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Sumatin Magazine Issue #002 July 2022

IN THIS SECOND ISSUE we look back at the start of Papua Niugini’s literary history, with retrospective articles from academic scholars and old students of the ‘father of PNG literature’, Ulrich Horst Beier. We do this in order to ‘give back to PNG what we already have’ – a rich heritage of literary work emerging during colonial, pre- and post-independence periods. We then showcase five recent books by PNG authors.

Sumatin Magazine also pays tribute to the passing away of four national leaders, three knights and a deputy prime minister, as our still young nation moves towards 50 years of independence, and the formation of our tenth national parliament this year.

Today there are many writers using blog platforms, wondering where PNG is heading and when the vicious cycles of political corruption, poor economic development and social decay will end. One young writer poses that PNG is “a nation in denial”.

We at Ples Singsing believe that it is by thinking and writing, reading and reviewing our literary, lifestyle and legislative processes, that people can be brought into a better understanding of what we value, who we are, and what we may achieve together.

One aspiration is to have written and translated works in our three national languages, English, Tok Pisin and Motu. While English may be the language of education, and not disregarding our own local languages, it is very apparent that Tok Pisin and Motu are the most commonly used means of everyday communication. We believe that using our two native oriented languages, and presenting translated works, is a practical and strategic way to open up our national conversations, by including the true diversity of Papua Niugini and allowing this to shine through. There is originality and an intrinsic value for creative works using our own idioms. We should celebrate this uniqueness.

This year author Baka Bina has led the way, being shortlisted in the Commonwealth Short Story competition for a story originally written in Tok Pisin and translated into English. Meanwhile, poetess Fiada Kede won our mini-poetry contest for a dual English and Tok Pisin poem and Michael Dom’s essay, written in Tok Pisin, asks why our languages were banned in school. Also, Caroline Evari reflects on ‘kastom wok’, a culture which all of us share, while Gregory Bablis notes that “history is not a fairy tale”.

We have much more in store for our literary growth and towards revealing who we really are, as a creative people, to the rest of the world.

We wish you pleasant reading!

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Narokobi and the Melanesian Way

By LISE M DOBRIN and ALEX GOLUB – Posted on The National

A CENTRAL figure in Papua New Guinea’s transition from Australian territory to independent nation, Bernard Narokobi was a jurist, philosopher and poet.
He is best remembered for making ‘the Melanesian Way’ an important theme –if not the guiding ideological principle – in the discourse of independence in Papua New Guinea.
In their introduction to the 2013 Journal of Pacific History special issue on the topic of decolonisation in Melanesia, Helen Gardner and Christopher Waters argue that it is time ‘to begin the task of drilling down into the history of decolonisation in Mel anesia using detailed case studies’.
Their point is not to directly query the success of decolonisation from a presentist perspective given the cynicism we might feel in light of decolonisation’s incompleteness (as in New Caledonia or West Papua), nor to express dissatisfaction with the governance and economy of independent Melanesian countries.
Rather, Gardner and Waters call for historians to focus anew on what decolonisation meant to those who were making it happen by seriously exploring ‘the excitement generated for the new nations of Melanesia and their citizens’as a result of the decolonisation process that was actively underway in the1970s.
This special issue on the life and legacy of Bernard Mullu Narokobi answers Gardner’s and Waters’ call for a history of decolonisation in Melanesia in three ways.

Bernard Narokobi when Attorney-General in 1991. A political and jurisprudential philosopher of great seriousness and stature. – Pictures borrowed

