Sijo for the Sepik

05 NOVEMBER 2020


Piracy on Mighty Sepik River claims two lives | Loop PNG
Your forests will be felled, your bush burned      
     and your swampland drained out, 
To plant palm oil by the hectare,      
     to get your share of foreign wealth. 
Foreigners will make films,      
     to show your grand-kids what you sold off. 

This poem appears in Michael Doms’ O Arise! Poems on Papua New Guinea’s Politics & Society (p. 32). Purchase your hardcopy online or download free from PNG Attitude at

A Papua Niuginian Novelette – Zac Efrongawi Visits Papua Niugini

05 NOVEMBER 2020


Riding in an old dugout canoe with a single outboard motor, Efrongawi is jokingly cautioned by his guide to keep his limbs and phalange’s well inside the confines of the vessel lest the crocodiles snap at him.

“Keeping his head in the game” and his limbs in the canoe, Efrongaindu asks his experienced attendant how long he has been giving tours along the Sepik River. His local fixer explains that he has been in the tourism industry for many years but that he, Efrondu, was the most famous person he has had for a while. Efrongawi, Efrongaindu, Efrondu, Chekarias Efroningi, are some of the local names that Sepik’s have bestowed on him as a way of relating him to them and them to him; making him a kind of honorary ‘kin’. As they lose sight of Pagwi Waterfront behind them, Efroningi wonders how he can “kill” himself on TV without actually killing himself in real life.

Zac efron
Zac Efron and guide on the Sepik River

When they finally arrive at their destination at Kaminibit Village, Efrongawi is overawed by the aesthetics of the village, the seemingly mowed lawns, and the intriguing architectural brilliance of the residential and ritual houses. The people’s way life seemed to go about like clockwork, oblivious to his presence. They were a very hospitable village. His hosts brought water to him from a “nearby” water source for a bath. He later learned that the water source was a ten to fifteen minute walk from the main village site. They told him about their daily lives and local issues, and brought him food from their gardens, bush and river to cook dinner for him with some rice and noodles that had been bought and brought from Wewak Town. He felt like he could be his true self without having to “put on a show” or a mask for prying paparazzi or overzealous fans. At night laying safely under his bed net as he was lulled to sleep by a riparian symphony of a million different insects and mosquitoes he closed his eyes and felt like he could be swallowed up whole by his new environment and lost to the world forever.

The sun rose and morning spat him out. Chekarias sat atop the raised steps leading down from the open-air hut he was accommodated at.

Watching as the villagers went about their lives, making breakfast and getting ready to go to their gardens, and fishing, he realized that this was not the “backwater”, “lost”, “primitive”, “wild” tribal village ideal for his new TV series “Killing Zac Efron”. He thought to himself that he would need to go further inland, to the interior of the country to see if there was such a tribe that existed in PNG. He decided he would ask his guide friend to take him back to Pagwi Waterfront after breakfast.


Perforated beads of sweat trickled down his face and sunglasses like mini streams down a windowpane during a drizzle. He took off his shades to give them a wipe with his shirt for the umpteenth time. He preferred the dry arid heat of Port Moresby. The heat in Wewak came in waves of humidity that seared through his clothes and drenched his body with sweat from the inside out so he always had wet spots on his shirt around his underarms and chest. He lifted his new “focus cap” with his right hand and with the same arm wiped the sweat from his brows with the back of his wrist. The “focus caps”, as the locals called it, seemed to be a popular head adornment among the youths. The cap was actually the flat-cap type and some versions more resembled the Gatsby caps that were popular among early twentieth century boys and adult men in Europe and North America. Fashion trends seem to pick up late here in PNG but last long when they do start trending.

