The Growth of Papua New Guinea Literature

Kesia Erick

Artists have always played an important role in societies, both traditional and modern. The works of one kind of artist are collectively known as literature. Every society, culture, country has its own literary tradition and its own collection of literature. Thus, we can speak and read of American Literature, English Literature, Australian Literature or Papua New Guinean Literature. Perhaps, the significance of literature in a society can be grasped from the fact that there has never been a society without a literary tradition, whether oral or written. The world is created by the writer, based on his/her experiences and observations of the real world that he/she lives in. Thus, this paper surveys the important years in PNG history within the realm of literature and its growth, and some of the early publications by Papua New Guinean writers.


Papua New Guinea Literature is diverse as much as the cultures and traditions of the country. Stephan Bernard Minol once described PNG literature as “Truth- Telling, Myth-Making, and Mauswara.” The description obviously highlights the point that our stories tell a proper, all-encompassing national story. It is also shown that PNG writer’s had reasons to write. They aimed to search for identity and is embedded in many of the themes in the stories that have been written down today.

Before independence, Papua New Guinea (PNG) was a colony to few European countries and was once owned and ruled by Australian. Prior to the sudden excessive flooding of explorers, traders, missionaries, administrative officers and entrepreneurs, there was little indication of the feelings and response of the Papua New Guinean indigenous towards the colonization they experienced in relation to literature and cultures. Thus, they remained silent with not knowing where to expose the bias of the European discourse.

The successful journey of Papua New Guinean writers emerged with the establishment of the University of Papua New Guinea (1964) with creative writing course being offered and considered an academic subject as well as the arrival of Ulli Beier as the creative patron professor. In the development of the indigenous contemporary literature, Beier played a significant role in encouraging and motivating the Papua New Guinean writers and making their work publishable and available to the public.

Birth of PNG Writers

Between the 1968 and 1973, indigenous writers emerged as a political weapon in protest against the imperial powers’ colonization and injustice treatment. There are actually other books written by Papua New Guinean writers and most of them used metaphors in their writing to illustrate and compare the anticolonial sentiments and bias given by their colonizers and even to raise their voices in protest against the unfair treatments from the Australian Colonization.

Ullie Beier

The forthcoming of the first writers was led by Albert Maori Kiki (AMK), who emerged as the PNG’s own path breaker to the indigenous literature. In bringing his biography to publication, AMK was assisted and encouraged by UIIi Beier, a catalyst in the development of contemporary indigenous who arrived in PNG in 1967 and played a significant role in encouraging and assisting young Png Writers to make their work publishable. Albert Maori Kiki’s autobiography (Ten thousand years in a life time, 1968) eventually, gives rise to the birth of indigenous writers. Albert Maori Kiki’s autobiography in its simplest and directive form revealed something about an indigenous Papuan boy born to a traditional lifestyle and was brought into the world of the whites and a record also on the record of disappearing traditional culture and a commentary on a colonial regime.

Another milestone for PNG in the realm of literature in the late 1970 was the publication of a well-written and pleasant novel ‘Crocodile’ by Vincent Eri. In its political content, the novel simply demonstrates the clash of cultures in which the PNG indigenous was manipulated and mislead by the white men as superior and indigenous as inferior

Most of the PNG writers emerged from The University of Papua New Guinea (first graduates, 1970). Upng has been a training ground and the environment to indigenous writers. Some of the writers came from other schools like Goroka Teachers College and the 4 national high schools (Kerevat, Sogeri, Passam and Pomnaths) along with few public servants and others.

In much of the indigenous writings, most of them aimed at the search for their identities and expose the bias colonization of the colonizers. For example, ‘Wait Dok na Black Dog’ by Leo Saulep, with its light but telling thrust at Australian colonialism. There are other poems that mocked the Australian colonialism that are featured in Kovave and other indigenous published books.

The growth of PNG literature at a more populist level, had had some counterpart in the presentation of the three notable Pidgin/English national newspaper: Pangu Nius (first issue, Apriln1970), Bougainville Nius (first issue, 1970) and Wantok (published by Wirui Press [catholic mission], first issue, August 1970). These national newspaper acts as means of people to express their opinions via letters to the editor and are geared to the local audience.

New Guinea journal of literature (Kovave) and other publications

 Just a year after Kiki’s autobiography was published by Cheshirebin in 1968, a journal of New Guinea literature known as ‘ Kovave’ appeared in 1969  under the editorship of Ulli and was published by Jacaranda Press alongside the New Guinea Cultural center of the UPNG. The kovave journal was a collection of creative writings written in both English and Pidgin, traditional folk tales, poetry being translated, as well as few literary criticism and notes on traditional art. The first four series featured in the journal have included stories by PNG’s own writers namely; Vincent Eri, John Kadiba, Kumalau Tawali, Peter Lus, Wairu Degoba, John Waiko, as well as the cook islander Marjorie Crocombe, Maurice Thompson and Lazarus Lami Lami. Poems featured in the journal are written by Pokwari Kale, Tawali, Allan Natachee and the Indian Chakravarthi; plays by Leo Hanneth, Waiko, Rabbie Namaliu, and Arthur Jawodimbari. As well as traditional translations of folklore and poems by Maori Kiki, Don Laycock and others, and a critique of the poetry of Natachee- the first Papuan poet ever to get into print-by Beier (Kovave ceased publication in 1947).

Besides, Kovave there are several other book being published that are educational, inspirational and entertaining that were published by the Kristen Press in Madang by Papua New Guineans along with creative writing center courses and workshops for writers, translators and editors. The Bureau of Literature assisted with the publication of a low-cost quarterly New Guinea Writing as well as organizing residential creative writing courses and has sponsored literary competitions.


Papua New Guinea Literature acts as a forum for reflection on world and even domestic from the stand point of PNG.  Through PNG literature, we have the gift of the written word and the privilege of being free. We can reflect on our ancient past and the modern life. We can have responsibility to ourselves and to the world to bring to the world the treasure of our civilization. For far too long we have known ourselves through books written by others.

It is a sadden truth that PNG literature are dying out in the recent era because of the failure of not publishing them and also Papua New Guineans have been lazy to write their thoughts and perspectives on specific areas as well as their own country.  It is vital for PNG writers to write or record something worth readable of their traditional cultures before they fall apart, because there is no doubt that Papua New Guineans will greatly benefit from this, especially the upcoming generations of our country. Additionally, we can marvel at the wonderful rich writing which was signaled a time for renaissance in PNG literature, which had been on the brink of collapse. It is of significant that our oral literature and culture must be preserved or we watch it die in the next 20 years.

I pay tribute to PNG’s writers who have taken up the noble profession of writing and to expose and portray truest writing of PNG’s culture and to out an end to the misconception and misinterpretation of the outside world to PNG. What an encouragement this was and will be for the upcoming writers of PNG to follow in the footsteps and to keep promoting PNG indigenous literature. It made a more noble profession for upcoming PNG writers starting from small traditional stories and folktales to bigger achievements on the field of literature. It is hoped that through forum such as Ples Singsing, Papua New Guineans will be honestly presented and exposed to other foreign countries as well as Melanesian countries.

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.

One thought on “The Growth of Papua New Guinea Literature

  1. Subjectively, I really like this. However, Most of the myths and legends are not yet recorded and and at the peril of losing them while some have forgone them in this diverse and changing nation. The first heroes of PNG writers truly deserved credit. But how have we been encouraging literature to grow for the door had been opened. Remember, only through literature we can revolutionize and decolonize the the human mind to a better path as a true Papua New Guinean. Cheers.


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