First, it documents and contextualises Narokobi’s life and thought in detail.
A central figure in Papua New Guinea’s transition from Australian territory to independent nation, Narokobi was a jurist, philosopher, and poet who is best remem bered for making ‘the Melanesian Way’an important theme –if not the guiding ideological principle –in the discourse of independence in Papua New Guinea.
Second, in looking closely at Narokobi’s biography, the collection also contributes to a growing body of work on political life writing in the Pacific, part of a long tradition of biographies and biographical essays on historically significant Pacific Islander leaders.
Third, the collection answers Kabutaulaka’sc all for the elaboration of a new discourse of ‘Melanesianism’ which builds a positive cultural identity for Melanesians by moving beyond racist tropes of savagery and darkness.
Kabutaulaka argues that features like shared music and shared language (i.e., closely related varieties of Melanesian Pidgin) unite Melanesians. We hope to demonstrate here that decolonisation gave Melanesians a philosophy that is still highly relevant today.
Bernard Narokobi was not just a political actor in the decolonisation moment, but a theorist of Melanesianism and Melanesian modernity more broadly.
By ‘drilling down’ into his biography, we hope to show that he deserves a place alongside two other great theorists of Melanesian identity: Epeli Hau‘ofa, the peripatetic trickster-theorist of Oceanic modernity, and Jean-Marie Tjibaou, the main theorist of New Caledonia’s struggle for Kanak independence.
In this introduction we give a brief summary of Bernard Narokobi’s biography and say a few words about his style of thought. We then compare him to Tjibaou and Hau‘ofa, concluding with an orientation to the essays that follow.