Cap back on and “dark specs” protecting his eyes again from the sun’s harmful UV rays, he undid another button on his vermilion shirt. He felt like he was back on the set of Baywatch in California. He wished he was there too so he could at least walk around with nothing on except his swimming togs. In PNG, unless you were in a village or at a beach or river, everyone dressed more or less sensibly, though some with a questionable fashion nous. In town the previous day he saw a young man walking barefoot along the hot pavement outside the Tang Mow department store with a brightly coloured and elaborately designed sleeveless shirt, cut jeans and slinging a Trukai Rice bag. He recognized the brand as the same company that produced the rice that he has been eating regularly for dinner while in East Sepik Province. When he asked his guide friend if Trukai also has a fashion line, he was told that the bag was the same ten kilogram rice bag that was reused as a carrying bag after its content was eaten. The bag has its own sling handle but some people he saw had sewn on different sling handles. He saw the same ingenious reusing of hand-me-downs and throw away items everywhere he went and was intrigued particularly by people’s wardrobe choices. Another slick guy he saw when at Dagua Market confidently strutted around with a black-belted fedora hat, button-up tropical shirt, blue jeans and slippers. Zac only realized the guy had on ladies jeans when he saw the row of five buttons in the front of his crotch where there should have been a zipper. He thought the guy still looked cool though and clearly the guy thought the same of himself.

The droning of aircraft engines circling above along with his rumbling tummy startled him out of his thoughts. Soon he would be back in the capital city and was scheduled to fly the next day to Goroka, the capital of the Eastern Highlands Province. From the intel he had gathered, Goroka had a cool and temperate climate. The best climate in PNG he was assured. He looked forward to a change in weather and to sampling some of the highlands mumu or ground-oven-cooked food he was told a lot about. He insisted that he himself kill the pig that would be used for the Goroka steam mumu he was organizing for tomorrow. Zac was quite enjoying the local cuisine so far but the stomach upset he was currently having may have been from something he ate at a local “kai bar” or eatery earlier in the morning. In the meantime he looked forward to the temporary respite from the heat he would be getting once he got into the cabin of the Air Niugini Dash-8 aircraft. Boram Airport terminal did not have the luxury of air con. He wasn’t sure whether it was just the heat and humidity or if he was coming down with something. He had been faithful to his anti-malarial medication and when his first dosage finished he bought Malawan 3 from the Pharmacy in Wewak Town after returning from the Sepik River.

Apart from having a bit more leg space there was not much more difference between his first class seat and the economy seats. Seated across the aisle from him on the same row was a good-looking young women who was about the same age as him. She had a head full of dreadlocks but he couldn’t make out if they were extensions or her own natural hair grown out. In any case he thought she looked good in the locks. She had on a short-sleeved shirt that had a patchwork of checkered, almost basket-like, laced designs. The shirt was coloured in white with streaks of pink interspersed in between and splashes of green around the borders; and she wore slightly loose black pants that didn’t outline her figure. He liked that her figure was still eye-catching though and that she didn’t need tight jeans to show-off her shape. His guide, who was next to him in Seat A2, advised Zac that the lady he couldn’t get his eyes off of was from Yangoru. They had driven past that area on the way to Pagwi Waterfront he remembered. The Dash-8 was at cruising level now and he felt almost normal again sitting under the air con vent at full blast. He smiled and stuttered back to his guide that he was just admiring her shirt.

His guide friend soon fell asleep and Zac resumed stealthily eyeing the beautiful dark woman betwixt pages of his Paradise In-Flight magazine. But she seemed to be lost in her own reading of the same magazine. She obviously didn’t watch a lot of movies or TV for that matter and appeared blasé to his celebrity. Apart from his white skin, which was normally enough to stand out in a predominantly black country, he was not exactly dressed to impress, especially with his flip flops or “thongs” as the popular tropical footwear was colloquially referred to in PNG. On the set of Baywatch all his female co-stars wore a very different kind of thongs and no footwear.

Half-way into the flight his stomach growled loudly and he made a quick dash to the toilet to answer the call of nature. As an experienced world traveler, he knew it was always hard to go somewhere new without getting an upset tummy. Diarrhea was just the body’s way of responding to different bacteria in food and water. He popped a pill of Imodium before returning to his seat. He wasn’t going to allow a simple case of the runs to prevent him from enjoying exotic PNG foods.           

Tribalism to Nationalism

04 NOVEMBER 2020


Until this day we are tribes;       
     each one desiring nationhood, 
Eyes closed to the past, blind to the present,      
     yet we seek a future; 
Was what we called our Melanesian Way      
     a transient dream? 

