From Flying Fowl House to Spirit of Kokoda: The long and continuing journey of Papua New Guinea’s Ford Trimotor

20 October 2020


Just inside the front gate of the PNG National Museum & Art Gallery (NMAG), next door to Parliament House, Independence Drive, Port Moresby, sit three historical aircrafts, a Lockheed P-38 fighter, a Bell P-400 Airacobra, and the subject of this paper, a Ford 5-AT-C Trimotor with many stories to tell.

The Ford Trimotor series was developed in the mid-1920s from designs by William Bushnell Stout, something of a visionary designer and engineer, but also something of a copycat since his Trimotor was based on the work of Professor Hugo Junkers who pioneered all-metal aircraft construction, and Stout’s airframe closely resembled that of the fabric and plywood-skinned Fokker F.VII. Henry Ford had invested in the Stout Metal Airplane Company in the early 1920s, and bought the company outright in 1925. Junkers sued and won when Ford attempted to export his Trimotor to Europe in the late 1920s.

Earlier versions, the 4-ATs, were powered by three 300-hp Wright Whirlwind radial engines, but the 5-AT sported more powerful 420-hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp radials. All models were clad in corrugated aluminum alloy, and unlike most aircrafts of the 1920s the control surfaces were also aluminum. Metal control cables ran along the exterior of the airframe, and engine gauges were mounted directly on the engine, to be read by the pilot through the cockpit windows.

Nicknamed the Tin Goose, the Ford Trimotor was a popular commercial aircraft in its time and carried the Ford reputation for ruggedness and reliability. Over 100 airlines around the world flew Trimotors with various models carrying 12 to 18 passengers. Trimotors accomplished many notable feats: Commander Richard E. Byrd and three other crew first flew over the South Pole in one in 1929, Franklin Roosevelt campaigned via Trimotor in 1932, and despite achieving fame in other aircrafts both Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart also flew Trimotors.

The Trimotor on display at the NMAG is part of the Modern History Department collection. The Museum’s Trimotor was built in 1929 in Dearborn, Michigan, and flown to Croyden in the UK in 1930 as a demonstration model under the serial number NC401H. In 1931 it was at the Aero Show in Paris, where it was bought by Peter Malcolm King, the 4th Earl of Lovelace. On 28 December 1931 the Earl departed Le Bourget heading for his ranch in Tanganyika, after which the trimotor was suitably dubbed the Star of Tanganyika, serial number G-ABHO. After two years flying around East Africa, the plane returned to the UK having been sold to the British Air Navigation Company (or BANCO), registered in November 1933 and stationed at Heston Aerodrome in Hounslow, now part of the western greater London area. Renamed Voyager, it serviced BANCO’s summer routes to the Channel Islands and Le Touquet and Deauville on the French channel coast. In late October 1935 it was one of two Trimotors bought by Guinea Airways to join its fleet in the Antipodes, servicing flight routes around colonial Papua and New Guinea, as well as the trans-Torres Strait Australia-New Guinea route.

During the 1930s, Papua and New Guinea had the highest level of aviation activity of anywhere in the world, due to a burgeoning mining industry in a rugged region with very few roads. Sometime in the late 1930s, as more modern passenger aircrafts came in, the Trimotors were converted into freight carriers, a role they generally transitioned to worldwide in the 30’s and continued to fill for decades due to their rugged simplicity. During this time, the Museum’s Trimotor also spent some time in service in Australia.

In May 1937 the museums Trimotor was, “….. given a certain expressive name in the centre of Australia, as the result of a special cargo carried from Darwin to Tennant Creek. The cargo consisted of 30 garbage tins which the Administrator found could be carried more cheaply by air than by special truck which would have been necessary for the long journey overland.” The Tuesday 25 May 1937 edition of the Townsville Daily Bulletingoes on to read that, “….. at one time while on service in New Guinea the Trimotor was popularly known as the ‘Flying Fowl House.’ That nickname was gained as the result of a quantity of live stock being transported by the machine. In the course of its normal duties, it has carried everything from motor cars to sucking pigs.”  

But by 1942 it had returned to Port Moresby, having been impressed into military service by the RAAF, under the serial number A-45-1 (VH-UBI), along with Guinea Airways’ other Trimotor, the A-45-2 (VH-UDY) which was destroyed in March 1942 during a low level strafing attack on 7-Mile Drome (now Jackson’s International Airport) by five A6M2 Zeros. A-45-1 was first used for general transport, then converted into an air ambulance by June of ‘42.  

This is a toy model of what the Trimotor looked like during its RAAF days as an air ambulance.

In late October, as the Australians pursued the retreating Japanese north along the Kokoda Track, an airstrip was cleared on one of the remote dry lakebeds at Myola near ‘The Gap’ at the crest of the Track, at an elevation of over 7,000 feet (2145 metres, nearly as high as Mt Kosciuszko at 2228 metres).

ln November, a New Guinea Airways civil pilot, Tom O’Dea, was flown up to make an aerial reconnaissance and he subsequently flew back in the Trimotor on 24 November 1942. He took eight patients out in his first flight, as nervous bystanders watched him just clearing the western lip of the ridge. Inexplicably, someone moved the markers at the end of the strip, presumably to make it longer, so that when O’Dea glided in for his second trip of the day, his wheels bogged immediately and the plane did a forward somersault landing on its back. O’Dea sustained major facial injuries but survived. The Trimotor proved to be unrecoverable and whilst stripped of some parts, laid on its back at Myola virtually intact for the next 37 years.

In 1979, the aircraft was recovered by the National Museum with the help of the RAAF, which carried it slung underneath a Chinook helicopter back to Port Moresby, where it was placed on static outdoor display in front of the Modern History Museum in Gordons, Ahuia St.

The Trimotor being airlifted, strapped under a RAAF Chinook helicopter.


In 2015, the Gordons Museum was forced to close by the Public Works Department, who demolished the property to put a connector road through as part of preparations for the 2015 South Pacific Games.

Most of the collection was put into storage, but the Trimotor was trucked to the main NMAG property and placed in its current location, gracing the front driveway along with the other two WWII relics. As part of an agreement with the NMAG, the Public Works Dept pledged to procure another suitable property and rebuild the Modern History Museum, but to date has failed to follow through. The NMAG has entertained a couple other plans for this on the main Waigani site, but none have as yet borne fruit.

In 2014 Gregory Bablis identified the Museum’s Tin Goose as the most significant item in the Modern History collection, and renamed it the Spirit of Kokoda. Bablis speculatively valued it at USD$700,000, currently about AUD$1 million or PGK2.1 million. A fully restored, airworthy Trimotor sold for USD$1.2 million in early 2019. Since the Museum’s bird has an intact airframe (albeit in pieces) and all three engines, Bablis’ estimate is likely within the ballpark.

Whilst the Spirit of Kokoda appears to rest peacefully, it remains an object of contestation. The War Surplus Act of 1952 rendered all WWII surplus materials the property of the colonial state, and this carried over to the PNG government post-independence, but with the focus having changed from controlling saleable scrap to protecting historic artefacts large and small. The NMAG is the appointed authority charged with looking after the nation’s heritage, including from WWII. In 2008 the Kokoda Initiative was formed, an enduring partnership between PNG and Australia to look after the Kokoda Corridor, aligned along three pillars: The Track, the people and the environment. In 2018, the NMAG launched a new Kokoda Track Military Heritage Management Plan. Whilst all relics are state-owned, a central tenet of the NMAG plan is the recognition of landowners as the custodians of the artefacts left on their land from the war.