A brief biographical sketch
The most thorough overview of Narokobi’s life and work remains Greg Bablis’s biographical article on Narokobi as ‘A Melanesian Icon’.
Here we present a highly synoptic version of his biography in order to provide the reader with some basic orientation.
Bernard Narokobi was born in around 1943 in the Arapesh village of Wautogik in the Prince Alexander Mountains of what is now East Sepik. While the exact date of his birth is not certain, we know he was born during the Second World War.
Narokobi estimates that he started primary school at the age of 12 and finished university when he was 28.
Growing up in Wautogik, he attended primary school at the Dagua Mission Station and later went to Brandi High School in Wewak where Michael Somare, who was to become the first prime minister of Papua New Guinea, was his teacher in 1959.
Because he began primary school relatively late and was able to attend school near his village, Narokobi grew up immersed in his home culture and traditions at the same time that he was receiving a Western education. As a result, his childhood was not characterised by the traumatic separation and excruciating longing experienced by other Pacific intellectuals such as Albert Wendt and Epeli Hau‘ofa who were sent away to boarding school.
Narokobi also took his religious training seriously, following his father in becoming a devout Catholic.
In 1960 Narokobi left home to attend Kerevat School in New Britain. Kerevat was founded in the late 1950s as one of the first government-run schools in
the territory that educated Papua New Guineans at high levels. Narokobi attended the school between 1960 and 1965, during which time he crossed paths with many future leaders of Papua New Guinea, including Rabbie Namaliu, another future prime minister.
Narokobi’s interest in law dates back to his time at Kerevat. During the Christmas season of 1964 Narokobi took his first trip to Australia, where he went to ‘see the law courts and attend conferences in procedure’.
Already at that time, one teacher remembered, Narokobi expressed interest in becoming a lawyer. He was encouraged in his professional ambitions by the Australian Judge William Prentice, who supported his efforts to attend university in Australia.
Narokobi was granted a scholarship to study law at the University of Sydney, and he moved to Australia around 1966, eventually receiving his LLB and becoming a barrister in 1972, having been taken under Prentice’s wing.
Upon graduation, Narokobi returned to Papua New Guinea, where he joined the Public Solicitor’s Office or ‘Pubsol’. In this capacity he travelled throughout the country with the Supreme Court defending accused parties, often in capital cases involving serious crimes such as homicide and sorcery.
As a judge later on, Narokobi would often hear similar cases. This was a period of intense intellectual excitement as it was becoming clear that PNG was moving towards independence. Yet Narokobi was somewhat peripheral to this movement, having spent his university years in Sydney and not at the recently established University of Papua New Guinea.
Even after returning to PNG following law school, his time was spent travelling with the court instead of being settled in Port Moresby. As a result, Narokobi became involved with the move towards independence relatively late in the process.
Around 1974 Narokobi was appointed to serve on the Constitutional Planning Committee (CPC), which was tasked with writing the new country’s constitution.
As Sam Kari has demonstrated, much of the work of composing the constitution was done by non-Papua New Guinean experts, and was influenced by the independence experiences of new nations in Africa.
But Narokobi and a small group of other Papua New Guineans –mostly Catholics from New Guinea, like him, such as the Bougainvillean politician and Catholic priest John Momis and the political activist and MP John Kaputin –were responsible for writing the Preamble of the Constitution of Papua New Guinea (henceforth the Preamble).
Narokobi once joked that he did not have a hand in writing the constitution, but that he did have a finger. That may be right, but Narokobi’s finger is important.
The Preamble is the most distinctive, aspirational, and widely known section of the document. In his role on the CPC Narokobi again travelled throughout the country conducting research for the constitution writing process and raising awareness about the forthcoming political changes.
He said that at that time people had so little conception of what was transpiring that some understood themselves to be preparing not for self-government but for sel-kambang (Tok Pisin for ‘lime powder’), and that others thought they would soon be receiving not independence but underpants.
After independence, between 1975 and 1978, Narokobi served as the first chair of the Papua New Guinea Law Reform Commission (LRC), the body empowered by the constitution to provide draft legislation to PNG’s parliament. The goal was to continue the independence process by purging the law of racist colonial legislation and undertake the sort of progressive legislative reform projects happening across the world in that time.
Narokobi saw the work of the LRC as the principal means for replacing the British common law that PNG inherited from its colonial past with a distinctly Papua New Guinean body of law.
But what would it mean for the law–or anything else –to be distinctly
Papua New Guinean? Throughout this period Narokobi wrote newspaper columns exploring this question which were later compiled into his best-known book, The Melanesian Way.
In addition to addressing PNG’s public sphere in this way, Narokobi also published regularly in Point and Catalyst, journals of the non-denominational Christian think tank the Melanesian Institute.
There, in articles such as ‘What Is Religious Experience for a Melanesian?’, Narokobi pursued the religious dimension of his overarching question about what being a citizen of a Papua New Guinean nation might mean.
Along the way Narokobi also wrote books addressing the contemporary political climate, such as Foundations for Nationhood (1975) and Life and Leadership in Melanesia (1983).
The other key work in his corpus besides The Melanesian Way is Lo Bilong Yumi Yet (1989), which attempts to answer many of the questions regarding the distinctiveness of Melanesian culture that he was criticised for evading in The Melanesian Way.
In 1980 Narokobi served for a year as an acting judge and used the opportunity to produce judicial opinions that demonstrated how the bench could shape the common law to be more appropriate for Papua New Guineans. Ultimately, many of his more innovative decisions were overturned, but scrutinising his decisions during this period is key for understanding his thought.
After this short period as an interim judge and practising lawyer, Narokobi became a parliamentarian, being elected to the Wewak Open seat in 1987. He was returned by Wewak in 1992 and again in 1997.
During his time in parliament, Narokobi served as Minister for Justice among other positions, including Parliamentary Speaker (apparently, he even served as acting governor general), and he played an active role in the diplomacy around the Bougainville conflict. When he eventually lost his seat in 2002, he was serving as Leader of the Opposition.
Narokobi’s greatest achievement of this period, in terms of disseminating his philosophy, was the passage of the Underlying Law Act (2000), which finally made official the policy he had pursued earlier as a member of the LRC and as a judge.
The last official position Narokobi held after stepping down from politics was high commissioner to New Zealand (2005–08). Although no longer a member of parliament, he remained active in public life, organising peace talks in Bougainville and helping to establish a Melanesian Studies centre at the University of Goroka. But after his wife died in 2006 his verve for life waned, and he died in 2010 of complications from diabetes.
Melanesia cannot be Australia
In his writings on the Melanesian Way, Narokobi returned repeatedly to the need for people in the emerging nations of Melanesia to actively hone a new, culturally self-aware postcolonial subjectivity to help guide their approach to economic development, governance, and social change.
Narokobi addressed many topics from the standpoint of this synthetic, ancient, yet forward-looking Melanesian Way. Among them were development; race relations; women’s rights; the involvement of the state in local conflict resolution; the rise of individualism and its tensions with communitarian values; land use policy and food security; the need to protect the natural environment; the emergence of social class divisions; international relations and foreign aid; and the social role of modern institutions like churches, media, and the civil service.
Narokobi writes about these matters of culture and development in a remarkable stylistic voice. The awareness that he was living through times of profound historical transformation evoked deep feelings in him that one often can find reflected in the literary quality of his writing:
“Some Melanesians hold to the view that the only way to be acknowledged as a person with worth is to negate his or her ancestral past and adopt the Western life style externally as well as internally.
“In effect they deny a significant part of their identity. They live in a world of fantasy, without a link to the past and a foggy connection with the future …It is disappointing that the people of Papua New Guinea have not realised what tremendous heritage they possess.”

