Only the government can ensure that PNG authored books are placed on our library shelves nationwide

DUNCAN GABI | Tingting Bilong Mi Essay entry 2020

According to the “A Manifesto for Literature in Papua New Guinea”, a petition drawn up by the PNG writers to present to Prime Minister Hon. James Marape, the manifesto states that “There are no major publishers in Papua New Guinea interested in publishing our work. If we want to publish our books, we have to pay for it ourselves. Our books are not available in schools. The students of Papua New Guinea cannot read books written by their own countrymen and women”.

A few books I read in the past were published by the Institute of PNG Studies, books like “My Mother Calls me Yaltep” by Sir Ignatius Kilage was first published by Institute of PNG Studies and later by Oxford University Press. Other books by PNG Authors like “Sana” by Sir Michael Somare and “My childhood in New Guinea” by Sir Paulius Matane were published outside of PNG.

It is true indeed that PNG has no major publishers; Institute of PNG Studies no longer publishes books by PNG authors. Modern PNG authors as stated in the manifesto have to pay for their books to be published. Local authors like Late Francis Nii, Jordan Dean and Rashmii Bell set up their own publications to help support local authors get their books published and put it out on the market to earn a little income.

The earliest PNG authored books I found in libraries when I was growing up was books by Kilage, Somare, Matane, Nora Vagi-Brash, and Josephine Abaijah. These books were bought by the Government through the department of education and distributed to schools around the country, and thus the young Papua New Guineans growing up had a chance to read books written by their fellow country men and women. That was decades ago.

Additionally, the Manifesto also stated that “Our books are not available in schools. The students of Papua New Guinea cannot read books written by their own countrymen and women”.

This is such a shame because there are no current books by current PNG authors on shelves in school or public libraries.

Many great Papua New Guinean authors in this age barely have a copy of their books in a library shelf in schools around the country. You will not find a copy of a book written by Daniel Kumbon, Francis Nii, Michael Dom, Emmanuel Peni, Caroline Evari, Rashmii Bell, etc in a school library in PNG.

Late Francis Nii talked about how he and others established the Simbu Writers Association in 2014 to encourage the present generation to write and be published. He said “schools don’t have the money to bulk buy books so I handed out copies of my novel”.

Publication and distribution are very expensive but for authors like Nii, it was not about making money but promoting and encouraging literature in PNG. Francis Nii wanted PNG authored book on shelves in libraries that is why he donated his books to schools.

Francis had a dream, to see PNG students and citizens enjoying PNG authored books, he was willing to make it happen, he was willing to donated as many books as he could. He wanted to ignite and sparks a child’s desire to read, to be able to relate to stories written by their own country men and women. He was willing to make that dream a reality. Francis, like many other self-made PNG authors, had not received the much-needed support to boost literacy but each in their own small way continues to support and fight for that dream, that one day shelves of homes, school and public libraries will be littered with PNG authored books.

Francis Nii in another article said “Recognize local authors. Make available their books. Stimulate opportunities for tangible benefits everyone – authors and readers alike. The PNG government and the National Library and Archives need to make a drastic policy shift”.

While many people would think PNG-authors are looking to make money by having the government purchase their books, that is not the primary motivation. From years of following PNG writers’ commentaries on literature published on PNG Attitude blog, I have come to see that making money is secondary motivation for their writing, the primary motivation for their writing is to build literature in PNG. They are happy just getting their work out there and whatever little they earn; they are satisfied with it. Selling books is not the only stream of income for these authors. They have a professional work life and paid jobs but in their spare time, they write and publish their books with aims of advancing literature. But Francis Nii also raises the point that the government must recognize local authors. They put in all their efforts to create masterpieces that need to be recognized, as well being recognized, they need to be rewarded with benefits.

Francis talked about tangible benefits for everyone, both authors and readers. He did not call for benefits for the authors alone, he called for the benefit of the readers well.

Francis made this call in 2019 and in 2021 we have an essay competition that got me saying PNG government should buy PNG authored books.

The government buying PNG authored books will not only be helping the authors but the readers as well. Francis Nii wanted PNG authored books in schools and public libraries. And only the government could do that, they have the power to fill up libraries with PNG books.

Daniel Kumbon while waiting for PM James Marape to receive their petition said “We are seeking recognition and support from the government to sustain home-grown literature and to get it into schools, universities and libraries”.

For literature to grow in PNG and for the literacy rates to skyrocket, the government should buy PNG authored books. The government through the Department of Education should buy books authored by Papua New Guineans and have them distributed in schools around the country. This would benefit both the authors and the citizens of this country. The authors can make money off their craft and Papua New Guineans can develop a reading culture by enjoying books written by Papua New Guineans.

The grim reality for our authors is that PNG has no market for writers, not many people are willing to buy locally authored books and support literature in PNG. There are only few in paperback that are circulation, most authors choose to sell their books online on sites like on Amazon.

I once shared on Facebook the Amazon link to Dominica Are’s book “Prized Possessions” published by Francis Nii Publications.  Someone commented asking about it, when I told her it is a book by a PNG author, she said she had never heard of the book or the author. She said to buy it on Amazon (I do not know if she did).

Local authors in this age are obscure, ask university students in PNG if they know any PNG authors in this age and 99 percent of them will say ‘no’.  And if no one knows you, they will not make an attempt to find your work and buy it. And even if they knew, they will not make an attempt to buy it, unless they get a good review from a friend or another known author.

That is why author and publisher Jordan Dean in an article said “Truth is you can’t earn a living through writing in PNG”.

Nii also expressing his frustration in an article by Ben Jackson said “The sad thing I found out later was that, while I struggled to write and get my story published, 30 copies of ‘Paradise in Peril’ were in the possession of the humanities department of Divine Word University in Madang. And the Theodist Stationery store in Port Moresby was selling copies”. He never received a dime from his hard work and sweat. Other people were printing and making money off his work.

For now, writing will just be a hobby or a part time job as no author in PNG can make serious money from writing and publishing books. Francis Nii said “Writing and publishing our own Papua New Guinean stories in the absence of government or donor agency support is a daunting and painful experience”. “We struggle to produce our own literature hoping that one day a good leader will rise up and see its importance” he continued.

Late Francis Nii held PNG literature close to his heart, though he was wheelchair ridden for the remaining years of his life, his hands were sturdy and he wrote. In times of despair and looking for a savior to bring PNG literature to maturity as it was still a child who never learned to walk according to Phil Fitzpatrick,

Francis Nii saw hope for PNG literature to grow through the then newly appointed Prime Minister of PNG Hon. James Marape. He said “We believe that day is now here. We believe the leader we have been hoping, praying and waiting for all these years is here today and he is James Marape”.

When I first read these words after signing the petition to PM James Marape by PNG writers, I thought I was reading Martin Luther King Jnr’s speech “I have a Dream”. Indeed, Francis Nii had a dream, to bring PNG literature to PNG as a whole and to the world, he did not just pray and dreamed, he worked towards achieving that dream.

He saw in James Marape the leader who would help him achieve that dream. He held onto that dream and that hope that James Marape would be the one to bring PNG literature up there until his last breath.

How can we make late Francis Nii and other PNG authors dream a reality?

We can start by having the government buy PNG authored books and distributing to schools across the country.

All quotations taken from Articles PNG Attitude Blog

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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