22 March 2021, Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude
Winning entry in Ples Singsing Blog Essay Contest edited for publication by Keith Jackson
The last time I entered my now former school library was in November last year during one of the last Language and Literature classes of my high school career.
Making my way slowly through the non-fiction section that contained the small range of books authored by Papua New Guineans, I noticed the majority were the same I’d seen since Year Seven.
On the other side of the library, the fiction section shelves were dominated by novels written by international authors. Not even a section of a single shelf was devoted to Papua New Guinean authors.
I quickly realised this lack of PNG-authored books would be the shared reality for most, if not all, of the schools in Papua New Guinea.
Looking at this situation from a cultural point of view, we can clearly see the lack of importance and attention that the Papua New Guinean government has put on locally authored books.
Without a doubt, the government needs to support local authors by publishing and purchasing their written work so it can be read and appreciated by fellow Papua New Guineans, and the world.
Every few years, containers of books are shipped from Australia to Papua New Guinea for distribution to schools and colleges around the country. In 2010 a combined total of 539,000 books arrived in Port Moresby and Lae destined for primary schools and teachers colleges.
Author and academic Steven Winduo has written that these textbooks were funded by the Australian government in consultation with the PNG Department of Education. The books cost about K20 million to purchase, ship, and distribute.
This is a large sum. Imagine if just half or even a quarter was reserved for the purchase of PNG-authored books and resource materials. Local authors would have their time to shine and make a little money from their written work.
If there was government funding allocated to purchase local books and reprint Papua New Guinean classics, local authors would have the support they need to write and publish novels, essays and poetry that express our national identity.
Most Papua New Guinean writers are only able to publish their books using their own money and, if lucky, through charitable sources. Most books are published in small numbers – not enough for bookshops – and there is no support from the PNG government.
Why does the government spend millions of kina buying books from overseas when we have local authors who write well and who write for us?
Shouldn’t we be promoting local writers and their books just as we do local singers and their songs? It makes no sense to put aside PNG-authored books that are worthy to be read, shared and taught.
Western culture is taking over our society. Generation Z and the Millennials spend most of their time scrolling through social media, their main struggle is keeping up with the latest trends in TikTok.
People seem to read books only when the situation calls for it and not for leisure.
More than ever we need people, especially teenagers and young children, to be reading our own stories that we Papua New Guineans can relate to and learn lessons from.
We need to be reminded of who we are and just how special and different we are from the rest of the world.
School libraries around the country need to be filled with PNG literature for all Papua New Guineans to access.
The National Library should be able to pay local authors to have their books distributed. Such an initiative will depend entirely on the government working in partnership with the Education Department.
Additionally, programs and projects need to be set up by relevant institutions to help up and coming writers.
Through this support, the books they write and publish can eventually be used in schools and institutions as teaching and reading material.
Many local writers badly want to contribute to the education of Papua New Guinea’s future generations but are not been given the chance to do so. Moreover, local government funded bookshops also need to get on board with supporting local writers.
The Crocodile Prize, a national literary competition whose aim was to provide support and exposure for writers, poets and essayists, became successful through the support of companies and individuals who believed literature is necessary for the development of a national identity.
But there was little government support and no government commitment. The Crocodile Prize ceased after six years serving as an inspiration to writers and readers. It tapped into and shared a huge amount of local talent and knowledge. It could be a good model if the PNG government decides to support local writers and purchase and distribute their books.
It is up to the government and its departments to make sure the literary talent of this great nation does not remain hidden.
If the novels, essays and poetry of our writers are truly acknowledged, stories of our past and the present will not disappear. They will remain with us forever and true in the pages of our books.
Illeana Dom, 19, has Simbu and Eastern Highlands parentage but was born and raised in Port Moresby. She has just started her first year of university. Her previous writing experience was limited to producing work for school assignments.