Cafe Pacific

1 March 2016

Café Pacific: The 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
1 March 2016

On Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific Day, David Robie tells of how the ID of a mystery five-year-old girl on the cover of one of his books was revealed more than three decades later.

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 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.
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.

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

Café Pacific

David Robie's blog

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