PNG reminiscences: Yokomo and me


Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude, 18 January 2009

One of the many responsibilities I inherited when appointed editor of the PNG Education Department’s School Papers in early 1969 was the custody and development of that rascal-cum-hero, Yokomo. (And I use both terms here in the broadest and gentlest of senses).

But first, and for those unfamiliar with the School Papers, let me explain. The School Papers were a set of monthly, 16 page magazines published 10 times a year for Papua New Guinean primary school children. One was for upper primary classes (Standards 5 and 6) and the other for lower primary classes (Standards 5 and 6). A sister publication was Our World, a social studies magazine for upper primary classes. Yokomo was a regular feature of the Upper Primary School Paper.

Having inherited our hero from Frank Hiob and Keith Jackson who had established Yokomo as something of a celebrity, and knowing the delight of my own former charges in the East Sepik when they read of Yokomo’s exploits and travails, I assumed custody with no illusions as to the magnitude of the responsibility I was taking on: the expectations of tens of thousands of young readers must be met, or exceeded.

And for five years or more, through a mix of serendipitous creativity, even more creative cross-cultural plagiarisation (every culture has its own Yokomos) and not a few ideas from teacher colleagues and others, we kept Yokomo alive and kicking against the traces. Not so, alas, Omokoy. Somewhere between Keith’s departure and my arrival, poor Omokoy was lost, stolen or eaten by a pukpuk or some such.

The School Papers were established in the early 1960s (and here I rely on a faulty memory and, in truth, not a lot of knowledge) to provide supplementary reading material in PNG schools – and remember, back then, Frank and Lois Johnson were still labouring furiously to complete that fabulous Minenda English program which featured the much-loved Raka and Ranu and which served us teachers and our charges so well.

Indeed, I recall having to rely on dog-eared copies of Oxford readers for African children during my first year in the Sepik as we waited for the upper class readers to come off Jacaranda’s presses. It is an understatement that there was a dearth of reading material available or PNG children, and the School Papers helped fill that.

Ed Brumby is one of the judges of our Tingting Bilong Mi Essay Competition

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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