In the South of Bougainville, the village of Tonu lies just beyond Buin where you will find the Twin Kingdoms of Me’ekamui and Papaala. Here lives an elusive character, a self-proclaimed king, Noah Missingku, also known as King David Peii II. A man living under a cloak of invisibility, who few have ever actually met, let alone seen, is hunkered down in what is described as a fortress but in reality looks nothing more than a village with armed guards at the entry. The mystery man is rumoured to never leave his complex and adorns a 5kg gold crown. I love a bit of controversy and this character had me intrigued!
Why are there two kingdoms and where did the gold for this 5kg crown come from? Surely looted from the Panguna mine? I needed to know more.
After the civil war ended and a peace treaty had been signed, there were a handful of armed rebels who did not sign the agreement. At this time, Bougainville was still part of the North Solomon Islands. One of the rebels fathers, the late Francis Ona, who was the land lord of the Panguna mine and the leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, set up the Kingdom of Me’ekamui (meaning Holy Land) in the Panguna mine area and proclaimed it as a no-go zone for locals.
Noah Missingku, sought refuge here with Francis Ona after a failed money scheme and dodgy fraudulent investments forced him to flee Port Moresby and escape the hands of the law. The ‘self proclaimed’ king then set up Me’ekamui, as a stronghold in Tonu, South Bougainville. He now resides in this ‘sovereign nation’ from where he operates the ‘International Bank of Me’ekaumi’ offering first class financial solutions. Within this kingdom which is simply bordered by a basic bamboo fence structure and heavily armed guards, this nation operates and trades in its own currency. They trade with paper money yet no-one knows where this is actually printed. Outside the kingdom, it holds no value. Its currency code is PBK.
So how does such a kingdom exist and operate, who is investing, and why have authorities not shut this micro nation down that is run by an alleged con-man on the run? So many questions float in the air as I attempt to seek permission to enter the complex and meet the king in person. Would he let me try on his gold crown? How does he strengthen his neck to balance a 5kg crown on his large head (or is that just his self inflated ego?) The attempt for access starts with several drive-bys. Our driver is incredibly nervous to even cruise past the entry more than once and this reaction intrigues me further. We send our crew back without our guests thinking a local approach may be better received as opposed to two trucks of nosey white tourists. This is followed by a brief chat with an armed soldier standing firm at the gate with a piercing look – he is immediately suspicious. He says he will request permission and will be in contact. It is not a no. I am slightly hopeful as I look at what could be the kings undies (😊) flapping in the breeze on the clothesline tied between two wooden huts.
There are people from all over Papua New Guinea that are the victims of the King’s flawed pyramid scheme.
The government won’t shut it down due the amount of arms held on the premises retained from the civil war. The authorities do not want conflict and continue to try to engage the cult behind these walls to re-join the peaceful community of South Bougainville – but the king is smart. He knows the minute he steps out of his complex, he will be arrested, so he sends strong messages that he is not interested in negotiating or peace talks. So much so, that his men shot a government official who got too close. I now understand our drivers nervousness.
A phone call comes through for our crew to attend a meeting with the ‘Protocol Manager’ at 6pm that evening to discuss the intentions of our request to visit the sovereign nation. Wow, what a job title. Again, I am hopeful.
I think back to what I saw as we drove past the so called kingdom. A rickety and worn sign stating this is a sovereign nation. Rice fields where the soldiers work are terraced across the stone beaten road. Soldiers jog in laps around a rectangular field, training – but training for what? I am told that some time ago, some tourists were taking photos and the soldiers surrounded their vehicle and took everyone’s cameras. I ask our guide who the soldiers are? Where do they come from and does he know any?
To my surprise, the wife of one our guides confirms her nephew is inside. She says he is stupid and the family do not understand why he would become involved in such a scam and have ostracised him from the family. The soldiers, they are local people. From Bougainville, Papua New Guinea and beyond. These soldiers are not ex military, they are not trained in defence and are certainly not trained in the use of arms – they are simply those who invested money with a promised return and whilst they await their millions, they work as soldiers for the king to insure their investment stays secure. They are protecting the king who is of course protecting their investments. Most of these soldiers are uneducated. They have been told that a plane is coming from the US with their money. The soldiers hang on every word of hope from their leader. There is no drinking or consumption of any sort of alcohol within the kingdom and the soldiers are not paid. They have board provided and if the harvest is good, and the rice is plentiful, asking to take excess rice back to your village can mean being booted out of the kingdom. Who would dare ask such a thing in return for hard laborious unpaid work? Many rascals take refuge in the kingdom to avoid the police. It is a toxic combination of the ‘wrong crowd’ and those who are gullible. To me, this is a recipe for disaster.
It is now after 6pm. I pace anxiously awaiting our crew to return from the all important ‘protocol meeting.’ An hour passes and we see our crew roll back into our village grounds. We are told the king is too busy to see us today, as there is an expected plane coming from Canada full of money for his people. He needs to be available when the plane lands. I understand of course… but my heart sinks a little.
Unless?? I perk up! Unless we are willing to trade and invest…. This does cross my mind for a moment… I could spare $100 – would that be enough to get through the gate and if I got in the gate, would I get out?
He does offer world class financial solutions after all!
Make this experience yours. Join our Bougainville and Siwai Cultural Show small group tour.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.