The Trimotor raises some difficult questions, especially as the Koiari-speaking residents of Naduri village who own the Myola area continue to press for the return of the Trimotor, and compensation both for ‘damage’ to the land from its presence and removal, but also for its removal in 1979 without, according to them, proper ‘consultation and negotiation’. They contend that the RAAF flew into Myola on a Saturday (the Sabbath for Seventh Day Adventists), and ‘illegally’ removed the plane before anyone could walk the couple hours from Naduri to the site. The Myola landowners repeat their claims every year, and threaten legal action. A more noteworthy threat is to block the track to Myola and impose a fee for passage, as blocking sections of the Kokoda Track has been a tactic used by disgruntled landowners elsewhere to draw attention to their complaints.

Was the removal of the Trimotor from Myola illegal? Do the landowners have any claim to an aircraft that legally never belonged to them, but was removed from their land? Can the Heritage Plan be applied retroactively? These and related questions must be left to Papua New Guineans. It is interesting to note that the landowners recite language on the significance and value of the plane from Bablis’ 2014 paper, which he shared with them at some point. His valuation perhaps gave them pause and motivated them to make their original claim.

At any rate, the Spirit of Kokoda Trimotor remains an important touchstone for PNG’s colonial and wartime heritage.

The Trimotor as it now rests on the Museum’s front lawn.

A version of this story was presented as a conference paper by Dr. Andrew Connelly at the Heritage of the Air Conference in November of 2019, Canberra.

‘Tok-singsing’: Giving Back to PNG

20 October 2020


“It is a home-grown literature that will amplify the creativity, culture and spirit of Papua New Guineans. But, lacking the required support, literature has not emerged in PNG as an influence capable of playing its vital role in education, in nation building or in people’s lives” – Keith Jackson AM, ‘The chasm in PNG’s cultural integrity’.

Author's small stash of gold
An author’s small stash of gold.

PORT MORESBY – Here’s the thing. If we want Papua New Guinean literature to have its own life we must do more than create it, we must interact with it, nurture it in our thoughts and conversations, and appraise it to the realities and imaginations of our society.

That means reading and discussing, sharing and critiquing, in mutual respect, the value and utility of our works, with our peers and to our readers.

Make no mistake that encouraging and participating in this vital activity was a critical aspect of the success of the Crocodile Prize when it was run from the pages of PNG Attitude.

In the aftermath of the death of the Crocodile Prize we should not only appeal to the government for support of our national literature, we should also revitalise the appreciation of our literature ourselves by making it the subject of our discourse.

That activity should not be seen as the restricted area of academic interest and should never be thus limited in a modern day literate society.

Dom 2 Steven Winduo  Transitions and Transformations (UPNG Press and  Bookshop and Manuia Publishers)
From ‘Transitions and Transformations’ by Steven Winduo  (UPNG Press and Bookshop and Manui Publishers).

Writer’s like Martyn Namorong, Rashmii Bell, Kelakapkora Sil Bolkin, Mathias Kin and Julie Mota have previously demonstrated an interaction with our literature, both through their written expressions on literary agenda and in the various social, historical and in poetic discourses to which they have responded.

Such were the heydays of the Crocodile Prize literary feast.

Writers on PNG Attitude have been quiet of late but no doubt have been working studiously away in their own dreamtime domiciles and creative cubicles.

Nevertheless, this period reminds me of high school English lessons when everyone seemed to have disappeared into their desks after the teacher asked someone to read out loud for the class the next paragraph in the textbook: pin drop silence.

Well, I’ll read it then.

In order to achieve a home grown literature, as Francis Nii argued for official sanction last year, we need also to utilise our other two common and recognised National languages, Tok Pisin and Motu.

There is an unspoken agreement, at least among poets, to create and present our works in Tok Pisin.

This simple desire requires thinking out the work in Tok Pisin, and while that may seem straight forward for single language speakers, the nature of being bilingual, and more so multilingual, can turn this simple deed into a Herculean task.

(Or should that metaphor be ‘a job for Dodoima the giant’?)

Meanwhile, we’ve recently discussed the use of Tok Pisin, or rather the limitations versus utility of using dual language in fiction writing, short stories and novels, specifically in regards to Baka Bina’s short story Hanging Balls.

Incidentally, I am also reading for a (much overdue but hopefully well timed) review of Baka’s novel Operesin Kisim Bek Lombo, with such spicy Tok Pisin title and all.

However, in the previous discussion I’m not sure if we fully appreciated both the value and difficulty of using local or dual languages in long form fiction literature, which is an intuitively accepted idea in poetry.

Perhaps, we’ll learn more about this when it’s been tried out by one or two fiction writers. PNG poets are forging ahead.

We do have a history of using Tok Pisin and our local languages in literary writing since the advent of Ulli Beier and the Papua Pocket Poets and the short story era of the literary magazine, Ondobondo.

As we’ve learned there are scattered collections of PNG literature in places like the fantastic online resource at Athabasca University, the original paperback copies at the University of South Pacific, the restricted collection at the UPNG Michael Somare Library, the modern PNG Attitude blog site and even a number of private collections from expatriates who may have departed our shores, at least physically if not spiritually.

It appears that we should have a national treasure trove of literature for everyone to benefit from exploring.

While we ourselves may not have delved into the available literature, or addressed the idea of developing a literary canon, overseas literary aficionados have provided collections of PNG literature for worldwide scrutiny, and hopefully may have included examples of PNG writing in Tok Pisin and other language translations.

For example, there is an excellent publication of the Trobriand Islands legend of Imdeduya and children’s tales which I am working my way through (very slowly).

In a recent article by Francis Nii we were informed of Ganga Powell’s book titled, Through Melanesian Eyes, published under Macmillan Press Australia and now available on Amazon.

Much of the material was taken from the Ondobono era. The title of Powell’s collection is reminiscent of Russell Soaba’s 1979 poster poem Looking thru those eyeholes.

Well if you’re looking through our eyes you may be even more appreciative to use our tongue and be informed of the background brainwaves which produced those words echoing through time and space, indelibly inked and electronically everlasting.

For example, and as some ANU students may now know, Raymond Sigimet has provided good examples of poems in Tok Pisin (and even Broken Tok Pisin).

In the latter example the speech effect of Broken Tok Pisin may look odd on paper but can be very readily heard when read aloud. 

Albeit, the poem does poke fun at inexperienced expatriates’ mispronunciations when using Tok Pisin.

While some readers may feel sensitive about this amusement, it must be asked, is the rendering not true?

The French often feel a snobbish kind of disgust at the Anglophone slaughter of their language.

And even the native British, not to mention the ‘Strayans’, brutalise the Queen’s English. So, all is fair in love of languages.

Alternatively, the use of local languages and especially Tok Pisin is of greatest value to our own PNG audiences. There are some sterling examples of such poetry on PNG Attitude’s pages.

Wardley Barry-Igivisa has integrated Tok Pisin terms into much of his poetry as well as providing an interesting ‘street level’ type response to politicians in his first attempt at a Tok Pisin poem, what I like to refer to as tok-singsing, there being no prior Tok Pisin word for ‘poetry’.

I look forward to more Tok Pisin wizardry from this skilled wordsmith, although we’re not always viewing the same scenes on n the light of our socio-political agendas.

The same good use of Tok Pisin’s power of expressiveness has been achieved by other poets creating tok-singsing, most recently Dennis K Belas’s poem Kisim bek kantri.

