ENTRY IN THE TINGTING BILONG MI 2020 ESSAY COMPETITION
A Long Listed essay
By Mathisah Turi
Papua New Guinean authors? I cannot even name an author that I am familiar with, and neither can an average Papua New Guinean. This is in itself, an issue, when we talk about the quality of books we produce, and the authors who write these books. Further, it raises the question of whether Papua New Guinea has a publishing industry or not. The only books authored by Papua New Guineans on our shelves are in the fiction section – biographies and compiled children’s stories, which is not something you will find a teenager or anyone reading for fun.
Children have the wildest imaginations. We believe in whatever we are told and whatever we see. We thought we could fly if we had a cape tucked into the back of our shirts. We thought fairies lived in flower gardens. And red-eyed monsters would kidnap us if we didn’t sleep. Our minds are filled with so much wonder and creativity. To quote Russell T Davis, “all kids invent stories. They imagine games of War or Doctor Who and Daleks, or the wonderful logic of Off Ground Touch. But then hormones and kissing and sports take over and storytelling is put aside; or maybe people simply focus on telling the story of their own lives. But the best writers, I think, don’t forget. They carry that childlike lunacy with them forever, its joy and its danger,” Russell T Davis wrote this in his foreword for the book, the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a book that has sold over 15 million copies, which was written by Douglas Adams. There should be many authors like Douglas Adams in Papua New Guinea, if not in the cities then somewhere in the Highlands or on a small island of Manus. If not a professor, then a young child just learning how to read and write. If we celebrate rugby players and singers then we can celebrate our authors. If we can build stadiums and music studios then we can at least put up a publishing company, library or bookstore. Many will question if we should put so much effort into our publishing industry, when many of us can hardly speak proper English. To buy PNG authored books is to recognize our literacy and illiteracy ratio.
According to Macrotrends, as of 2020 our literacy is at 61.40% which is not something to be proud of, neither is it something that should discourage the growth of our publishing industries. We should continue to write, and publish if we want more people to read. If we buy our own books, instead of another country’s we would be building our country by ourselves. We could truly be independent, in the sense that we don’t depend on our former colonizer, Australia, for simple things like books. And when our literacy rates do improve, more will know how to read and write. More authors will be born. We should prepare for their arrival now. More beautiful childlike minds will find their way to the spotlight if we turn it on for them.
In this day and age it’s shocking to find a child or teenager sitting somewhere with a reading book in his or her hand. Instead they’re staring at phones, scrolling endlessly through their social media accounts. As a teenager myself, I do not want to have to be on social media. I want to be able to find a good book, preferably Papua New Guinean authored and read till my eyelids grow heavy. Papua New Guinean youngsters should be excited over PNG authored books just as they get excited when Justin Olam puts a try. I know I am not the only young Papua New Guinean who just wants to find a good supernatural or science-fiction or thriller book to read. Or to daydream the most ridiculous stories, to write down later. Papua New Guinea has so much to write about. We can write fictional stories about witchcraft in the highlands which is so rampant, the Sanguma (witch doctors) of the East Sepik, the witches of Milne Bay, or East New Britain’s Puri-puri (magic). I for one would love to read such stories. However, it is sad to say, the day a fictional book on these scary yet exciting phenomena of PNG, is published is bleak.
The main reason we will not be seeing this fictional books published anytime soon, is because of the fact that our almost extinct publishing industry has been taken over by social media. Social media has taken over to the point where a new form of the English language is being invented, for example the shortening of words, such as ‘you’- ‘u’ or abbreviations like ‘I don’t know’- ‘idk’. Also, this may sound condescending but the grammar of our social media posts are embarrassing. And so is the grammar of our newspaper articles. The level of English spoken every day by Papua New Guineans let alone the leaders of our country is enough to make you cringe. This is a serious issue, if we are talking about PNG authored books and PNG fictional stories.
Not only is social media affecting the ability of young Papua New Guineans to write proper English, it is also filled with absurd innuendos, rash content, to name a few. This is filth, as far as I am concerned, and is detrimental to our reading and writing culture. We consume so much rubbish on the internet and social media that it affects how we write at school. It leaves us wondering where we are headed as a country with this level of understanding of basic grammar. It is a serious problem especially when English is our national language.