  • Abridged from the much longer article published by ResearchGate

Grand-daughter’s story of a pioneering pastor

Early mission patrol in the Enga region (Harold Freund)

PHILIP FITZPATRICK – posted on PNG Attitude blog

Mugang Mugarewec Bitengere- A Pioneer Missionary to the Highlands of New Guinea by Gabby Mugang, Marapa Publications, Waigani, 2018, K100 from the author at mbcpng@gmail.com

TUMBY BAY – The early Lutheran missionaries in the highlands relied very heavily on their Papua New Guinean pastors and evangelists to spread their message and extend their influence.

These men and their families were sent to live among the people they served and had to be tough and independent.

Mugang Mugarewec Bitengere from Finschhafen was one of those men.

He pioneered Lutheran mission work in the Wahgi, Jimi and Kambia areas of Jiwaka Province and also in some parts of Simbu and Western Highlands.

The history of the Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea is well documented, including in the 1986 book The Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea: The First Hundred Years.

Mugang and Manzia Bitengere grace the cover of their grand-daughter’s book

While due recognition is given to Papua New Guinean members of the church, there has never been anything significant published from their point of view.

As often noted previously in PNG Attitude, historical accounts from a Papua New Guinean perspective are few and far between.

Fortunately this seems to be changing, although momentum is still slow.

It was by accident that I came across a reference to Gabby Mugang’s book about her grandfather. I followed it up with interest.

Gabby writes of him:

“He was a man of valour; he stood in the face of danger and reached out to the people with the word of God. His unique capability of standing right in the midst of heated battles and initiate peace & reconciliation between warring enemies … touched the hearts and minds of the people and gained their respect.

“The people saw him as a strong, fearless and brave man who had the wisdom and courage to stand up boldly and speak and make decisions that had solutions, impacts and positive influences upon the lives of people both spiritually and physically. Through his ministry many people accepted the gospel and many lives were transformed.

“One of the outstanding highlights he achieved in his ministry was the self-autonomy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Jiwaka District from the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Hagen District.”

Mugang served the church for 41 years until he died in 1980. He was buried at Banz. His wife Manzia died in 1996.

Gabby Mugang (The National)

They are survived by family members; 10 children, 46 grandchildren, 61 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren residing throughout PNG and abroad.

It took Gabby four years to compile and write the biography of her grandfather.

During that time she trekked to many places to record interviews and research his story.

It seems, however, that after all this research and financial outlay to have the book published she is still struggling to sell it.

That, of course, is nothing new in Papua New Guinea. Every other author has that same problem.

Tramontina

By Dr. Andrew Moutu

You didn’t fall out of the skies

You came from somewhere on the ground-from a house or a store.

Made with human hands

To replace and extend the limits of human hands.

You are retrieved and taken in from the sides.

And come into the center.

Where the mind and the body become defined with the might of lateral dexterity.

Chop and cut, hack and slice, the bloody mutilation. Your actions rehearse a forethought.