Apparently there have been no similar examples of Tok Pisin use from women poets on PNG Attitude, at least not from my search, apart from Julie Mota who produced her book Cultural Refugees in dual English and Tok Pisinfor which I provided a review, I’m not conversant on recent Tok Pisin poems by women writers.

On the other hand the Ondobondo poster poems revealed the familiar name of Mary Toliman, writing about wanpela pasin bilong ol Papua Niugini man, and who I hazard is related to Pamela Josephine Toliman of Crocodile Prize 2014 fame.

Regrettably I’ve not yet had the pleasure of reading Caroline Evari’s Nanu Sina: My Words, which received respective recognition from the World Bank media team during International Women’s Day this year.

Neither have I had the chance to review the women’s poetry in Rashmii Bell’s edited collection My Walk To Equality, since my ordered copy somehow sailed off into history.

I shall have to remedy my ignorance as soon as Amazon is shipping with any sanity.

Nonetheless, I’m more than certain that PNG women poets have something to say to us in our common tongue, na Tok Pisin bilong ol tu ia, em bai yumi ol man pilim lo bun stret.

This opinion is not to denigrate or dissuade the use of English in poetry, nor deny the versatility and universality of the world’s foremost language of communication. I would be hypocritical to do so as I have a natural affinity for English as my first language.

In fact, my own adventures into Tok Pisin use in poetry started a decade after I had already been writing poems. So from experience I know it’s no walk in the park.

All the same, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had during the crafting of a good Tok Pisin poem, and much more fun to be had when it’s read aloud to local communities and to those who have knowledge of the language.

Personally, I enjoy the way Tok Pisin can really spit out frustration at ridiculous behaviour while at the same time being amusing, with a kind of effortless tone of sarcasm that is appreciated in everyday conversations.

For example, em ol wanem kain man? That is, what kind of men are they, which is a sarcastic inference that, whomever those men are, they are certainly not behaving like men at all.

Then again Tok Pisin can present tenderness without an overpowering mushiness and at the same time remain unashamedly humorous about the saddest of outcomes, such as the loss of a spouse.

What’s more, in the examples Tok Pisin version of my poem Steven & Louise, there’s a tone to the reading which requires an understanding of the context which starts at the first line, ‘Oooh lewa’, by the expression moving from wistful to rueful and then to sorrowful in tone.

Certainly the same subtleties in speech and language effects can be said of English and other languages too, and therein lies the real value of poetry, and a literature which uses our own common tongue in all its vast variety of expression: it will speak to us in a voice which is also in our familiar language thus allowing us to connect with it immediately.

That Tok Pisin poems may be challenging to develop is a good control valve for quality of expression – poetry is after all an elevated speech.

Indeed, to me, tok-singsing is an elevated speech, em igatim naispela Tok Pisin tru, na tu emi toktok long ol liklik na ol bikpela samting wantaim, na moa iet emi save kam long as turu bilong bel na tingting.

Then, as Hart-Crane responded, “How to behave / In poetry: / Give things back / What they already have”.

Regarding the future of PNG literature* and the support being sought from the national government, my personal message to prime minister James Marape is that while we strive to ‘Take back PNG’ we must also ‘Give back PNG’.

Our national literature can do this even when our national budget cannot.

* Caroline Evari, Betty Wakia, Daniel Kumbon and Jordan Dean were twice invited to meet prime minister Marape to present a petition signed by more than 300 supporters of Papua New Guinean literature and seeking government funding support for local poets, writers and authors. On both occasions the prime minister was otherwise occupied.

This article first appeared on PNG Attitude on 05 June 2020

Hurting after their divorce

20 October 2020

Liceanne Utah

New Erima Primary School, NCD – SINCE Papua New Guinea is into this so called gender-based violence, no one cares about what’s going on in the minds of children when parents are separated or divorced.
Family is all that matters to children. They wish that they would have a happy normal life that they are so used to.
For me, life was going so well when my mom and dad were together. I don’t know how they met each other but they don’t talk about any of it with me. Having fun and going out with them, taking pictures together and travelling from one place to another was something I’ve never imagined.
Sometimes I could even go to my dad’s office and spend the rest of the day in there, since he was the headmaster of a school. On other days I would be at my mom’s work place, when she was a nurse. That became my daily routine, because I had not started school yet. I was six years old then.
Since I was the only child in the family, they gave me everything I wanted, which is common for every parent who has only one child.
Spending time with them was the best thing I could do in my life. Often times, I would play around with my best friends.
Everything was going well but at times I started seeing mom and dad arguing over small things, although it didn’t bother me. I was only eight years old that time and did not think seriously about them.
I started going to school when I was seven years old and that was when I started hanging out with my friends a lot. When I went back home after school, I would hear my small cousins telling me that mom and dad had been arguing again. From then on, everything got serious and I realised that every time I came back from school, they would tell me that there was fighting going on between my parents.
At dinner time, they would pretend in front of me as if nothing bad was going on between them. Things started getting serious and I felt like everything was going the opposite way instead of what I had expected. Dad started drinking and would come home and argue with mom. Sometimes when he got frustrated he would destroy things in the house. No one tried to stop him when he did that, not even my uncle, and I don’t know why.
I was the one they would put in front of him and when he saw me, he calmed down. Ever since then, I was used to stop their ongoing fights. I was starting to get afraid that something bad might happen to mom and dad. Even my aunts and uncles started complaining about the everyday arguments. Sometimes I questioned myself, wondering what to do next.
One odd morning, I woke up and my dad told me that he was going to leave for a while. I suddenly felt so weak when I heard him telling me that. I wanted to go with him but he refused. My mom also didn’t want me to follow him.
I said goodbye to him, he hugged me and left for town. I was crying while watching him go.
Mom and I left for the house and we spent the day by ourselves. It was so odd and unusual that day. The more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became. The thoughts usually ruined my days. I didn’t stop asking mom when dad would be home but she just ignored me and didn’t even want to answer my questions.
Every day, I woke up missing dad around the house and I could wait and wait hoping he would come home. It just didn’t happen. Every day I felt hopeless and caught up thinking about him why he wouldn’t come to see me.
Mom was so fast, she just moved on with her life. As an eight-year-old child, I was getting suspicious.
I don’t know if that is is normal for aneight-year-old child. I can’t even remember one single time seeing my mom worrying about dad. It was strange seeing my mom come home late at night. I thought it was her normal time to end the day.
My dad left and never came back for me and my mom. One afternoon, I was playing with my sisters and mom came and told me to go to the house and wait for dinner. I left my sisters and did as she told me. We both had dinner together in silence and I felt like she was going to say something.
After dinner, she sat me down in front of her and she said, “I have something very important to tell you. Your dad is going out with another lady and I think he’s going to marry her.” She didn’t stop yet and I was already in tears. She continued, “You know that I can’t take care of you by myself so I’m going to need someone to help me raise you up.”
I understood what she was saying. I was running out of breath while sobbing. She hugged me so tight and I just fell under her arms and was motionless.
The next morning I woke up and realised that I fell asleep last night while sobbing under my mom’s arms. My head was filled with all kind of questions of whys and hows. I still didn’t understand why my dad would do such a thing.
Since last night I felt some kind of feeling that I couldn’t explain to the world and hundreds of questions run through my mind. I even ask myself why mom and dad were doing this to me. Why is this happening? Why are things ganging up on me? ‘
I tried to live a normal life when mom and dad wanted to marry their so-called new husband and wife. It just didn’t feel the same, the place I always called home was never the same as it used to be.
Sadness and grief always appear in front of me when I see mom and her new husband being together. Everyday mom was so different, she never spent that much time with me like she used to when dad was around. She was so brain-washed by the new husband.
My aunts tried their best to be good mothers towards me but it didn’t change how I felt towards my parents. I once heard stories about single parents and how their children felt so hopeless without their mothers or fathers being close to them. Now I really feel how they felt like. I tried to live in the same lane with them but that didn’t suit me at all.
Every day seeing a family having fun together made me feel so sad and I just wished everything went back to normal.
I would ask myself why they divorced. They don’t have any idea how I feel when seeing other children living with their whole family.
Parents don’t realise how it feels like to live with a mom and a dad being separated or divorced. It hurts so much that parents have to know this. I’m always grateful for my friends and the people that I can call family because they were so supportive, encouraging and loving.
Writing this story as a 15-year-old sucks when I always think back. I’m so grateful for myself because I was strong and brave enough to overcome it, even if it happened to me at a very young age.
As a 15 year old, I want to encourage young people to make wise decisions to choose a good partner in life. It might happen that in the middle of your relationship you might do the same thing my parents did to me. You have to think about your child and what he or she is going to face if you happen to do the mistake my parents did. Stronger children might handle the situation but soft hearted ones might go through a hard time in their lives.
Please parents, don’t be so selfish and think about yourselves only but consider your poor children and what they might go through.
Please be cautious because you might end up hurting your own children and it might affect their personal lives too.

