A Signature in the Sand

22 December 2020

ANDREW MOUTU

This young boy grew up in the village. At the right age, he was enrolled at the small primary school in his home village, Kukipi. However, there were no blackboards or chalk made available to the school. There were no desks for the children to sit on. This caused the school and the village to become a bit innovative, to work within the limits of constraints. This Toaripi speaking village is on the coast and is located not that far from the beach and there was as an abundance of sand that was also exposed to occasional rushes of the wind through the village. Makeshift classrooms were built and students attended their lessons in these temporary structures. Each day the students return to their classrooms and sit on the sand and write their lessons and assignments with their fingers in the sand. He recalls using mats and plant leaves to cover and hide his answers on the sand until the teacher comes along to read and assess his answers before he wipes them clean and start a new again with the next lesson. The sand provided both a sitting place for the children and a writing board.

As a physical material, sand is found in a geological time located in the interval between gravel and dust. It is often carried by water and flown by the wind and their cumulative end appear on beaches, sand dunes and river banks. As a supple, pliable and a composite material, the materiality of its form always reveal itself to human hands and feet as though it were uniquely soft and hard, malleable and fluid overtime. Its suppleness lends itself to a constant geometry of inscription and impressions, of absorption and transformation.

This was the environmental conditions in which the young man went to school in. He kept the routines of learning in the village hut surrounded by his peers, teachers and elders of his village. For six years he was schooled by sitting on the sand and writing on the sand. He was the sand in the making. After 6 years of learning in his primary school, he went west wards to the high school in his local town, Kerema. Arriving in high school, he was greeted by students from other parts of the Gulf province and teachers some of whom were expatriates. In Kerema, he was exposed to the routines of a solid boarding school and writing that involves the use of pencils and papers and eventually with the use of ink pens and exercise books. The erasers, pencils and paper bore some resemblance to the sand in his classrooms but ink pens and books were more durable. The four years of high school in Kerema passed through in speed and saw him graduating with distinctions. The senior high school in Sogeri received him in an embrace. More expatriate teachers were there and fewer local Papua New Guineans taught in Sogeri. He adapted quickly to the standards and expectations of the school. The two years of matriculation saw him coming out with a marked record of excellence that is also steeped in strengths of science and mathematics coupled also with a poetic disposition.

The University of Papua New Guinea was just receiving its first set of students and he was enrolled at UPNG in a preliminary year. The studiousness he gives to his studies combined with academic strengths in sciences, mathematics and the arts left him with options to a career path. He was deciding between medicine and economics. The conversations and aspirations for a new and independent Papua New Guinea were in the air. He considered his options and eventually he was persuaded to take up a bachelors degree in economics. He went through the course with a similar spirit of dedication and commitment. In the intervening years, he went on to a few semesters at the University of Adelaide in South Australia. He returned home to graduate amongst the class of pioneers from the University of Papua New Guinea.

Upon graduation he took a job with the Department of Finance when Papua New Guinea was still administered by Canberra. He listened and learned and always surround himself with a pool of expertise that made up the intellectual club of that Department. Studious in learning the ropes of administration, prone to intellectual conversations and was prudent to the call of challenges, risks and opportunities. Soon enough his leadership and talent as a strategic and prudent economist became obvious. He was promoted and became the first Secretary of Finance in the pre-and post-independence era of Papua New Guinea’s formative years (1972-1982). Across the Finance Department he served alongside other notable Papua New Guineans including Tony Siaguru, Charles Lepani and Rabbie Namaliu. He helped with the establishment of the PNG currency, the establishment of the PNG Central Bank and with many other economic policies of the post-independence era. He moved across and served in the PNG Banking Corporation (PNGBC) from 1983 til 1992) and the Central Bank (1993-1994. In 1997, he entered politics and became the Member of Parliament for Moresby North West. In 1999, when Papua New Guinea, was ransacked by the economic mismanagement of the then Prime Minister Bill Skate, he raised his hand in a critical move that saw him become the 7th Prime Minister of PNG. He latter went on and held other portfolios and was renown for his insights and leadership, strategic reforms and governance. He returned to politics in 2017 to fight systemic corruption in government but has now gone home to rest in eternal peace.

Thinking of his life and accomplishments, I am left to ponder about the kinds of values and aspirations of this simple village, Kukipi, in the Gulf Province that has raised up a man of such a grace, wisdom and intellect. I wonder what kind of mathematics is found in the art of sand drawings of Kukipi village? If there are lessons in the art of sand writing, we have a signature that is borne of sand and has dealt with the politics of fluidity in PNG through economic reforms.

Vale, Sir Mekere Morauta.

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.

3 thoughts on “A Signature in the Sand

  1. Thank you for Ples Singsing! Can this concept be introduced into Secondary levels of education in PNG?
    PNG is rich with Story tumbunas, or Story blong ‘Haus Tambarans’… most are orally passed on to the next generation.. losing plots and contexts along the way..

    We need to capture these parts of story telling and the stories permanently..l

    Like

  2. PNG has lost a true son and leader! RIP Sir Mekere. From humble beginnings, breaking barriers to become an iconic leader embedded in history forever!🙏😔

    Like

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