I've just gotten confirmation that Juni Gasa (neice of the late Biuku Gasa, the lead islander who found JFK and the crew of the PT 109 along with buddy Eroni Kumana, who is still alive, but in weak shape for travel) and husband Alan Freshwater do want to come to Seattle in the United States in April. Now I just have to raise the money for the tickets, but I'll pay out of my own pocket if need be.
Here is the original blog that I found. This guy modestly says he's nobody special, but he knows way more information about the islander's side of the story than has been published in any of the books I've researched.
This is the closest to an authoritative source on the death of Biuki Gasa written by a living relative. The Solomon Islands embassy in the United States also confirms this. There appear to be no press accounts of his death anywhere else on the internet.
August 2nd 2006 is the 63rd anniversary of the sinking of the torpedo patrol boat PT109, and that reminds me of Uncle Biuku Gaza's story.
Biuku was my wife’s uncle, and a kindly old man.
Sadly, Biuku died late last year. Coincidentally we were told of his death on the anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination. That is November 22nd, which also happens to be my younger daughter's birthday"
Kennedy called the two ashore and asked them to deliver a note to the nearest coastwatcher. Biuku refused to carry anything incriminating that might be connected to Americans, in case the Japanese searched him.
Instead, he offered Kennedy a green coconut and suggested that he scratch a message on that. He could hide it amongst a pile of other coconuts in the canoe and it would probably go unnoticed.
Biuku says that Kennedy patted his head, said he had a good brain in there and took the coconut. On it he carved the following:
COMMANDER... NATIVE KNOWS POS'IT...
HE CAN PILOT... 11 ALIVE
NEED SMALL BOAT... KENNEDY
Biuku and Eroni delivered the coconut and the rest is history. The coconut was kept in the oval office all through JFK's presidency and was then for a time in the Smithsonian. I understand it is now kept in the JF Kennedy Library in Boston.
What most of the world has never heard is the way it all seemed from the point of view of Biuku and his friends. Biuku was invited to JFK's inauguration but the bureaucrats in Honiara decided that such a junket was too good to waste on an ignorant local and sent someone else instead.
Kennedy wrote later to Biuku expressing his disappointment that they did not meet again. Until he died, Biuku keenly felt the injustice of it.
He received a medal. It was "borrowed" and never returned. The correspondence from JFK to Biuku was "borrowed" and never returned.
Kennedy ordered Biuku and Gasa to go and look for a man called John Kari. He was a local head-man during the colonial era. John Kari was born in 1900 and was hailed from Hopongo Village, Rendova Island. Rendova Harbour is located in Rendova Island where the USA marine base was located during then. Biuku and Gasa approached John Kari (he was in Vonavona langoon during then) with the coconut husk on which Kennedy scribed onto his request for help. However, John Kari then got the coconut husk and passed it on to the other marine personnels. However, according to John Kari, he was also assisting the other natives to paddle Kennedy in a dug out local canoe during the night to the marine base in Rendova Island. John Kari was recognised for that part of the rescue and he even carved a stone carving as a token of friendship to the Kennedy family. John Kari's daughter got married to an American, who then lead John Kari's dauther (Effie McAdams) to present the stone carving to Bush (one of the bible translators visiting Solomon Islands in early 80s) who then presented the stone carving to be laid in Kennedy's grave yeard or to his library I supose. John Kari was also presented with the model of the PT109 and USA flag and still at his home village to date.
Here's a letter from Gizo Diving which confirms that Eroni Kumana is still alive and well:
From: "Kerrie and Danny Kennedy"
> Hello Arthur.
> Eroni is home in the village but was here last week. His son is here
> presently. I would be concerned about him travelling so far at his
> age.Whilst he is agile the plane trip to the US would be taxing. We will
> check for a telegram.
> Kerrie Kennedy
> Adventure Sports- Dive Gizo and Munda
> PO box 21
> Solomon Islands
Here are the letters I have received, and his stories:
Here are two photos of Biuku, one with June (Ziu), my wife, when she
was visiting home for the funeral of her father, shortly before Biuku
too passed away. June will ask for a photo of Eroni for you.
Hi Eric,and Arthur
I am not sure if my wife has managed to get a message to her brother yet, as I promised. I hope the photos I sent got thru.
You may not have heard from Danny Kennedy lately, as I am told he is in prison at present, serving two years for "piracy". Apparently he set adrift a boat belonging to a rival tour operator. It seems a strange thing to do. But there you are. I am told they charged Danny under an old Colonial Piracy Act. Someone must have really wanted to spike his guns, as the sentence for Piracy is up to 40 years! It seems he was "lucky" to get two years.
I can have a go at some of your questions, and I will attack the rest later...
Can you confirm the that Gasa died shortly after the Pacific Time
magazine article of August 2005?
