Reprising Sil Bolkin – an essayist of significance & substance

Sil Bolkin

By PHIL FITZPATRICK – Originally published in PNG Attitude in February 2017

TUMBY BAY – Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin has been a consistent and popular contributor to PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize for many years.

He also authored a significant book, launched in Canberra in 2013, The Flight of Galkope, a magical combination of Simbu history and myth brought to modern times with a thoughtful discussion about the prodigious Simbu diaspora.

Sil never ceases to surprise with the range of topics he addresses in his journalism. Stylistically, he walks in the footsteps of the great essayists.

His work is informative, topical, funny and quirky and, very importantly, it offers a personal touch. He writes in a style we can call the ‘Simbu School’ of writing – eloquent, realistic, gritty. He has no respect for stultifying political correctness. He won the 2014 Crocodile Prize essay award.

Sil was undertaking post-graduate study at the Australian National University when The Flight of Galkope was launched by Charles Lepani, at the time PNG’s high commissioner to Australia.

I flew down from Hervey Bay for the event and found to my dismay that the publisher had lost the entire shipment of books. We were undeterred: the book was launched that day with the single proof copy.

The consignment arrived the following day and, as we were both flying out of Canberra, Sil met me at the airport and presented me with a copy.

Now the essays have begun to appear again. Sil hasn’t lost any of his bite and readers can look forward to a steady stream of incisive pieces. Sil Bolkin is a substantial and significant Papua New Guinean writer. Here’s one of my favourites….


Papua New Guinea as a banana republic: the Chinese Li Wu


First published in PNG Attitude in February 2014

PORT MORESBY – A recent incident I witnessed at the Taurama Shopping Centre in Port Moresby ended up posing some important questions for all Papua New Guineans.

An argument started between a Tari man in a Chinese kaibar and the Chinese man on the other side of the counter. Moments later, a towering Chinese man came out and punched the 1.5 metre Tari man into submission.

He was beaten and bruised to the point of exhaustion and, as you might expect, two of his Tari wantoks came to the rescue and nearly punched and kicked the tall Chinese man to death.

The public who witnessed the incident were divided in their support. The pro-Chinese mob said the Chinese had created employment and paid taxes through their businesses. They said Papua New Guineans do not create employment but sit and gamble (bom or 7-leaf) or talk politics and wait for free handouts.

They added that Papua New Guineans finding themselves with some money become one-day-millionaires and go on a drinking spree and sing until dawn. They concluded that PNG men and women have no business acumen and should not talk about Chinese business aggression.

On the dissenting side, the pro-Taris said most of the Chinese come into the country through back door deals with politicians and immigration officials and corrupt every system in place. They said being citizens of a superpower doesn’t give Chinese the right to break the laws of a small country and trample on its citizens.

As the arguments went on, they almost erupted into another melee but police officers speedily arrived on the scene, and this was most interesting.

Two police cars arrived containing high ranking officers. The Chinese called these senior police officers by name and chatted with them. It was evident they were friends. The policemen ignored the bruised Tari man.

I started taking photographs but an obese policeman demanded that I delete them on the spot. I deleted the shots while he watched. One of the policemen said, “You journalists write bullshit.” I told him I was not a journalist and didn’t even know how to write.

No one could find out the reason for the argument because the Tari man could not speak good Pisin and the Chinese culprit could only speak Mandarin. People tried to ask the young women in the kaibar to explain what went wrong but the Chinese told them not to talk.

Anyhow, no arrests were made. The Taris were told to go home and refrain from being such nuisances and one of the Chinese came out of the kaibar and gave the police servings of rice and stew in takeaway cartons and some Coca Cola.

One of the policemen took the plastic bag without saying thank you and looked in the direction of the crowd, swore and told us to disperse. Maybe swearing at the public was an indirect way of saying ‘thank you’ to his Chinese friend for the free lunch.

When the police left, a veteran public servant said the Chinese keep a black book that contains the names of the 80% of PNG politicians and bureaucrats who are given Li Wu.

Li Wu in Chinese Mandarin is ‘gift’ or ‘present’ and Her Li is a congratulatory gift. Most politicians when they are elected and ministers when they are appointed receive Her Li, the public servant said.

He added that around 80% of top police officers are on the payroll of Chinese businesses. Occasionally you hear people on the streets of Port Moresby say, “Em ol polis bilong LGNA” or “Em ol polis bilong RH”. LGNA and RH are, of course, Asian companies.

The incident at Taurama Shopping Centre seemed to confirm what the veteran civil servant had said about the black book and the various police officers in PNG in the pay of both government and Chinese and other Asians.

The Chinese are able to call top ranking police officers who within minutes will arrive to provide protection. The top officers release the Chinese and get junior police to assault Papua New Guineans.

One has to ask, “Does the Li Wu to politicians and top bureaucrats make Chinese businessmen and women in Papua New Guinea immune to the laws of the independent state of Papua New Guinea?”

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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