This poem appears in Michael Doms’ O Arise! Poems on Papua New Guinea’s Politics & Society (p 8). Purchase your hardcopy online or download free from PNG Attitude at

Esigu: Policeman, Leader, Governor

04 NOVEMBER 2020


Inspired by the leadership and politics of Sir John Guise as revealed in the recently released ‘Palace Letters’

Guise head

Oh Diprose
For a businessman
You were too verbose
Speaking out of line
When it was not your place
Brought back in line
By a bigman of our times.

A letter to irk
Supposedly on behalf of Errk
Telling Esigu
His duties he should not shirk
You had Kerr
We had Esigu
The monarchy reigns
With long tentacles
Lurking everywhere.  

But Esigu shuns not his duties
He patrolled his lands
As a policeman
Walking among his people
Walking with his people
Respect he was given

A leader among his people
Guised as royal representative
But do not be fooled
Do not be misguided
For underneath the governor’s guise
Is Esigu’s true “guise”
Of a leader for his people
And his people alone
For them he speaks
And only by them
Will any failures be atoned.


This poem first appeared on 23 July 2020 on PNG Attitude at

Yesterday We Dreamed

04 NOVEMBER 2020


It was not so long ago 
Hardly more than a lifetime or so 
When our nation was so young 
And our history had just begun.
Then, they stood them all
Forefathers tall
And blessed us
With an anthem song.
We forward went, hither sent
Each tribe and clan,
In this proud Melanesian land,
Every son and daughter born;
United we did stand
With transient shackles shorn
As a new day did dawn.
Did then we dare to dream
And transcend as one?
Have our ancestors been told
How far we have come?
What do we tell of?
What praise, what glory,
That children will hear
As pleasant bedtime stories?
Our Guardians now indulge
In self-serving histrionics
While idle sons
And beleaguered daughters
Survive on informal economics.
Where now, the integrity of Chiefs?
That they may bless us truly
Where too, the vigor of youth?
That will ensure a victory.
How now our mothers and children
Bear the brunt of brutality
When we fail to act rightly?
What future lies in our hands?
Who will fulfill this people’s destiny?                 
O arise all ye sons of this land
Let us sing of our joy to be free…
Only yesterday we dreamed
Let us sleep no more.

This poem appears in Michael Doms’ O Arise! Poems on Papua New Guinea’s Politics & Society (pp. 7-8). Purchase your hardcopy online or download free from PNG Attitude at

Art and Creativity in Papua New Guinea with Dr. Michael Mel

03 NOVEMBER 2020

The Art Show with Namila Benson

ABC National Radio Broadcast on Wed 16 Sep 2020, 10:05 am

To mark 45 years of Independence for Papua New Guinea, we explore the role that art has played in the country’s development and engagement with Australia since 1975. We speak with performance artist, curator, and Manager of Pacific and International Collections at Australian MuseumDr Michael Mel, and take a look at The ‘meri’ project, a new work that uses vision and sound to examine cultural identity and gender from PNG women’s perspectives, by artist Wendy Mocke.

Duration: 52min 57sec


Summary and main take-aways from the interview – Gregory Bablis

Re-examine how education is making the learned culture central to our human being while making the culture of our upbringing peripheral.

Language is not enough. Words are not enough. You need to wear your culture, act or perform your culture.

When we talk about development in PNG we need to really unpack and then repack what development means locally for us.

Art is not done or performed just for the sake of it. Every performance or art piece has practical meaning to people’s lives for instance in mourning or bride price rituals and so on.

Western art often has a disconnect to the sociality of human beings in that a painting for instance can be hung on a wall and admired for its aesthetic values and the type of emotions or thoughts it inspires and that’s it. But Papua New Guinean art is connected with relationships of the past, enacted in the present with the intention of maintaining those same values and relationships in the future.

The legacies of Western art continue to dog PNG in the ways that our arts are framed and made to appear static.

Museums in actual sense are how our art and cultures have been framed by Western historical trajectories. We need to begin reinterpreting these and offering alternative / indigenous histories. We need to bring out our cultures and live our histories and then say “this is the alternative”. For instance, in Rabaul, the COVID19 pandemic is affecting the availability and access to cash monies so more local people are looking to reconceptualise and consider again the use of traditional shell monies. Maybe the pandemic has brought about a need for us to revisit the strengths and wisdom of some of our traditional Papua New Guinean ways. We should take this as an opportunity to reposition ourselves and our development priorities to put us in a more favourable place to approach the next 45 years.