As I wrote in my blog, my brother in law telephoned us on November 22 to tell us about Biuku's death. I remember it well, because of the coincidence of my daughters birthday and the anniversary of JFK's assassination. He had died either that day, or the day before.
Everything I wrote in the Blog is true, as far as I can tell, bearing in mind I am reporting what Biuku said, as translated for me. Right down to the fact I know who Biuku said took the letters he received from JFK. I have tried to contact that person, a New Zealander who married one of Biuku's cousins, but he did not reply.
According to all of the books including Donovan's, it was Kennedy's
idea of writing a message on a coconut. According to National
Geographic and the blog, it was Gasa's idea. Who is correct?
Biuku told the story to my wife, and we have it on tape, in Roviana, that it was his idea to use a coconut. Kennedy was going to give him a piece of paper from his notebook, but Biuku said he did not want to be caught with paper and American writing . He reckoned he could hide the scratched coconut in a pile of others in the canoe. Then the Japanese would not be likely to suspect anything, if they checked the canoe. Also as I wrote in the blog.
Sometimes I think that the stories get changed simply because some people think it would not do to have a "native" coming up with clever ideas. Reminds me of the old Lone Ranger TV Series. Tonto was never allowed to have an original thought. He just followed instructions.
Biuku said that officials in Honiara blocked his and Eroni's visit to JFKs inauguration, and sent someone else. He said that they told him that he and Eroni could not speak English and would get lost, or words to that effect.
I would suspect, that Biuku's English was not that good. But it would have been enough to get by, and in answer to your question, he would be able to communicate easily with the coastwatchers in Pijin. Or even in his own language, Roviana. The coast watcher would have been fluent in pijin at least, and probably some of the local languages. Bear in mind that many Solomon Islanders speak a number of different languages, as they have relatives by marriage in many different cultural groups. My wife June, or Ziuni, for example can speak at least 7 languages pretty fluently. And they are not all just slightly different dialects.
I Think Biuku initially feared the sailors might be Japanese simply because paddling by, he was at first too far away to see them clearly. And he would not have been keen to go closer, just in case they were in fact Japanese. The Melanesians did not trust the Japanese at all. So the castaways had to persuade him and Eroni to go ashore.
I will see what else I can come up with for you..
Thanks for your email. The best I can do I think is to pass this
information on to my Brother in Law, Moses Sae, who is one of Biuku's
nephews, and ask him to let his cousins know about it. I am sure they
can pass a message on to Eroni too. Also I know one honest politician
who may be able to help with some facilitation. Will report on
I have just been talking to June, and she is pretty keen to get started on this project for you. She will do what she can to get some of the family over to you. She then went into reminiscent mode.
I thought you might like to hear some of what she told me of what Biuku told her when she last saw him. She also has a recording made of Biuku telling the "Kennedy" story.
Biuku told June that when he was due to go to the US for Kennedy's inauguration, he was not sent because he did not speak English.
It seems that a local family of some influence with the British administrators at the time had persuaded them that Biuku and Eroni would get lost if they were sent. Biuku thought this had been done simply out of envy or spite. Funnily enough it is from a member of the same family I had been trying to retrieve Kennedy's letter.
Anyway, be that as it may, in the end, another local, named Ben Kevu, was sent to the inauguration instead. Kevu was an interpreter for the Americans during the war. It was felt he would be better able to communicate.
When Kevu returned he told Biuku that Kennedy had looked at him for a moment, then told him he was too tall. (Kevu was very tall - Biuku was quite short). Kennedy had told Kevu that he was plainly the wrong person. He knew how tall Biuku was, and Kevu was not Biuku. Kevu told Biuku that Kennedy had made it quite plain to him that he was disappointed and that it was Biuku and Eroni whom Kennedy had wanted to meet again.
Biuku told June that before Kennedy left the Solomons, he had told Biuku that he was going to try to be president one day and that when that happened he would send for Biuku to visit him in the White House. Biuku also told June that Kennedy had said to him that he would take the coconut with him when he went, and would keep it. He told Biuku that one day Biuku would come to visit him, and Kennedy would show the coconut to Biuku again. June says this is exactly what Biuku told her. He said they spoke very rough Pijin to each other at that time. June said that telling the story was always a source of mirth to the family as Biuku imitated the way he and JFK spoke pijin to each other.
I am going to get June to translate the recording and I will send you a copy along with a transcript and translation.
I can get leave for a couple
of week's away. So that would not be a problem except that i had sort
of committed to visiting my father in Australia soon. I can possibly
combine the travel for that.
We shall have a family conference and get back to you. When does your
Last night June spent the evening with an old friend of ours who is a
member of parliament and Minister of the Crown in Solomon Islands. He
is interested in facilitating a cultural exchange. He flew home today
and will mention it to another member who was a good friend of mine
when I was in Gizo. He is a distant relative of June's but also was a
close friend to Biuku before. He would be keen to help us I am sure.