Today a bird, the warbler of Waigani, got into your hands and died. The warmth in the body of the bird will fade and her body will be cold soon.

The dogs of Waigani are on their backs, punching with their feet in the air. These friends of man are sleeping upside down, wandering.

The skies of Waigani have seen the black fumes of wrath and fury.

Warmongers are running with Tramontina in their hands. Re-enacting a forethought.

Death is long and life is brief in the hands of Tramontina.

The seas of Taurama and Konedobu are rehearsing a song of rage. The seas might give us *gwarume mase* in this night of Tramontina.

Why did we left those songs of rage still coming in from the silent waves of our seas?

Maybe we were fooled or maybe we are deafened by the solemnity of the raging Tramontina?

Swarms of flies plea for grace at the sores on our feet. Maybe the songs of rage have become our pretty songs?

On occasions a few Bougainvilleans can dazzle us with a dance of Tramontina.

Yesterday’s afternoon sun outside the two shopping malls, the stadium, and in front of the City Hall of Waigani, was sickening with the dangling sound and sight of Tramontina.

Poetry reviews: Lamentations on the joy of youth

MICHAEL DOM

Cry My Beloved Country, Collection of Poems and Prose 1998 – 2018, Telly Orekavala, JDT Publishing, Port Moresby, February 2019, ISBN-13: 978-1797-08-275-2 Kindle Direct Publishing, USA, 76pp. Available on Amazon $3.59

THERE are many different ways to interpret a collection of poems and prose, and so writing about such a book, for me, is often an attempt to make sure that what I am taking away from it is not what I have read into it myself.

(As a note to my Papua Niuginian contemporaries, I should say that when writing a poetry review, I’m not always sure if I am doing it very well, but I keep writing them anyway, if simply for the pleasure of wrestling with the poems and my relationship with them. I do hope a few of you may decide to join me in these endeavors.)

Nevertheless, any reader would have to determine for their-self whether they want to take my word for it or to simply buy the book and get stuck into it. I enjoyed reading this book all three times.

Not believing what I’m about to say here is as good a reason as any to buy this book by Telly Orekavala. And I suspect that most readers will gain a whole lot more out of actually reading the book than from hearing my thoughts.

It is difficult for me to pick a single favourite poem out of the collection, and I suppose that means I don’t really have one, although there are a few that appeal to me more than others, a couple of which were surprising to myself.

It’s always delightful to make a surprise find when reading a new poem, and for me one of those was The Pink Month, for which I think the image of May grass wafting in the wind came to me with such clarity that the stunned voice in the text was mine; “Em May a-ah?”.

There are passages in many of the poems which provide similarly memorable moments and these are at the heart of enjoying a poem.

One example is an onomatopoeic* verse used in two related poems What are friends and Friendship Blooms. In this verse, I can hear the old Gordon Secondary school bell ringing in the back ground as I recall saying goodbye to friends on the last day of school.

Time bell rings
Time! Time! Time to go
Time! Time! Time to go

Telly also uses strong and clear simplicity of expression in some passages when summarizing the central idea of a poem. I like that effect in Good Old Days when he says;

I did not see what I see now
I did not hear what I hear today
I did not feel what I feel tete
The good old days

I also like the use of the ol’skul’ Tok Pisin term to complete the transition now – today – tete in our unique Papua Niuginian idiom.

Then there’s the verse segment from the socio-politically bent poem, Too much freedom stings, which, when read apart from the full context of the poem seems simple enough, but is in fact providing a summary of the commonly held and readily assumed notion that freedom is everything that we need to survive, which the rest of the poem then scrutinizes.

Man talk about it
Man sing about it
Man dream about it.

When freedom is deprived
People cry for it
People fight for it
People die for it.

Challenging popular and cherished notions is a feature of poetry that often brings poets into conflict with the champions and their cohorts, often the ‘thought-leaders’ (or ideologues) of modern-day philosophies.

In my view, that’s exactly the right position for a poet to take: truth-telling to the wise.