Lack of PNG authored books is caused by the many issues that have been discussed – the influence of the social media, poor level of the English language, the lack of reading culture and the dying publishing industry in the country. Given these issues, the Government may have very few options to buy PNG authored books.
The Government’s move to buy PNG authored books is a good choice for our publishing industry. If we buy PNG authored books and make them easily available then our people should read and write better, with the encouragement of our authors. Reading enriches the mind with knowledge. And knowledge is power. Papua New Guinea is filled with so many smart, strong and persistent people, who are fully capable of accomplishing so much if they are given enough resources. We can feed ourselves, we can talk for ourselves, we can grow ourselves and we can write for ourselves. We can write our own stories and our own history.
The people of Papua New Guinea were discovered almost 5 centuries ago. From then on, we have been under several colonizers. They are the source of our history. This is not to suggest that their recordings are false or untrue, there is simply more to our history; other perspectives. If we are unable to keep artefacts or war relics then we should keep stories. There is still much we do not know about ourselves, especially with so many culture and language barriers. But acquiring that knowledge is not impossible. This is why we need to buy PNG authored books, because our authors will tell our stories, about us, for us. Our country is such a colourful and mysterious place, with the help of our authors we can write down our legends and myths and keep them for the generations after us to read, and marvel over. These stories are our identity – we are branded, “the land of a thousand tribes,” or, “the land of the unexpected”. What would we become without our stories? Before they vanish along with the minds of our elders, we must write them down and tell their tales. There are still so many unanswered questions, whose answers lie lost our myriad of language differences.
With over 800 languages, Papua New Guinea is arguably the most linguistically diverse nation on earth. This is something that gives us a sense of pride in being a Papua New Guinean. It is unique but also worrying. Our languages can only last so long before all is lost to the western culture. Slowly but surely they will cease to exist. We must save them before they are lost. And the best persons to save our cultural heritage are our authors. They will be our translators and teachers. They will write our culture either fictional or non-fictional that will be read by all Papua New Guineans and other countries. It will bring people together and keep cultures and traditions alive.
However, given the state of our publishing industry, writing the history of our 800 languages may be impossible. Our authors have yet a long way to go. The issue of authors being inadequate is multifold – before the government talks about buying PNG authored books, it should look at the contributing factors that hinder the progress and birth of Papua New Guinean authors. Perhaps it should focus, on improving our speaking and learning the English language at school, which is the foundation of becoming an author, Papua New Guineans reading culture also needs to be encouraged. And books should be made available for everyone to read, elder to toddler. And more importantly the government should prioritise the publishing industry if it is to buy PNG authored books.
Fiction or non-fiction, books bring us into a new world and a new perspective. It brings smiles to the lips, and tears to the eyes of its reader. You do not need to be a genius to write a book. If J.K Rowling can write a book then why cannot a teenager or a retired lawyer who lives in Papua New Guinea. It is written in the bible that nothing is impossible with God. The bible is probably the only book most Papua New Guineans have read. We should take its advice, set the bar higher, and buy PNG authored books because we can read and write, we can speak better English, and we can be independent. Let us show the world our hidden gems not underground but in the minds of our people.
- Macrotrends Papua New Guinea Literacy Rate 200-2021 29/01/2001 <https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/PNG/papua-new-guinea/literacy-rate>
- Research Gate Publishing in Papua New Guinea –issues and setbacks Elizabeth Turi <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266296595_Publishing_in_PaPua_new_guinea_-_issues_and_setbacks>
- Russell T. D. (2009) foreword in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (vii) Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR: Pan Books
About the essayist
My name is Mathisah Turi. I was born in 2006 at Victoria, Australia which makes me 15 this year. I come from East Sepik and New Ireland, but I like to say I’m from Gerehu because I grew up in Port Moresby, Gerehu. I am currently attending Kopkop College doing Grade 9.
I’ll admit I am pretty young and I have yet to do and know many things. And I believe through reading I can learn more, and through writing I can express myself better. I’m that kid in class who talks about books just as excitedly as anyone would talk about their favourite rugby player.
However, I’ll be honest I’ve never read a PNG authored novel except for a few short stories written by Papua New Guineans. They, like every other book I’ve read taught me something new. I have a wide range of interests so choosing a dream job was quite difficult. Let’s just say maybe in some 10 years time I’ll be called Dr. Turi and people will come to me when they’re sick.