In the meantime June has searched amongst our stuff and located a
tape, recorded in 1999 of Biuku telling his tale especially for our
two daughters. It is on my memory of this I had based what I have
published so far. Listening to it has elicited a little more detail.
SoJune is transcribing it now, and then we shall translate it. I will
send you a copy, along with a transcript and translation as soon as
possible. I shall also transfer it to CD so that it can be preserved.
(and by the way our Prime Minister is a she... Helen Clark, :-) -
Thanks again for your patience and persistence. And for
your plans. This could take some time. Patience and persistence are
both something you need when making plans involving the Solomons.
Arrangements and communications can be dreadfully slow. We call it
I have to admit to some trepidation about accepting an invitation to
come all that way to speak (authoritatively) about my wife's relatives
and their history. I could not afford the trip myself, and I feel
quite unworthy of having that kind of money spent on me. Also I would
hate to have someone say of me, as they did of Kevu, that I took
another's rightful place.
On consideration, and having heard a bit more about what June and
Biuku discussed the last time they met, I feel June as Biuku's niece,
would be an appropriate representative. She had often discussed with
Biuku how one day we would all take him to the US to see all the
things he missed out on earlier. I regret we never did that.
Also June is keen to come. She has the advantage of having been
charged by Biuku to represent him in matters to do with his history
and association with JFK. The way she speaks of it, his blessing was
tantamount to a verbal power of attorney given her before his death.
Biuku trusted her, as she and her parents were close friends as well
as relatives. Perhaps too he felt that as June was married to a
tievaka (European) she was in a good position to look out for the
family interests in regards to his history and reputation, and in
particular try to retrieve his lost merumeru (heirlooms). He certainly
asked her to do so. Unfortunately she has not had much luck with that
Though I have to admit I would really like to accompany her, I feel it
is not really my place to do so, even though she feels otherwise.
Perhaps one of my daughters would be a better representative of the
family, and as well would benefit more from the trip. My girls are,
after all, really related to Biuku, - They are real family rather than
a mere in-law, and so have a more legitimate association. Even more
so if you consider that my older daughter Sumana actually owns the
island near Ughele where the PT boat base was located. Her
Grandmother was the original owner and has given it to her. Su has
been very interested in the history of the family and can discuss it
as well as, or better than I. Su has just graduated from college with
a top placing in history.
June was keen to help get some of Biuku's direct family over to see
you, and has already made a start since we last corresponded.
Communication can be difficult to the villages, especially if you
don't want the message to be intercepted or corrupted on the way. She
has been speaking by phone to her brother Moses in Munda. He told her
he saw Eroni recently, as he came over to visit, from Ranongga where
he lives. Moses is also speaking to Biuku's daughter, and cousin. He
will also speak to Eroni. As I said this could take some time.
June was concerned too about the possibility of arrangements being
"spoiled" by envious locals, so she has asked Moses to keep the matter
fairly quiet initially. She did not want to raise the family's hopes
to have them dashed if the plans fell through. Her reasoning came out
when she told me a little more of the tale.
Biuku had told her the story of how he and Eroni were "shamed" before.
When they were informed they had been invited to JFK's inauguration
Biuku and Eroni actually started the journey. They flew to Honiara
amidst a big local send off. When Ben Kevu was sent to the US instead
they went home disappointed, but to them, worse still was the
embarrassment they suffered when they returned. Everyone made fun of
them for having believed (and having told everyone) they were actually
going to America. This embarrassment was something Biuku said he felt
as keenly as the disappointment.
...there are a number of deep jealousies and
family rivalries that you may not be aware of, which would quite
likely interfere with any plans you try to make. (I have met similar
obstacles myself, most notably in trying to arrange in the traditional
manner to send a message to June's father asking his consent for me to
marry her. One gets all sorts of promises and assurances but nothing
happens, and the message is not sent. In my case nothing happened
until I finally learnt who was the right person to ask . Once I
enlisted that person's assistance what had taken a year to go nowhere
took only a month to finish).
June can contact the right people. She also has some influence with
others who can help, such as politicians and officials.
Biuku's two closest relatives are quite old, and may not be best at
communicating. June has been concerned about who could go with them
to translate for them, as she feels their English would not be
adequate. They would also suffer from culture shock. So on
consideration June is probably a more appropriate choice than I first
thought. Nevertheless she still wants to try to help them come over.
June would like to speak to you in person at some stage. Our phone
number here is (I HAVE IT)
I will ask June to mention the canoe idea to the family. It sounds
like a great idea. Hopefully someone can put their hands on one.
Building one might take a long while to get organised. However,
several were built a couple of years ago for a regatta. Maybe one
could be available. These were not true plank-built tomoko, (war
canoes) but were dugouts with the traditional tomoko prow and stern
added. However they were pretty impressive. I can post you a DVD of
the regatta if you are interested. June knows the customs associated
with the canoes and the paddling style.
Cheers and best regards.
A Happy New year to you and your family!