Telly does that well when confronting an agenda like gender equity (if not equality), without pretending to think one way or another, neither trying to ‘curry favour’ with the mainstream, nor trying to ‘spice up’ his words with juicy detail or ‘sorry, my bad’ supplications to particular adherents.

Instead, what we get is raw snapshots of reality in poems like Forgotten Daughter and The Woman Versus Me. Both poems of which I’m not providing excerpts here so that those in ‘the opposition camp’ may also beg, burgle, buy or borrow a copy of Telly’s book to read it for themselves.

I think those poems will be quite ‘stirring’.

And that’s good. We need to confront sociocultural issues with the bare facts laid out, before we can think about resolutions.

The key to change is understanding, and getting there isn’t easy in the first place.

In this book, Telly gives us lamentations on the joy of youth, from the eponymous poem, Cry My Beloved Country, and the more private second poem, I miss you, to Shattered Dream and Good Old Days, and then closing off with poems like Journey of Education and My Pet, My Friend.

These poems move us from the patriotic, with a nationalist’s sense of sorrow for Papua Niugini’s sad socio-economic scenarios, to the personal, for the loss of innocence and the self-realisations of young people, then to the deep anguish of losing a good friend from another branch of our animal kingdom.

Our feeling is made one through such lamentations in this kingdom of love and loss and learning.

We are also provided with anecdotes that provide a window to the dual (dueling) philosophies of Christian and traditional wisdom encapsulated in a number of poems.

The duality of our belief systems seems to me to be one of the constant contradictions which foreign visitors, and even we ourselves, may find confounding and at times frustrating to understand, let alone accept about Papua Niugini.

Telly Orekavala, the Chaplain of Devare Adventist High School, provides this fundamental revelation in his first book of poems and prose, without a hint of proselytizing.

I too believe there are benefits to be gained from a thoughtful reassimilation of our traditional with our trained Christian beliefs, and the poem My First Hunt gives me one reason to think that this may be a wise pathway to take on the adventure of our ‘coming of age’.

There are likely to be more than a few lamentable moments on our national journey (especially on the eve of a new government), but there’s also great joy to be experienced through the process of maturity.

My First Hunt

Father halts mother in her steps
He hushes her “shh”
I pulled my bowstring and aim
“Ptheswish” goes the arrow
Straight for the target all can see
It has hit the [bullseye].

Mother is congratulating me for the first kill
The inner circle are saying hooray
“You’ve done it this time”
Father says “Like father, like son”
Gives me a thumbs up
Feel elated,
I could touch the sky
Without the initiation ritual
Into the man’s world of game hunting
Creates in me good self-esteem.

In pursuit of Melanesian jurisprudence

Picture by The National

By DAVID GONOL – posted on the National

PAPUA new Guinea is truly a unique country in the world. It is one of the most diverse countries in the world in terms of cultures and languages. I always unashamedly take huge pride in this beautiful and unique country.
America may be the world leader in military, China maybe the world leader in population, Japan maybe the world leader in engineering, Israel maybe the world leader in start-ups but PNG is the world leader in languages and cultures.
Traditional PNG was never in a legal vacuum when Europeans colonised this country.
PNG already had customary laws governing its affairs but colonisers ignored such laws and imposed their own laws on us.
Therefore, about 98 per cent of the legal principles governing our country have their origin in English common law. English common law could adequately address problems back in England but certainly not in PNG.
Our problems are unique and so a unique Melanesian jurisprudence can adequately deal with them. Our forefathers foresaw the weakness of English common law and duly made provisions in our Constitution for us to develop our own version of English common law which is commonly referred to as Underlying Law or indigenous jurisprudence.
The underlying law were to be developed from two primary sources viz customary law and English common law.
It is imperative that we develop the underlying law. We can never run out of ideas and legal principles to develop this unique Melanesian law because we have a huge bank of worthy customs at our disposal. Our worthy customs are like ores which we need to extract and refine them in our court rooms and then apply them to address our unique problems.
Take, for instance, landownership issues in PNG. English common law cannot adequately address landownership issues because English common law knows that only the Crown can own land and not traditional communities like ours in Melanesia. With this kind of unique cases you need a Melanesian law and not English common law to deal with.
English common law was not made for PNG; it was made for England.
However, it was adopted at Independence because we were not of age at the time to develop our own version of English common law. Now we have come of age. We are capable. We can develop our own indigenous jurisprudence which is suitable for the needs of our country.
Therefore, I strongly believe that underlying law is the way to go for this nation. Underlying law is a PNG made law.
I have been researching on the development of the underlying law for many years. My research has culminated in the publication of the first ever book on the Underlying Law titled “The Underlying Law of Papua New Guinea – An Inquiry into Adoption & Application of Customary Law.”
This book has just been published and is set to be launched soon. Copies are available at UPNG Bookshop.

