When culture & commerce clash – a new novel about PNG

Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude, 14 December 2014


‘The People of the Bird’ by Mike Jelliffe, Nenge Books, November 2014, paperback, 200 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0-9925620-0-7, ebook ISBN-13: 978-0-9925620-1-4. Order online for $11 (plus postage) here  or email Nenge Books here

THERE are two stories in Mike Jelliffe’s debut novel, The People of the Bird. One is increasingly familiar to people in Papua New Guinea. 

It involves resource development and corruption, both at the political and local level.

The other is about cultural traditions and history and how they become blended into and influence modern life in Papua New Guinea.

It is around these entwined elements that the novel has been set

When greed and culture clash it creates impossible situations and problems that spill over with an unbelievably destructive force.  

There is ample evidence of this in places like Bougainville and Ok Tedi but it is still happening unchecked all over PNG at the moment and can only get worse as the multinational miners and loggers continue to pillage and exploit the country.

The People of the Bird is the story of the Moiaimbi people of Mambusu and how they have coped with this problem.  The setting and the people are fictitious but they could easily be anywhere in Papua New Guinea.  As such it is a story of the times and a warning of things to come.

It is also the story of a white man and his grandfather who become inexplicably entwined in the people’s struggle for justice. It is this part of the story that binds the narrative together and introduces a mystery that permeates the book right up to its unexpected end.

At the centre of this mystery are a grandfather’s diary, a strange carved chair and an elusive and beautiful bird, the nenge.  There are also aggressive Asian developers and a corrupt Papua New Guinean politician.  Over and above this there is a love story between two people of different cultures and backgrounds linked in a way that they cannot imagine.

Mike Jelliffe and his family have lived in Papua New Guinea on and off since 1971.  He is a missionary pilot and manager and has a wide knowledge of the country, its people and its problems.

The People of the Bird is both a topical and enthralling novel that is expertly crafted and presented.  There are plans for more in the same series and I am looking forward to reading them.

Mike is based in Mount Hagen and has been following the Crocodile Prize and the development of the Simbu Writers Association and wonders whether there are any writers around the Western Highlands, Jiwaka, Enga and Southern Highlands interested in meeting sometime

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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