We need to begin reframing the perception of PNG as seen through some of the types of art popularly displayed in foreign museums and galleries.

PNG is a land of thousands of tribes and so tropes like the “fuzzy wuzzy angels”, “green shadows” or “the carrier”, provide a common ancestry for a presently unified nation.

War aside though, we need to diversify cultural engagements with Australia, but more so internally, and begin to highlight the shared histories that can inform national narratives for PNG. 



A poem inspired by Dr Michael Mel’s independence interview and wisdom on Independence Day 2020 – Gregory Bablis

We are 45,  
Because of COVID we may not celebrate as normally as we might  
Many challenges perch on the horizon within sight  
Yet, let the vibrancy of our democracy incite,  
A national pride to strengthen our resolve  
So that the next generation, on our backs and toil,  
Take flight into the future for another forty-five. 

Original broadcast can be found at

Mr Marape – We’re Still Trying to Meet


PORT MORESBY – To try to get a high level discussion underway on Papua New Guinea literature, we’ve tried on two occasions to meet with Prime Minister James Marape.

Betty Wakia  Caroline Evari and Jordan Dean
Writers, Betty Wakia, Caroline Evari and Jordan Dean await Prime Minister Marape. “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet,” said Aristotle

The first time was on Wednesday 22 January after we received information that Mr Marape was willing to meet Betty Wakia , Daniel Kumbon and me in his office at the Manasupe Haus at 2pm the following Friday.

But Daniel had already travelled to Wabag, so we reached out to Jordan Dean and met the following day to have a quick chat and brainstorm around what to say at the meeting.

We turned up at the Manasupe Haus on that Friday and waited for more than an hour only to be told the prime minister had gone to play golf and would meet with us on Sunday at the Airways Hotel at 3pm.

Again we showed up, this time at the Airways and waited for two hours until five only to be told that the meeting was cancelled and we would be contacted when another date and time was confirmed.

We were assured that the prime minister is aware of our petition and will still make time available to meet with us. It is 25 February as I write this, and we have not heard anything yet.

We understand that the prime minister has more important agendas to attend to and we will be patient knowing that he has given his assurance that he will meet with us.

This article first appeared on PNG Attitude on 27 February 2020 at

A Project For Our Children

03 NOVEMBER 2020


PORT MORESBY – During one of our meetings to prepare for our much hoped for presentation to prime minister James Marape, writer Caroline Evari’s two young children joined us.

Betty Wakia  Daniel Kumbon and Caroline Evari in Port Moresby

I don’t know what they thought of their mother, Betty Wakia and I working on our letter to Mr Marape but, when they grow up, I believe they will know their mother was doing this for them and thousands of others like them in Papua New Guinea.

I have spent some months away from home working on this project to put our home-grown literature somewhere near the front and centre of our Papua New Guinean culture.

Over that time I know my family have missed me. My grandson Clinton will be three months old when I see him for the first time.

Two of my children did their Grade 12 national examinations while I have been in Port Moresby on this mission for literature.

I have reminded them that, when I did my own Form 4 final exams here in Port Moresby, my parents were way up in the mountains in their bush material home in the village.

So the next generation also sat for examinations without a parent around.

But it is worth it. So many people signed the petition to make our literature strong. We all know literature is so important for our country.

We also know 80% of the population in PNG is illiterate.

We, the literate people, are in the privileged group who have had benefited from our access to health and education services.

Imagine a child born right this second in the isolated jungle between Enga and East Sepik. There’s a place there I know, Penale.

I flew there in a chopper many years ago with then Enga premier Ned Laina.

The Penale people, who had so little, asked for a school and a health centre.

As a gift, they gave us sago. I later gave the sago to a lady from the coast to cook – and I tasted sago for the first time.

How will the children in the jungle villages feel as they sit in a classroom for the first time if a school is finally built at Penale?

Will the teacher use the internet to teach them? Will they have books to enjoy? Will the books excite them because they’re about their own country and people?

Meanwhile, here in Port Moresby, we three – Caroline, Betty and I – are struggling to tell our prime minister that literature is very important for our country.