  • The writer is a lawyer, Assistant Registrar (National Court) & prolific author. He has written three books – and the latest being ‘The Underlying Law of Papua New Guinea – An Inquiry into Adoption & Application of Customary Law.’ The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not represent any individual or organisation. For comments email: marapapublications@gmail.com

Original story on this link: https://www.thenational.com.pg/pursuit-melanesian-jurisprudence/

Poetry reviews: persistent & emerging voices

Raymond Sigimet’s sparks of brilliance now and then set the page ablaze

MICHAEL DOM

Mirror On The Wall: selected poems, short stories and expositions by Raymond Muso Sigimet. JDT Publications, Port Moresby, 2018. 92 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1724-22-495-8. Amazon Books, paperback $7.41

A Window To My House: Collection of Poems by Raymond Muso Sigimet. JDT Publications, Port Moresby, 2018. 70 pp. ISBN-10: 1724225383, ISBN-13 978-1724225382, Amazon Books, paperback $9. 96

OVER THE LAST TWO WEEKS I have been reading and then reading to review Telly Orekavala’s recent book, Cry My Beloved Country. The poems are proving to be a source of fascination and inspiration too, and I will soon be providing Telly with my critique of his book.

Telly’s background as a teacher reminded me of another writer/poet Raymond Sigimet, whose writing I have enjoyed reading on PNG Attitude since 2015 and now on Ples Singsing blog, with the most recent poems I froze and Yangpela marit, demonstrating his entry into a new phase of writing.

It’s my impression that Raymond is building up to the publication of another book collection of poetry and prose.

If that is the case then his recent poems indicate that the material will be a valuable and high quality addition to Papua Niugini’s literary output.

Raymond is a storyteller of some skill, as demonstrated by his short-stories and occasional expositions, which provide excellent reading. While his poetry has evolved from early pieces with a more free verse narrative (My Child) and loosely structured verse (My peace is for you to live a life extraordinary) into elegantly structured verse with superb rhyming schemes (Let words be not silent or sleep alone) and classical fixed form villanelle (Bigger words to say I’m sorry), and even on the simplest poems Raymonds talent affords a shoreline (The island is calling) surface shine that draws the reader into its cool refreshing depths.

Thinking about the last three poems in 2021 I wrote that “Raymond’s poetry is like Christmas lights on ‘slo-glo’ mode. Watching from afar it looks like an ethereal wave as each bulb fades dimmer then builds up to a fiery sparkle. At the moment when most of the bulbs are waving down there’s that brief chance to catch your breath on a poem that leaves a residual glimmer of the lights in your brain“.

Sometimes that glimmering sounds like a melodious verse as in Let words be not silent or sleep alone; “Have all good poems been written / That we today have none to write / What then of the difficult mundane / The highs and lows we must bite / Or the hopes that we bear in spite”. When a poem leaves a residual glow, you know that it’s good“.

In Raymonds 2019 International Poetry Day message he provided insights into his art in a message that was an inspiration to his fellow writers now working on Ples Singsing, and outlined key reasons it was important that we should promote and support PNG authors for PNG readers.