Liceanne Utah from Bougainville is in Grade 8 Purple at New Erima Primary School. These two stories are from a school writing project coordinated by If you want to support this initiative or donate any used books to the school, you can email the coordinator Betty Wakia on

This story first appeared in the Weekender, The National of 25 September 2020

An Abortion She Regretted

20 October 2020

Korina Posikei

New Erima Primary School, NCD – THE last thing she saw was the ceiling light. She was injected with something and the room started spinning and growing smaller and then she suddenly fell asleep.
She woke up with pins and needles all over her body, she could neither talk nor feel anything. The doctor was talking to her but she couldn’t figure out what she was saying. She could hear nothing but echoes in her ears.
Still feeling dizzy she got up, sat on the bed for a while until she gained consciousness then walked out from the hospital. As soon as she stepped out, the wind blew right in her face. The place was shivering cold and the sky was dull.
Her last class came to an end with the sound of the school bell. Exhausted, she grabbed her bag and came out. Her mum was already waiting for her at the parking lot. She was part of the school volleyball team at that time and they were supposed to go for training that afternoon but it was cancelled so she went straight home.
There was an upcoming championship and they were going to be challenging the other school in the next town. Her parents were so strict on her that when she didn’t have training, she would go straight home. She didn’t hang around with her friends that much. All she did after school hours was to stay indoors, do her homework and play volleyball.
Without a final training session they went head to the volleyball championships. Their school won the game so the girls in her team planned a party at the captain’s house and asked her to join them. At the party she was introduced to a boy whom she found very appealing even though he was three years older than her.
After that night, they started dating and slept out for a few nights. They met up every day at school. It felt so right but she started to lose concentration on her studies. She also skipped classes and sometimes she didn’t attend trainings just to go hang out with him. She even started to sneak out from the house when her parents were fast asleep. All of this was happening without the parents knowing or even suspecting anything.
She did not realise that what she was doing was risky because she was so into him. She just loved being around him and spending most of her time with him until the day came when she found out that she was pregnant.
She cried the whole night. She stopped answering her friend’s phone calls and she even stopped going to school. She was so scared to tell her parents about it. She felt so alone and helpless. All her dreams came crashing down. She tried telling her boyfriend about it hoping to get some assuring words and comfort from him but instead he was so disappointed and mad with her.
He kept on pressing on the idea of getting an abortion.
She just wanted to reverse everything so that all of these would not have happened in the first place. She didn’t know what to do next. She didn’t know who to turn to.
A few weeks passed before she gained the courage to tell her parents. Her mum was pissed off with her. Her dad didn’t want anything to do with her, he couldn’t even look at her.
Mum kept on stressing about their family’s reputation and what other people would say and think about them. They both started talking to her into getting an abortion as soon as possible.
She felt helpless. Her friends from school and the volleyball team eventually found out and they all began pressuring her to get an abortion. They kept on talking about the team’s reputation and everything and didn’t even bother to ask how she felt about the whole situation.
It was a dead end; she was left with no choice. So she went to the hospital. The doctor told her that she was five weeks pregnant. She asked if it wasn’t too late to get an abortion and he said it wasn’t but then asked her if that was really what she wanted.
She was still unsure but with the pressure that was coming from her boyfriend, her friends and both her parents she was left her no choice. She didn’t want to disappoint and embarrass her parents or her team mates so the abortion was the only option left.
As she walked out of the hospital after successfully completing the procedures of the abortion, she felt so guilty, disgusted and selfish. She couldn’t even bear the sight of her own reflection.
Her mum picked her up and dropped her off at the house. She realised that she just hurt someone who was harmless, someone who had neither strength to fight back nor a voice to say something about the situation.
She thought that getting an abortion was going to be okay but things just got worse because she stopped a heart from beating and it was dreadful.
She regretted it all.

  • Korina Posikei from New Ireland is in Grade 8 Red at New Erima Primary School in NCD.

This story first appeared in the Weekender, The National of 25 September 2020

Artists United

19 October 2020

Oala Moi

Media Release – 18th October 2020

Image may contain: 4 people, people sitting and shoes
Musicians meeting in Theaterette, National Museum & Art Gallery, Port Moresby

A MUSICIAN IN N.C.D. LOSES AN AVERAGE OF K1,500 PER WEEK UNDER COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS A group of seven Port Moresby-based musicians have on average lost a combined income estimated at K232,000 (or K33,000 per month per musician or K1,500 per musician per week) over the past six months since April. They gathered today at the National Museum & Art Gallery at Waigani, National Capital District and shared personal stories of the effect of COVID-19 measures on their families. One musician said: “Because there are no gigs, I have no income. In my family, not everyone works. The pressure is on me as a musician to earn money. I am part of a two-piece band at a local hotel and we have been performing weekly for the past ten years. That gig stopped in March this year.” Another musician said: “I am a guitarist and I play as part of a band at a club. Because of the lockdown, my gig dried up. I come from a single-parent family and my income helps my parent pay the bills. Now I do not help with the bills and I am not comfortable with that. I completed a short-course and graduated but companies are cutting down on staff and there is no demand in the job market for people like me. So, I have no gigs and no secular job.” Yet another musician said: “I sometimes help out with other bands as a vocalist or guitarist. I have my own band too. The lockdown stopped me from playing gigs. At the same time, I live in a rental accommodation and I share the rent. I now do not contribute to the rent and it has affected my relationship with my spouse, who has to carry the rental payment monthly. My rent is eight months in arrears.” Another musician whose income helps pay for school fees said: “We depend on gatherings to make money. Venues we play at include night clubs and open-air concerts. I help my partner pay the bills by paying the kids school fees. I had a weekly income and the gigs kept me going. Now I am unable to do that.” Another musician whose income and mentorship helps to keep teenagers out of trouble said: “I have six kids plus other orphaned children under my care. My partner and I house and feed them and my music income from live performance, hire out of equipment helps me pay for school fees and school lunches and uniforms. My main income is from club gigs. The lockdown has affected my income.” Another musician who was reformed after taking up music said: “I became a street kid after losing one parent. I had nowhere to go. My family told me that there was no future in music. But I took up a music career, and I make my money from doing session work, touring, and playing live. When my parent died, music helped me survive and put food on the table and helped my family during the ‘loose week’. The lockdown has affected me.” Another musician who holds down a day job but is the only bread-winner for his family said: “In my street here in Port Moresby, if you drop out of school; you are either a rascal through peer pressure, or buai-seller. I completed high school and did not do anything for four years except music. I did not want to become a rascal. I’m married with a child. Because of COVID-19, my partner became unemployed. I now have to provide for my partner and child in addition to my extended family. I am now spending eighty-percent of my income every fortnight taking care of my immediate and extended families. I have a regular job. But if I became unemployed tomorrow, I would become a freelance musician. I also operate a buai market to keep us going.” The group of freelance musicians have called upon the Pandemic Controller to relax the COVID-19 measures or provide compensation, if the situation does not improve. In a petition the group intends to present to Prime Minister Marape, and Pandemic Controller David Manning; they agree that: “Many of us are already living in a precarious financial situation. Absorbing a loss of income in Papua New Guinea since 23rd March 2020 is unsustainable.” “At the start of the year, Prime Minister Marape announced incentives to help MSMEs and SOEs affected by COVID-19. We request similar incentives and pandemic measures that will support us during these difficult times.” Meanwhile, an online petition on collected over 100 supporters. “Based on our estimates of a musician losing K1,500 per week, 100 musicians stand to lose a combined total of K150,000 per week.” Approved for Release by: Steve Kairi | Lincoln Pera | Edwin Oa | Emmanuel Muganaua | Dwayne TJ Sogoromo | Charles Lawson Komboi | Max Ox Meauri