If our approach fails, and we cannot get to see Mr Marape, we will try to find another way to meet him. Perhaps we can invite him to the 2019 Crocodile Prize presentations.

Mr Marape has attended international rugby league fixtures, the recent fashion week grand finale and other similar events. I don’t think he would decline our invitation.

But if he still didn’t come, we writers can draw some conclusions and go our own way.

This article first appeared in PNG Attitude on 10 November 2019 at

Book Summary of John Keith McCarthy’s “Patrol into Yesterday: My New Guinea Years”

02 NOVEMBER 2020


PATROL INTO YESTERDAY My New Guinea Years: McCarthy, J.K.: Books

Armed with his ‘bible’, a blue covered book called Standing Instructions which was issued to Cadets and Patrol Officers during pre-war days, John Keith McCarthy headed out into the big rugged island to the north of Australia.

McCarthy was a government officer, soldier and writer. He was born on 20 January 1905 at St Kilda, Melbourne, to Thomas McCarthy, a warehouseman from Galway, Ireland, and his Victorian-born wife Mary Genevieve, née Gibbs. He was a curious and energetic young man who was keen on venturing into the rugged terrains of New Guinea to interact with natives. In 1927, McCarthy set sail to New Guinea aboard the sailing ship Masina, bound for Rabaul for his first posting as a Patrol Officer. After meeting with the Government Secretary, he was sent to a new station at Malutu in the Nakanai Ranges.

In 1930, he was posted to the Sepik district and worked at Ambunti and Marienberg travelling both north and south of the river banks making contact with natives and exchanging salt, knives and fish hooks for artifacts. The river country was a hard one with the ‘mozzies’ (mosquitoes) being unbelievably vicious and a river course that coils like a carelessly flung rope. There McCarthy realized that hardships make great artists and the people of Sepik were proof of this. They were the greatest sculptors of wood in New Guinea – and in the world I might add.

He worked in Kavieng for a short while and briefly at Salamaua before being sent to Kainantu in 1932 for an encounter with the Eastern Highlanders that included a patrol to the Bulolo goldfields through the Kukukuku territory to set up a post. During a patrol, they were ambushed by disgruntled Kukukuku natives and a number of New Guinea Police were wounded. McCarthy was struck by arrows in the thigh and stomach and was seconds away from being clubbed to death when his cook, Boko, shot the kukukuku man with his Winchester .44 rifle.

McCarthy was the Assistant District Officer (A.D.O.) at Aitape in 1935 when an earthquake killed more than one hundred people and destroyed gardens and houses. In 1937, he was in Rabaul when Vulcan and Tavurvur erupted killing up to five hundred people and the Administration staff assisted to organize food supplies and cleanup of the town. Two years after the eruptions, he worked in the township of Kokopo, then to the island of Bougainville, later to Talasea and a short time again in the Sepik district before going back to Talasea as the A.D.O.

When the Japanese invaded Rabaul in 1942, McCarthy organized the evacuation of civilians and troops by land and sea and for this he was appointed M.B.E. in 1943 for his bravery. His ordeal and heroics – escaping from Rabaul then trekking to the northwest coast of East New Britain and leaving aboard Burns Philp ship, Lakatoi – is regarded as one of the great Pacific escape stories of WWII.

McCarthy was also an artist who published his own cartoons and held exhibitions of his oil paintings and had great regard for native art which he collected during his patrol days. After almost eight years in New Guinea, he started to understand some of the ideas of what so-called “primitive” man wanted to achieve when carving and painting. To him, primitive art in New Guinea was perhaps the beginning of all art. In 1965, the J.K. McCarthy Museum opened in Goroka with the first 64 artifacts donated from McCarthy’s own personal collection. The J.K. McCarthy Museum is now a branch of the PNG National Museum & Art Gallery and has collections of over 6,000 items on display.

J.K. McCarthy Museum

Please visit the National Museum & Art Gallery website to learn more about the J.K. McCarthy Museum and its collections or contact or (+675) 325 2405.

  • Phyliss Philip Bablis holds a Bachelors Degree in Tourism & Hospitality Management from Divine Word University and has worked for over a decade with the Bank of South Pacific.

