her fleetingly as a child in Port Vila.

She is June Keitadi (Warigini) daughter of Annie Weitas and Jack Keitadi, then curator of the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta with Kirk Huffman. Her sister, Shirley Loughman, says June is the assistant bursar at Teruja secondary school on Aneityum.

According to Selwyn A. Leodoro, Anglican regional secretary for Port Vila and New Caledonia, one of the many VDD readers who have responded and identified her, June was very “surprised” about the search for her and keen to meet up. Selwyn kindly forwarded these 2016 photos of June to me.

2016: June Warigini (Keitadi) June at work at Teruja
secondary school yesterday.
Photo: Shirley Loughman
David Robie (not fishing) in Anelgauhat bay, Aneityum, on Christmas Day 2015. Image: Del Abcede
All going well, Del and I hope to visit Vanuatu again later this year, and we would love to personally give June a copy of the book with her cover photo.

June Warigini (Keitadi) with her husband, Ruyben, and family, Letisha (with baby)
and Ray, on Aneityum Island. The other son, Aphonse, is not in the picture.

Today June is married to Ruyben Warigini and they have three children and a grandchild.

Tank yu tumas to Gwen Amankwah-Toa - she was the first to contact me - and to all those who have helped piece together the puzzle.

1983 girl found - living on Aneityum

The original Cafe Pacific posting

On Evening Report

Information on how to get the book Don't Spoil My Beautiful Face

See June at 1min 08 in this "Nuclear Free" Huarere string band video


Unknown said...

wahh.. nice nice.. thanks for the article.. really great to read this.. keep posting...

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Avaiki Nius said...

Love this David, well done on finally tracking her down. Wonderful to put a name to the face.

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