For God, Country or What? Nepe Kumanyal’s War

19 October 2020

Gregory Bablis

Picture: Third-born daughter, Nancy Kumanyal (in PNG meri blouse and fedora hat), and Nepe Kumanyal in Akubra hat, with other family members in the Museum Theatherette on 14 August 2015. Late Kumanyal is survived by 5 children, 19 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great-grandchild who can be seen to the left of Nancy.

The PNG National Museum & Art Gallery’s Oral History Project and Military Heritage Project are essentially a national search for common identity, and dare I say, a national consciousness, in a country where divisive diversity is the norm. The former does so through a blending of different stories while the latter seeks to do so through the preservation of the materiality of WWII. Ironically, one of the most destructive of man-made events often leaves in its wake a regenerative compulsion among the humans affected by it. The ironies of war have proven fertile ground for the structural amplification of the cruelties and common and individual sufferings of those displaced or decimated by war. The trope of the fuzzy wuzzy angels or of the green shadows, for instance, are the stories of individual sacrifices writ large while the metanarratives that they feed into often fail to recognize the individuality of suffering and sacrifice. The Oral History Project seeks to identify and individuate and to honour and recognize while concurrently amplifying Papua New Guinean agencies to a national and international scale.

Gallipoli held sway over the Australian national psyche for the early part of the twentieth century just as the Revolutionary War and Civil War for America had or Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele for Canada after WWI. Retrospectively, many Australians now see Kokoda as the true test of Australian mettle in a war that many at the time saw as quite literally being fought at their doorstep. An important question for the Project though, has and continues to be, “what were Papuans and New Guineans fighting for?” The answers gleaned from the participants of the Project are more nuanced than suggestions of conformity.

The Oral History Project is a grand project in developing a national consciousness especially in a country that struggles with a weak sense of the nation and tribal affinities are often prioritized.  Wartime service can be constructed as an occasion on which people from across the land worked together on a common project. The majority of the wartime carriers did not come from the region of the Track – Koiari, Biage and Kaiva. These local people were directly displaced by the fighting. Most of the carriers were thus recruited from existing labour pools from Port Moresby and further along the Papuan coast from Daru to Milne Bay and Gulf. New Guineans who were conscripted and shipped to Buna carried for the Japanese, and many of those who survived escaped and joined the Australians. Men from Bougainville, the Sepik and Rabaul also walked the Kokoda Track.

Many of PNG’s WWII veterans have passed away, and their numbers continue to dwindle, so the Oral History Project is literally a race against time to capture their voices in the first person – though this point is not always appreciated or taken seriously enough by the PNG Government. The fact that we have now lost another one of these old men, in the Late Nepe Kumanyal who passed away on 20 September 2020 in Port Moresby, is sad but we are thankful that he shared his story with the Museum in 2015. His story is unique for he is the only person from the Highlands region whose war service story the Museum has recorded. That most of the carriers who worked along the Kokoda Track came from other parts of Papua and New Guinea and were recruited from existing labour pools, explains how Kumanyal was pressed into service. He was from Simbu in PNG’s central Highlands. I interviewed him on 14 August 2015 at the Museum Theatrette. Kumanyal told of how he started carrying cargo for a kiap he knew only as Master Kyle sometime in the 1930s, shortly after Australian gold prospectors and kiaps had intruded into his region. Kumanyal said Master Kyle paid them in shell monies which was more valuable to them at the time. He said he was a young man in 1942 and was in Wau, Morobe Province, with other Simbu carriers when war broke out. ANGAU recruited Master Kyle as a Coastwatcher and intelligence officer while they were still there and he simply used the same Simbu carriers he had employed to trek to Wau with him from the Highlands. From Wau, they walked to Salamaua and then further south to Oro where they met up with Australian forces at Kokoda Station. Kumanyal told of how he saw and met other Papua New Guineans at Kokoda Station but could not communicate with any of them because they all spoke different languages. He said they would signal with their hands over their bellies to indicate to the whitemen that they were hungry. Kumanyal served as a carrier and later went to Port Moresby where he received training to be a medical orderly.

In the high diction of war, normal language and terms are often “raised” to give them the commemorative and emotional force of the sobriety of the aftermath of war. For instance, friendship becomes comradeship or mateship; bravery becomes valor or courage; determination becomes endurance or Kokoda spirit; soldiers become warriors. And carriers whose range of tasks included menial labour, have been described as angelic beings whose intercession and assistance especially on the Kokoda Track has been immortalized in poems, prose, photographs, paintings and other popular merchandise. The “carrier” has been reformulated in locution almost worthy of divinity alas, and here is another irony, all this still disavows the individuality of their suffering and sacrifice. What is perhaps most fuzzy about the fuzzy wuzzy angels is the official recognition, and to state it bluntly, the monetary compensation or lack thereof, given by the colonial administration and now the PNG Government. In 2009 the Australian Government offered symbolic compensation through a new Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel commemorative medallion, which it bestowed on surviving carriers and their descendants. Late Kumanyal showed me his medallion when I interviewed him in 2015 but lamented the fact that since the end of the war he had never been paid anything. Apart from his medallion, Kumanyal and his daughter Nancy with whom he stays, always looked forward to the annual Remembrance Day celebrations and its free meals. Tis all cruel tokenism though, to be honest. Another irony, this year’s Remembrance Day celebrations, which would have been Kumanyal’s last, was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Picture: Nepe Kumanyal (forefront seated) and other Papua New Guinean WWII veterans at the 2009 Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels medallion ceremony at Bomana War Cemetery, 9 Mile, Port Moresby.

Kumanyal’s is an extraordinary story made all the more amazing by the fact that he lived in a region that had at the time only recently been intruded by the Western world. He was likely the first generation from his place to see whitemen and experience that quantum leap in technology which was then accelerated tenfold by the war. A common vignette from the oral histories of the war in PNG is that they were like “meat in a sandwich”. This is an expression of a situational irony whereby they found themselves in an unexpected position through no direct agency of their own. Or the irony that some saw no racial differences between the Australians, Americans and the Japanese as was initially the case for Kumanyal. As a Papua New Guinean observing the war and studying its effects in the present, I note the irony in Papuans and New Guineans helping one colonial master to fight another foreign power who might have become the next colonial master. And yet the outcome of the war, as it turned out, was so important to the disintegration of the colonial complex and PNG’s future path to self-determination.

