“Who Should you Write For?”: Competing Spheres of Print Culture Production in Colonial Papua New Guinea

21 October 2020

Evelyn Ellerman

Figure 1: Arthur Jawodimbari receiving prize from Les Johnson

In 1970, the colonial administration of Papua and New Guinea (PNG)
published a short article called “Courses for Writers” in the December issue of its literary journal, New Guinea Writing (NGW). The article consisted of two short paragraphs side-by-side underneath a photograph of a writer receiving a literary prize (Figure 1). The left-hand paragraph described a creative writing course for the general public, mainly high school students, taught in part by Don Maynard, the director of the administration’s Literature Bureau. This course had originated with University of Papua New Guinea literature professor Ulli Beier, and been handed over to the Literature Bureau for ongoing instruction. The right-hand paragraph3 described the first two courses for writers offered by Glen Bays, newly appointed director of the mission-sponsored Creative Training Centre (CTC), which was founded in 1970 under a grant from the World Council of Churches. Connecting and dominating both short paragraphs was a photograph of the colonial administrator, Les Johnson, awarding first prize in the play-writing competition to a young university student, Arthur Jawodimbari.
The visual construction of this page is worth considering because it not only identifies the primary institutional sponsors of print culture in Papua and New Guinea—the colonial administration, the University, and the Christian missions—but also suggests what the relations were among them. The photograph proposes a superior role for the administration as well as indicating its official sanction for writing as an approved project of decolonization. Both Maynard and the colonial administrator are smiling; the body language is casual and friendly. The parallel paragraphs below the photograph suggest that the missions and the University were of equal status in producing new writers and that both worked closely with the Literature Bureau. However, like many other artefacts of decolonization, the visual appearance in this article of the relationships among the three sponsoring agencies bore little relation to the real world.

Read the full article by Ellerman at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/597287/pdf.

Reference: Book History, Volume 18, 2015, pp. 302-331 (Article). Published by Johns Hopkins University Press
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/bh.2015.0005

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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