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


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By David Robie

So the mystery is finally over. In 1983, I took this photo below 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. Image: © 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.

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

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

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

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 Aotearoa 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 in 2015. More than 1000 people viewed the blog item, but there were no tip-offs.

Then it was reposted on other blogs.

Finally, friends at Vanuatu Daily Digest reposted my appeal – and voila, 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 2015 – 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 sent from the island. After all, this was 32 years after I had seen her fleetingly when she was 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. Image: © 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. Image: © 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.

David Robie
David Robie
Dr David Robie was previously founding director and professor of journalism at AUT’s Pacific Media Centre (PMC). He worked with postgraduate student journalists to edit Pacific Media Watch - a daily digital archive of dispatches about Pacific journalism and media, ethics and professionalism. The PMC also jointly published the high profile independent Pacific Scoop news website with industry partner, Scoop Media, and Asia Pacific Report, which David now edits independently in partnership with Evening Report: David is also the founding editor of Pacific Journalism Review (PJR).
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