PSA: Late Nepe Kumanyal’s funeral service will be held from 13:00-16:00 at the Reverend Sioni Kami Memorial Church, 5 Mile, Port Moresby on Monday 19 October 2020. He will be laid to rest at his home village, Konoma, Sinasina-Yonggomugl, Simbu Province. For more information or to make contributions please contact Nancy Kumanyal on (675) 71404055.

Caroline Evari: ‘Choose to rise above every circumstance….’

19 October 2020

Betty Wakia

Caroline Evari
Caroline Evari
Betty Wakia (2)
Betty Wakia

BETTY WAKIA: Why did you decide to call your recently published collection of poems, ‘Nanu Sina’?

CAROLINE EVARI: ‘Nanu Sina’ simply means ‘my words’. I chose this title because, as you read through the book, you will notice most of the poems are basically my own thoughts related to my personal experiences and observations.

BETTY: Can you tell us what sort of poems are in this book?

CAROLINE: The book is divided into four parts – Conflicts, Relationships, Hope and Family. In each, you will find poems that resonate with the theme. For example, under Conflict, you find poems that talk about war, doubt and fear and under Relationships there are poems about love and friendship.

BETTY: How did your environment and upbringing colour you’re writing?

CAROLINE: Both have had a huge impact on my writing. Growing up, I never openly shared my challenges with the people around me. Because most of the poems have been extracted from my Grades 11 and 12 school journals, they are basically my way of expressing my fear, disappointments, hopes and dreams for an envisioned future. My journal was a place for me to confide in, so I wrote and wrote without stopping because I found writing a way of relieving stress.

BETTY: Give us an interesting fun fact about the book.

CAROLINE: Most of the poems are a misrepresentation of who I am today. You will find me writing a lot of uplifting poems in contrast with what’s found in the book.

BETTY: How many drafts did your book go through before publication?

CAROLINE: This book went through five drafts.

BETTY: And how long did it take to write?

Caroline: Most of my poems were written in 2008-09 when I was in secondary school. I started compiling them electronically from 2014–15. So, it took me approximately 11 years.

BETTY: What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

CAROLINE: I don’t have a schedule for writing poetry. I write whenever a phrase or a sentence pops into my mind. I note it on a piece of paper or in a book. I might even open a separate word document and jot down thoughts throughout the day. I guess that’s the beauty of poetry, you don’t have to necessarily schedule a time to write.

BETTY: How did the book get published?

CAROLINE: I contacted Jordan Dean at JDT Publications and he helped me publish the book.

BETTY: Where do you get your information and ideas?

CAROLINE: The beauty about poetry is that you don’t really need to think hard about writing, you just need to use your emotions – it’s about using your full five senses. My inspiration comes from my surrounding and through observation. I write better when I can feel emotion and the book is made up of these expressions.

BETTY: How many books have you written? Which is your favorite and why?

CAROLINE: So far, I have written four books, this poetry collection and and three children’s books. The story books have been published by Library for All and, as an author, I contribute by writing stories which they pay for, develop into picture books and publish for distribution in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea. I am still waiting to hear if my other stories have been developed into picture books. My favorite book is ‘Zuki the Crocodile’ because that was my first children’s story that got accepted by Library for All and has been developed into a picture book. It’s also available on Amazon.

BETTY: Did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

CAROLINE: It gave me a whole new perspective on writing. I try to brainstorm around new topics or projects to work on and think about how I could develop myself at a more professional level.

BETTY: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

CAROLINE: One surprising thing is the support I receive from friends and family members and the impact my writing has created. This is a driving force for me to do better.

BETTY: Do you hear from readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

CAROLINE: One reader was able to relate to the poems which also brought back to her a memory of a poem I had completely forgotten which I wrote and read at her brother’s funeral. A colleague of mine pointed out that most of the poems depict sorrow and grief and saw that was me expressing myself. He was very impressed with the book. Another colleague said her daughters seem to enjoy the poems and every night, before going to bed, they read at least two. She says they are now beginning to gain interest in poetry.

BETTY: Are there any current projects you’re undertaking?

CAROLINE: I have a good number of children’s stories I wrote for Library for All which they turned down after their reviewing process, so one of my major aim is try and work with an illustrator to develop them into picture books. Secondly, I have an incomplete pile of positive quotes, thoughts and poems which I am hoping to complete and publish. I do not have a timeline for this.

BETTY: How do you market and promote your books?

CAROLINE: My current platforms are Instagram, Facebook and WordPress. I am also in the process of developing a media release to run on PNG Attitude. I am using Rashmii’s mentorship in this project and it has been good so far.

BETTY: Can you share with us the best way to reach you and where to learn more about your books?

CAROLINE: ‘Nanu Sina’ is available on Amazon for anyone who can buy online. For those within PNG, you can reach me on Facebook or by email

BETTY: What other authors are you friends with and how do they help you become a better writer?

CAROLINE: Rashmii Amoah Bell since I connected with her through the My Walk to Equality Project until to date. Jordan Dean – since the day I followed him on Facebook. Baka Bina – whose kind words towards my work really motivated me to publish a book. I am also a member of writer groups on Facebook, this is where I learn and try to collaborate with other writers. I also follow other writers’ blogs and Instagram, this is how I learn.

BETTY: Do you have any suggestions to help others become a better writer?

CAROLINE: I believe the best way to become better is to be determined to be better. And by being determined, you will begin to do things to improve yourself, such as doing research, approaching the right people, facing your fears and taking risks. Being determined also enables you to not stop until you have reached your goal.  

BETTY: As a Papua New Guinean female writer and author what do you want to see and achieve in the next five to 10 years?

Caroline: Write more than 10 books and explore other genres. I see myself publishing more children’s story books. I would also like to see a ripple effect being created by this achievement and have a solid platform in place for forthcoming Papua New Guinean writers.

BETTY: What is your advice for women who want to publish their own book?

CAROLINE: Nothing must ever stop you from achieving your dream. The only way to be heard or be recognised is when you choose to rise above every circumstance and fight fiercely until you reach the frontline. It may never be easy for a woman, but what makes you think it’s easy for a man? Self-determination and discipline is the only difference.

Original post appeared on PNG Attitude on 21 May 2019 at

Names and Titles: The Right Honourable Sir William MacGregor, GCMG, CB, AM, PC, FRSGS in Papua

19 October 2020

By Gregory Bablis

The impact of Papua New Guinea’s (PNGs) recent history of European contact is most tellingly conveyed in the place names, street names, and names of geographical and natural features in the country. From the Bismarck Sea and the numerous hafen’s (German for port or harbour) between the Morobe and Madang provinces, denoting 19th Century German influences, to the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and the D’Entrecasteaux Islands in Milne Bay Province indicating 18th Century French exploratory activities. Most secondary school students learning about the exploration and colonial history of Papua and New Guinea will be familiar with the name William MacGregor. He was appointed the first Administrator of British New Guinea (BNG) in 1888, serving the British Government as well as the Australian colonies who were worried about German activities in the northeastern half of the island of New Guinea at the time. BNG encompassed the Southern Region, from Northern (Oro) Province down to Milne Bay. But why the interest in a major proponent of colonialism and of British imperialism? He was a man of his time but also a man out of his time, as seen in some of his personal views and official policies in Papua. The measure of MacGregor’s significance might also be seen through the place names, exonyms, particularly in Port Moresby, that are now common linguistic currency when describing or giving directions within Port Moresby.

