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Eroni Kumana
Eroni Kumana
Birth: 7 August 1917
Rannoga Island, British Solomon Islands (now Solomon Islands)
Death: 3 August 2014
Kongu Village, Rannoga Island, Solomon Islands
Age: 96 years, 361 days
Country: Solomon IslandsSLM
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Eroni Kumana (7 August 1917 – 3 August 2014) was a nonagenarian from Solomon Islands who is currently the oldest known man from Solomon Islands.

Biography

Eroni Kumana was born in Rannoga, an island in the west part of Solomon Islands (then British Solomon Islands) on 7 August 1917. He was a fisherman, canoe maker and subsistence farmer.

World War II

During World War II, Eroni Kumana and a fellow boatman Biuku Gasa were tasked with patrolling the waters of the Solomon Sea near Gizo by Australian coastwatcher Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Reginald Evans, who manned a secret observation post at the top of Kolombangara island's Mount Veve volcano, and had five two-man teams of islanders working for him. Evans had spotted an explosion on 1 August, and later that morning decoded news that the explosion he had witnessed was probably from the lost PT-109. On 2 August Kumana and Gasa were dispatched by Evans to search in their dugout canoe for possible PT-109 survivors. Abandoning their sinking ship, Kennedy and his men swam first to the very tiny Plum Pudding island – which was later named after him.

They later abandoned Plum Pudding Island and swam to tiny Olasana Island in search of food and water. On Olasana, Kennedy found coconuts and fresh water which were of some small help to his men. On Olsana Island, Kennedy was discovered by the two islander men. The future 35th president of the United States and his men were exhausted and starving. Mr. Kumana and Mr. Gasa gave them what food they had. Then Mr. Kumana built them a fire, the way he usually did — by rubbing two sticks together. The canoe couldn't accommodate all of the PT-109 crewmen safely, and the islanders and English-speaking crew had difficulty communicating with each other. In absence of writing utensils, Biuku Gasa suggested that Kennedy should inscribe a message on the husk of a coconut he had plucked from a nearby palm tree. This knife-carved message, after rowing their dugout canoe at great risk through 35 nmi (65 km) of hostile waters patrolled by the Japanese, was then delivered to the nearest Allied base at Rendova. They enabled the ensuing return to Olasana and the successful American rescue operation on August 7th nearly a week after their boat had been destroyed by a Japanese warship in the Solomon Islands.

Later Life

Kennedy later invited Eroni Kumana and Biuku Gasa to attend his presidential inauguration in 1961, but the pair was duped en route in Honiara, the Solomon Islands capital, by British colonial officials who sent other representatives instead. Another version of the story is that they were turned back by British officials at the airport. The story from Biuku's descendants is that the British officials did not want to send Biuku and Eroni because they were simple village men and not well dressed (by the British authorities' standards). This was a sad outcome for the two heroes, who had willingly helped U.S. forces with disregard to their own safety or wellbeing, and who had known full well what the retributions would have been if they had been discovered by the Japanese. The legend of these two men survives to this day among their descendants in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands.

Kumana and Gasa were interviewed by National Geographic in 2002, and can be seen on the DVD of the television special. They were presented a bust by Max Kennedy, a son of Robert Kennedy. The National Geographic had gone there as part of an expedition by Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the wreck of the Titanic, who did find the remains of the PT-109. The special was called The Search for Kennedy's PT 109.

Eroni Kumana died in his native village of Kongu, Rannoga Island, Solomon Islands on 3 August 2014, at the age of 96 years, 361 days (four days prior his 97th birthday). He was survived by nine children, 50 grandchildren and 75 great-grandchildren. He was buried beside his wife near his home. Eroni Kumana is currently the oldest known man from Solomon Islands.

References

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