“I believe that humans have shared experiences that transcend time and space and when these are captured effectively in a simple poem or story with a simple message, the reader is able to relive those experiences, relate to the poetry and perhaps be inspired to create change” …

“PNG at this time needs a national literature that must speak of the aspirations of the people after more than 40 years of independence”

Raymond Sigimet

More recently, Raymond has connected with Ples Singsing to have some of his newest poems published on our blog. Here below is the first poem, one which speaks in a nationalists voice, You are tresspassing. The poem aligns well with the 2022 World Environment Day theme of our Mini-Poetry Competition.

Poem by Raymond Sigimet 

YOU ARE TRESPASSING!

Halt there, foreigner!
Who are you, stranger?
Stand where you are, man!
You are trespassing!
My forebears stood here
They fought and died here
They bled on this ground
Their blood wet the soil
They farmed and worked here
Their sweat salted this ground
They mourned and buried
Their dead on this ground
Their spirits live here
They breathe on this ground

Halt there, foreigner!
Who are you, stranger?
Stand where you are, man!
You are trespassing!
Papa hunted here
Mama fed me here
My child was born here
My whole life is here
My son hunted here
My daughter bled here
My blood will stand here

Halt there, foreigner!
Who are you, stranger?
Stand where you are, man!
You are trespassing!
Cutting down my trees
Digging up my ground
Poisoning my streams
Stealing my birth right
I do not know you
Who are you, stranger?
You are trespassing!

God’s last stopping place. But what of Nutu?

“But when they came they hid you in the Book / And said you weren’t from around this place / We searched ’til we had nowhere else to look…”

GREGORY BABLIS – posted on PNG Attitude blog

ORO – I wrote this sonnet as I thought about some of the ideas arising from my interviews and other observations while conducting fieldwork amongst the Mengen (or Maenge) people of Jacquinot Bay in East New Britain.

The concept of God was a principle theme of most of my interlocutors. Nutu is one of the central characters in Maenge mythology.

Central in any discussion of their spiritual world was whether this being is foreign to the Mengens.

Or whether “we the people knew Him before they [the missionaries] came”.

Melanesia was the last place within Oceania to be Christianised.

Was it also the last place God visited?

___________

The Selenelion

A sonnet by Gregory Bablis

We the people knew Him before they came
His art and beauty we saw every day
We imbued Him into our hausboi’s frame
Gardens grow not least ’cause to Him we pray

Bountiful harvests are a normal trend
Many fish we get from around the bay
You’d think the seafood buffet wouldn’t end
We call – and tuna come at no delay

But when they came they hid you in the Book
And said you weren’t from around this place
We searched ’til we had nowhere else to look
Far away we fell from your saving grace

Still every day you watch us from the sky
When celestial bodies perch up on high.

Read more about the Mengan (Maenge) people here

Vance Solmien laments for the land, for home and family

A poem entered in the Mini-Poetry 2022 Competition for World Environment Day

IMage by Rocky Roe: A close-up of forest diversity in Papua New Guinea
Poem by Vance Solmien

My Home, My Family

What has happened to my home and my family?
My heart is troubled and my soul laments in anguish and sorrow.
My land is in bitter sorrow and mourning,
In losing her beloved sons and daughters.

The streets are not the same,
There’s no smile, joy and laughter.
The trees bow down and weep,
The birds sing in a distant and unknown tongue in lament.

The morning sun hides behind the clouds.
The eastern wind sweeps over and shuffles the silent landscape and
breaths into my sorrow-filled nothingness.
Whispering a silent huss giving little comfort.
The evening wind whispers and the Kumul sing a serenade,
The dogs howl in the depth and stillness of the night,

The northern breeze chills my soul,
The morning light brings a beacon of hope,
I look to the North I find no answer,
I look to the South I find no answer,
I look to the East; there too, I find no answer.
I look to the West, even there, I find no answer.

But I know,
He knows where I am,
When I am through all these,
I will come out like gold purified in the furnace of affliction.