Let us first look at the name MacGregor, which is the Anglicised form of the Scottish Gaelic MacGriogair. The Gaelic name was originally a patronym, and means son of Griogar. The Gaelic personal name Griogar is a Gaelicised form of the name Gregory. The surname is used by members of the Scottish clan Clan Gregor, also known as Clan MacGregor, which is one of the largest clans in Scotland. MacGregor’s mother, Agnes Smith died on 4 July 1885 and his father, John MacGregor, died on 13 January 1890. William was the eldest son of Agnes and John MacGregor, who had other children of which not much is on record about but who are important to this story as will be seen at the end.

William MacGregor’s story ends where it started in 1846 when he was born on 20 October at Hillockhead Parish of Towie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The family was large and poor so William worked as a farm labourer. However, his intellectual promise was fostered by his schoolmaster, the minister and the local doctor. With their help and his own perseverance he entered Aberdeen Grammar School in April 1866 and enrolled at the University of Aberdeen in October the following year. Intending to enter the church he began arts but turned to medicine when his future wife Mary Thomson became pregnant. They were married on 4 October 1868 and their son was born the following January. MacGregor studied at Anderson’s Medical College (L.F.P.S.) and the Universities of Aberdeen (M.B.) and of Edinburgh (L.R.C.P.) and was registered on 9 May 1872. He became a medical assistant at the Royal Lunatic Asylum, Aberdeen, but left to join the colonial service as assistant medical officer in the Seychelles, probably attracted by the salary of £250. Between Seychelles and BNG, MacGregor worked for the next 16 years or so in the British colonies of Mauritius and Fiji in various capacities other than in his medical field of training.

41 years old in 1888, MacGregor was a middle-aged man and an experienced colonial administrator by the time he was appointed to the post in BNG, over 130 years ago now. MacGregor was inevitably and axiomatically a man of his times, even if certain aspects of his rule deserve the sobriquet of a man of all seasons. In 1888, as he saw it, the dominant problem for the ruler of New Guinea was to ensure consideration for the rights of Papuans. Nothing could seem more “modern”, when stated so baldly, yet MacGregor’s protective paternalism, his view of undesirable features of the culture of primitive peoples (or alternatively his conviction of the desirability and superiority of British achievements), were essentially views shaped by his time. After BNG, MacGregor would go on to become governor of Lagos (1898), governor of Newfoundland (1904) before being appointed the 11th governor of Queensland in 1909.

In PNG MacGregor’s contributions to the country can be seen in the names of places christened after him. Firstly, most police personnel will be familiar with MacGregor after whom the large police barracks at 9 Mile, Port Moresby, is named after. In 1890 MacGregor oversaw the creation of the Papuan Armed Constabulary, the first legally constituted police force. It had Papuan and New Guinean men as well as 14 foreign men – 2 Fijians and 12 Solomon Islanders from the Fijian police force – sent at the request of MacGregor.

Many older Papua New Guineans would know of MacGregor Street, also named after William MacGregor. On this street stood what was initially the Legislative Council from 1952, then the House of Assembly from 1964 and finally the National Parliament of PNG from 1975. Today the old building on MacGregor Street has been declared a historic site and is being looked after by the National Museum & Art Gallery (NMAG). The building has been renamed Haus Independens and houses a national exhibition titled Their Dreams, Our Future.

Visitors to the NMAG galleries at Waigani, beside National Parliament, will hear much of the MacGregor collections. During his tenure in BNG MacGregor surveyed much of the territory himself even scaling the heights of Mt Victoria, the highest peak in the Owen Stanley Range. On many of his expeditions, he collected items that would later on become the basis of a national collection that the NMAG continues to preserve and curate today.      

So what of the long list of titles behind Sir William MacGregor’s name. Some of them will look familiar as titles seen behind Sir Michael Somare or Sir Paulus Matanes’ names. GCMG is an award for the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, both military saints. CB means Companion of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath. The AM is an award for Member of the Order of Australia. The PC title means that MacGegor was a Privy Counselor or member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council which is a formal body of advisers to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. In PNG today, apart from Sir Michael Somare, only Sir Julius Chan, Sir Rabbie Namaliu and Sir Mekere Morauta are Privy Counselor’s. The final title FRSGS is for a Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and says something of his work in surveying territories and in collecting ethnographic items for preservation as he believed he was bearing witness to a fast disappearing society and way of life in BNG. Today items collected by MacGregor from PNG are spread over at least 3 countries, PNG, Australia and the UK. Other famous Fellows of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society include Sir Edmund Hillary, Neil Armstrong and Sir David Attenborough. 

MacGregor’s story started where it ends, in the Scottish village of Towie, Aberdeenshire, where he is buried with his father and mother. Towie is a very small village that is about an hour drive out from Aberdeen International Airport. The lettering on the tombstone in the below photograph is faded from the cold and harsh elements of the Scottish highlands but it states at the end that it was erected by the surviving children of Agnes and John MacGregor. William MacGregors’ remains were cremated and scattered over his parent’s grave so there lies the three of them in perpetuity.

Wordings on tombstone:
















Tok-singsing: danis bilongyumi iet

19 October 2020

Michael Dom

Strangers teach you to sing songs and march to a drum that they own To reject your garamut, your kundu and the stilled speech of wood Their soporific chorus dulls your mind and cheats your Black soul.

Sijo on loss of culture (O Arise, 2015)

It is recognized that most indigenous, non-literate societies maintained a very strong oral tradition as a means of passing on knowledge and information, albeit much of it wreathed in mysticism, of myths and legends, but also as part of a natural creativity and entertainment. These “Hand-made stories” were sufficient for the needs of the time and became part of the foundations of our cultural expression, olsem tumbuna pasin.

Retracing our oral tradition through literature

There is a strong literary tradition of using Tok Pisin in poetry which was represented by

collections in the Papua Pocket Poets publications Wiliwil (1970) and Nansei (1971) edited by Kumulau Tawali. This included indigenous poems, created as songs and chants in various Tok Ples, collected by UPNG students under the tutelage of Ulli Beier circa 1968, and translated into English. These classical PNG works include Alan Natachee’s Aia: Mekeo Songs (1968) and Murray Russell’s Limlibur: Tolai Poems and Kakaile kakaile: Tolai Songs (1969).

Historically the elevation of Tok Pisin into literature was foreseen by Elton Brash in 1975 (Tok Pisin, Meanjin 34(3): 320-327), as Nicholas J.  Goetzfridt summarized in his book Indigenous Literature of Oceania: A Survey of Criticism and Interpretation (1995); “Brash concludes by noting that if the English and pidgin of Papua New Guinea ever converge, a very independent and distinctive Papua New Guinea English will emerge and will hold considerable potential for creativity”. Brash’s words ring true today.

Tok Pisin poems, what I like to refer to as tok-singsing, stand out clearly to demonstrate facets of our cultural identity like shining shells to adorn a dancer. I find such gleaming examples in the intriguing De na nait by Lazarus Hwekmarin in Kovave (Vol.3 No.1, 1971) and the Tok Pisin Ondobondo poster poems Oloman by Regis Stella, O Meri Wantok by Bede Dus Mapun and Kain Kar Ya by Jerry Daniels. There is also the rare gem of a Hiri Motu poem Song of the Winds by Nora Vagi Brash (PNG Writer, 1985).

