Getting PNG literature recognised as a nation building tool

DANIEL KUMBON

Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude, 18 June 2019

James Marape with Dr Lino Jeremiah Tom and Peter Mision Yaki and two of my books. Photo taken at Laguna Camp just a few days before Marape was elected prime minister by an overwhelming majority

WABAG – I was privileged to present two copies of my books to James Marape a few days before he was elected the eighth prime minister of Papua New Guinea.

Enga governor Sir Peter Ipatas, Wabag MP Dr Lino Tom, education secretary Dr Ulke Kombra, two national court judges, school principals, bookshop managers and other prominent people have also received copies of the four books I have published so far.

I belong to a group of emerging PNG authors, essayists, poets and social commentators who have steadily published books in the last few years due mainly to the Crocodile Prize annual literary competition.

But not many people including students ever get to read any of these published works.

The education department has made no effort to ensure schools in our country have PNG authored book are on the shelves of their libraries, which would ensure suitable titles for students to read.

In this way students will comprehend and relate more to PNG authored books than foreign books with unfamiliar cultures, ways of life and scenes.

After I presented my books to James Marape and the other leaders, I am optimistic the new government will at least see the significance of literature and the role it plays in nation building.

Me and Keith Jackson AM at the Grand Papua Hotel with a copy of ‘Survivor’. Keith wrote the book’s Foreword

Literature has the ability to provide knowledge and improve the quality of education in a country like ours where poor literacy rates remain the greatest challenge for people who continue to lack proper educational facilities.

There is an obvious bias in the country that considers that people who pursue career paths in law, medicine, engineering, commerce and similar fields will be more successful in life.

People who are passionate about pursuits like literature, fashion design, music, painting, sculpture and acting are destined to a life of low paying jobs and unproductive careers.

But people fail to realise that literature and other art forms are equally important – they are the essence that holds a nation together and gives it a unique identity.

I believe that every published copy of a news article, essay or book a Papua New Guinean has written is a narrative of the history of this country that should be preserved for future generations to cherish.

Literature serves as a gateway to learning and expands the knowledge of people to understand the world they live in and the wider world beyond.

My latest book ‘Survivor’ is one of the two books I gave prime minister Marape recently. It features three different stories on the suffering of women in PNG.

The lead story is the grim tale of an infant girl who survived a massacre in which her Engan father, Samoan mother and her brother were murdered.

It was a revenge killing for the equally senseless murder of a university student and serious injury of another student in Lae.

The second story in the book is about my wife Julie, who was raised as an orphan after her mother died from stabbing wounds inflicted by her father’s fourth wife during an argument over the theft of a bilum.

Julie did not complete primary education after her father assaulted her for missing one day of school. She ran away to her maternal grandparents’ village where she lived until she was too old to attend school.

My favourite is the third story which centres on an old man – a wealthy businessman and retired diplomat – who wrestles with his conscience to marry a young girl after his beloved wife dies in a traffic accident.

Here are the opening paragraphs:

_________

The Old Man held the framed letter in his trembling hands. It wasn’t typed or anything but a simple handwritten note. The paper on which it was written was from a lecture pad from the university. It had turned a brownish yellow and rusted along the edges but the message was still clear in the glassed frame. It read:

Wanaku Mono o le… My girl, my heart,

Have you ever stood still to watch a spring sprout out from the ground on the misty trails of the Koe Koname tapu or Bini Apini tapu mountain ranges just before the Ipasakale birds begin to sing in their sweet little voices as dawn begins to break and when mists still cover the valleys?

My love for you is like that – fresh and pure ready to cascade down the mountain slopes mixed with yours to form a river down in the valley. Can you see as I do, our love growing to fullness?

You and I are young and our future is stretched right before us as one sees the Markham Valley from the top of Kassam Pass. I will take your hand and lead you there but I am in doubt you might have other plans – secret plans and names of other people written in the depths of your mind.

I fear you might be taken away from me in the two years of study we have left. This love that is beginning to well up in me might be in vain. Your attention might even be diverted to another direction by your parents whose decision you might be forced to accept.

Tell me what I will do if you are taken away from me? No, I do not wish that to happen, I have decided you should be mine forever. What do you say?

My heart is troubled this early morning as I stand here beside this spring wondering if our love would last a lifetime – the true love that has started welling up within me.

Tell me straight, in which direction your love will flow.

Yours forever.

AK

On the empty space at the far bottom right hand corner of the page was a small note of approval neatly written in his wife, Rosemary’s own handwriting.

It read:

Mono o le – My heart,

Do not be trouble for I will come with you on the trip. You will take my hand and lead me there to the place you have in your mind.

Today, the letter dated June 12th 1976, still hangs on the wall in their family home among a collection of other memorabilia.

The old man reread the letter with glassy eyes as hot tears streamed down the folds of his sunken face. Continuous sorrow in the last year had taken its toll and reduced him to a boney wreck.  He had continued to cry when he discovered the letter in an album Rosemary had privately kept among her personal belongings. He had decided to frame it for the benefit of his grandchildren.

Their initial feelings for each other was etched forever on this letter, an enduring testimony of how much the old man and his dear wife, Rosemary were committed to each other beginning when they were young students.

He couldn’t remember how many times he has read it before going to sleep in the last year since his wife was taken away from him right before his very eyes in a horrible traffic accident on a busy street in downtown Port Moresby.

_________

This short story is an example of how literature, whether poem, essay or novel, can help people read the words and absorb the content and ask themselves: ‘How did this person imagine and write this?’

All writers use literature to expand their writing which is an important tool in the development aspirations of a young country like PNG.

Me with Bryan Kramer, who showed how writing has the power to transform a nation

Newly appointed police minister, Bryan Kramer, has demonstrated on social media that effective use of literature can transform a nation and even bring down a government.

Literature provides growth and strengthens people’s minds giving them the ability to think outside the box.

There is no official encouragement for Papua New Guinean writers, but, for those of us involved in its pursuit, literature gives us the greatest satisfaction to record history in draft form for the benefit of future generations.

Copies of ‘Survivor’ are available here from Amazon for US$6.45

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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