Report by David Robie. This article was first published on Café Pacific
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.
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 late last year. More than 1000 people viewed the blog item, but no tip-offs.
Then it was posted on other blogs.
Finally, friends at Vanuatu Daily Digest reposted my appeal – and hey presto, there she was discovered on the southernmost island of Aneityum (traditional name “Keamu”). And ironically, my wife Del and I were on that island at the same village, Anelkauhat, where she lives, on last Christmas Day – but never knew, of course.
In fact, I think we may have even seen her that day now that I have seen her photo from the island, but didn’t realise who she was. After all, this was 33 years after I had seen her fleetingly as a child in Port Vila.
She is June Keitadi (Warigini) daughter of 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 of 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. All going well, Del and I hope to visit Vanuatu again later this year, and we would love to personally give her a copy of the book with her cover photo.
Today June is married to Ruyben Warigini and they have three children and a granddaughter.
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.