Review by Martyn Namorong – The Voice of Michael Dom: Political, Powerful, Connected


02 NOVEMBER 2020

O Arise!: Poems on Papua New Guinea’s Politics & Society by Michael Dom, 54 pp.

O Arise! by Michael Dom

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, May 2015. ISBN-10: 1512039381. Available in hardcopy from Amazon, $5.40

WHAT is a Papua New Guinean writer but a warrior continuing the proud traditions of their ancestors, firing arrows that defend the land but also feed the tribe.

I believe that is what the modern Papua New Guinean writer does. We defend the land of our ancestors and we also enrich the lives of our people with entertainment, information and ideas.

In continuing that fine tradition, Michael Dom writes with a spirit that connects many of us as we sometimes reflect on the world around us.What is that spirit? I think it’s the voice in our hearts that connects us with our land, our languages, our cultures and our sense of belonging to this ancient land of ours.

In its negative form it sometimes divides us, but there a moments of brilliance where it raises our consciousness to a higher level of awareness about what makes us one people under one flag and constitution.

I find such positive energy in Michael’s poem One day, in this place, we will have good things.

Sometimes those good things are hidden in the rugged landscape or the battle-worn faces of many a suffering Papua New Guinean.

But there are surprisingly good things about being from this increasingly predictable land of the unexpected. And you will find them articulated in this volume in A soliloquy of soil and In ‘Rainy Lae’ anything can grow.

One of the most refreshing sights for me is how many of today’s young Papua New Guineans express themselves through poetry.

In high school, I got the shock of my life when this rough timber kaksy-type girl fronted the school assembly and read some of the most beautiful Papua New Guinean love poems I have ever heard.

During a recent trip to Alotau, I attended an open-microphone event where a shy young man, probably a few years younger than I am, read his poem talking about corruption and revolution.

Poetry is the spoken word and as such, if you do not know what to say, Michael gives you a reference point to start from. In O Arise! you can find the right words to say when talking to a pig farmer at the foot of Mount Giluwe or to a street vendor as in A candlelight market in Port Moresby.

In this collection of the spoken word I have found many colourful voices from Papua New Guinea. These works by Michael Dom represent a superb distillation of common Papua New Guinean concepts about the world we live in.

They give a meaningful and a soulful voice to what would otherwise be a hollow shell of a nation and its people.

Mi wanbel stret wantaim tok pisin blong Michael! I hope you do too. PNG yumi go samespeed!

Readers say….

Phil Fitzpatrick – It’s very difficult for a writer or poet not to be political in a developing nation. In this they are following a long tradition. In more regressive regimes they are mercilessly suppressed. In PNG this is fortunately not the case.

At its worst the government has only inadvertently hindered such discourse by failing to provide suitable avenues for its expression. The political class are doing themselves a disservice, not least because the writers and poets are finding their own platforms, most notably on social media.

If the politicians prefer not to listen the ordinary people will. A poem is a powerful weapon, especially in the hands of a master like Michael Dom. One day the politicians will rue their deafness.

Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin – Michael Dom has poetry all over him and is surely the most talented of Papua New Guinean poets. Though his array of poetry is diverse, his work on PNG politics is filled with the best piercing and most blistering political poetry ever.

His poems can drive a plebeian to madness, a bureaucrat searching for civic virtue and a politician hanging his or her head in shame for self-serving. The artistically worded prose makes us stand in awe and admiration and is definitely a work of a gifted mind.

I assure you that you will experience the anguish and mischief of PNG politics in your mind’s eye and equally a hope for a brighter future in this work.

Keith Jackson AM – I have read most, if not all, of these poems before, and revisiting them in print is like being reacquainted with old friends. Michael Dom is a world class poet and a world class poetic innovator. He writes – sometimes obliquely, sometimes directly – about politics, society, corruption, development and other crucial issues in the life of a nation and its people.

This nation happens to be Papua New Guinea but in reality it could be any nation, struggling to be fair to itself and its people; often not struggling nearly hard enough because the end result of struggle may be a real threat to privilege and entitlement.

Michael Dom uses poetry to reveal such truths without ever glossing over the difficulties of moving to a better state.

Order your hard copy of this must read collection online at or download your free pdf copy today at

This review first appeared on PNG Attitude at