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.
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).
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.
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.
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.