Mystery of the 1983 Vanuatu ‘nuclear free’ girl finally solved

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June Keitadi — as a five-year-old — in the 1983 Huarere video “Nuclear Free”. She is seen at 1m08.

By David Robie in Auckland

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 Part, Port Vila. She was aged about five at the time.

June Keitadi with her family's "No nukes" placard at Independence Park, Port Vila, 1983. Photo: David Robie
June Keitadi with her family’s “No nukes” placard at Independence Park, Port Vila, 1983. Photo: David Robie

She was just a delightful painted happy 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.

2016: June Warigini (Keitadi) June at work at Teruja secondary school yesterday. Photo: Shirley Loughman
2016: June Warigini (Keitadi) June at work at Teruja secondary school yesterday. Photo: Shirley Loughman

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

This 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.

-Partners-

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 curiously, my wife Del and I were on that island at the same village, Anelgauhat, where she lives on 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.

David Robie (not fishing) in Anelgauhat bay, Aneityum, on Christmas Day 2015. Image: Del Abcede
David Robie (not fishing) in Anelgauhat bay, Aneityum, on Christmas Day 2015. Photo by Del Abcede

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, Letisha (21), Alphonse (13) and Ray (8), and a grandchild.

June Warigini (Keitani) with her husband Ruyben and family on Aneityum Island, Vanuatu.
June Warigini (Keitadi) with her husband Ruyben and family, Letisha (with baby) and Ray, on Aneityum Island, Vanuatu. Alphonse is not in this photo.
June Keitadi (left) and Del Abcede grating coconut on Aneityum Island on Christmas Day 2015. Photo by David Robie
June Keitadi (left) and Del Abcede grating coconut on Aneityum Island on Christmas Day 2015. Photo by David Robie

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 the book Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face

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1 COMMENT

  1. What an amazing story! Finally “found” after 32 years. We happened to be on that island (Aneityum) on Christmas Day last year. When I saw her photo in the story I had a nagging feeling that her face looked familiar so I searched all my photos of the island and the people we met in the “island tour”. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her photo and one of me grating coconut with her and another lady (maybe a relative). It was like a “fairy tale” story. With technology, the world seems such a small place. I’d love to meet up with her again and show her the photos I’ve taken of her whanau (family) and the village.

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