Alternatively, in his poem Dancing yet to the Dim Dim’s beat (Ondobondo, 1984) Vincent

perceived that “We have been dancing / Yes, but not for our own tune”, and he forewarned of the “dull drumming” signaling “the impending crisis”. It is apparent that the narrator here was displeased with the legacy of colonial rule “the fetters of dominance” over Papua Niugini society which “still insist” / on dominating / Holding us down”.

Similar idioms of drum beats and dancing are used by other writers to reflect their thoughts on the socio-cultural and political agenda of nationhood.

In his early opinion essay The Necessity and Reality of Oral Literature (PNG Writer, 1986, pp37) Steven Winduo emphasized the need for writers to record, preserve and promote our cultural stories, myths and legends, chants and songs for future generations to better understand their own society. Winduo later elaborated, in “Unwriting Oceania” (New Literary History, 2000, 31: 599–613), how “the “leaving out” practice of the authorities on Pacific literature” resulting in indigenous literary interpretations and intellectual pursuits being left behind in the matrices of history like traces of pottery work. He refers to this act as an “epistemic violence”.

Winduo posits, with reference to Samoan writer-scholar Tialetagi Poumau, that; “By working through trace, Pacific writer scholars reinstate what has been crossed out, but is visible even in erasure. It is through the trace that Pacific societies are able to reclaim their cultural memory: “The cultural memory is the collection of wisdom, history and tradition that provides us with the basis of cultural action in our nation”.”

One solution to this, and the objective of my book 26 sonnets (2020) and Tok-singsing, is best expressed by Winduo (2000): “Therefore, the only way to maintain cultural independence is to incorporate and adapt other cultural practices into their own to forge an independent identity”.

A related objective was promoted by the Crocodile Prize (2011-2017) and Pukpuk Publications, that is the writing of our own stories, which was achieved by producing books such as The Flight of the Galkope (2013) by Kelakapkora Sil Bolkin, My Chimbu: a short history of Chimbu in the highlands of PNG (2018) by Mathias Kin and memoirs, poems and short-stories in Brokenville and Bougainville Manifesto (2014) by Leonard Fong Roka.

Rewriting our stories: re-imagining ourselves

The description provided by Steven Winduo of a poet/writer as The Dancer (PNG Writer,

1985) seems very apt, “In solitude with the spirits / A silhouette / Dances against the blaze / Letting words and chants re-echo”. This presents us with culturally relevant imagery and context for understanding the poem in English. The idiom here is associated with “toktok wantaim ol tumbuna”, communicating with ancestral spirits through spiritual possession.

But in the same edition of PNG Writer we can find the cultural and socio-political descriptive poem Wanpisin Painim Welpik by Ambrose Waiyin. This tok-singsing affords a unique story-telling method in the way expressions are crafted, by their connotation (nuance) and intention (meaning).

There is much to be learned, explored and advanced from the PNG literary texts available at Athabasca Online Library. In hindsight, it is instructive for me to compare Waiyin’s prose poem Wanpisin Painim Welpik to my Terza rima poem The Political Economy of a Pig Farmers Life (O Arise!, 2015; pp 47). Although the agenda are similar the two poems were published thirty years apart.

Particular lines such as “Wanpisin i sot tru long hap pik / “Big man ino tilim gud” ol i tok”, which is echoed in the heroic couplet “If you will not share the gris pik with all / One day your house built from our bones will fall”, provide the indigenous idiom associated with “kastom wok” and “bigman pasin”, customary practice and expectation of chiefs to share out pig meat equally. This is symbolic of distributing wealth and resources and where such largesse may also raise issues of “wantokism” and cause malcontent.

In contrast, in my translated poem What now Ongagno (pp 25) I ‘unwittingly’ extended Winduo’s metaphor of the Lomo’ha spirit dancers to suggest that, in the modern context of lost cultural heritage, “Perhaps our singsing, / will not be as sweet as it used to be?” But when read in the original Tok Pisin version, the questioning becomes more pronounced and authentic in its expression, “Ating singsing bilong yumi nau, / em ino inap swit tumas olosem bipo?” so there is a subtle nuance of ‘voice’ in the utterance.

What is also interesting about these two poems is the narrative tone and approach, whereas The Dancer narrates mystically with an air of authority, in What now Ongagno thevoice is conversational with an inquisitive note. These different modes of narration in the oral context may be likened to different forms of writing poetry.

There remains however the challenge of reading a poem crafted in different tok ples which may be complicated when translated to English. Poets must determine in what form their poem speaks and, for the multilingual, in which language do the idoms and expressions emerge fully formed.

In his more recent comments while attending a Poetry Slam at the Port Moresby Arts Theatre; “Dr Winduo saw weakness in Tok Pisin for written work because expression is shared equally by word choice and the demeanour of the person speaking those words and, as such, meaning is lost without the author’s presence. However for live recitals, such as the Poetry Slam, Dr Winduo was a tremendous advocate for Tok Pisin and it was easy to appreciate this view when I heard the entrants recite their pieces” (Ben’s PNG Diary – Day 2: The poetry of Tok Pisin, April 2013).

What’s more, Winduo also wrote in his book Transitions and Transformations: Literature, Politics and Culture in Papua New Guinea (2013) that; “I share the view of Chinua Achebe

that whatever language I use must bear the burden of my experience. English provides the structure of literary experience by which I am able to create a tapestry of my experience”.

This suggests to me that although our cultural expressions are relevant, the framework in the language for communicating needs to be structurally sound. In other words, there must be known borders, a landscape and space in which to craft a poem in a form which displays its artistry; art which explores beyond known territory by using our own poetics.

Reclaiming our indigenous poetics

It is my understanding that the communication of a poem by oration or through written works, destined for oral recitation, should utilize a form relevant for placing the audience in a position to ‘look thru the eyeholes’ of the narrator. This is in fact a challenge taken on by poets in every piece of work they begin, and should be undertaken while bearing in mind that this form may be either in free or fixed verse.

Winduo also remarks in his foreword to 26 sonnets (2020); “Though I am curious how Tokpisin poems can fit into these forms, I think we can learn that the frames of expression are there; all we have to do is give it flesh and life through poetry in our own language.”

Edwin Brumby supports this activity of expressing our poetry in Tok Pisin or Papua Niuginian tok ples. “In sum, then, there are no defensible technical or functional reasons why TP should not be used as a literary medium. Isn’t it also the case that PNG writers have some responsibility to foster an indigenous literary tradition and to create bodies of work which encompass and reflect PNG’s changing society and culture, and which are accessible to their fellow countrymen? (Tok Pisin is well equipped for PNG’s literature, May 2013).

Writers in the Crocodile Prize have provided a large volume of work which may now be assessed for their indigenous literary value. The framework must be understood, and this requires review and criticism of poetry and literature.

In the past a number of international writer-scholars provided literary reviews and criticism of PNG poetry. In his 1987 Library prize essay Dancing yet to the Dim Dim’s beat: Contemporary poetry in Papua New Guinea, Richard Hamasaki noted that “Papua New Guinea’s creative written literature is not confined to poetry. A significant body of indigenous writing exists in the form of plays, radio drama, short stories, novels, contemporary oral histories and songs, film scripts, and essays. These works have been composed in a variety of languages, including tribal languages, English, Motu, and Tok Pisin. Some authors have also utilized a combination of languages in their written work”. A number of the articles have great historical and cultural value.

In his essay Hamasaki provided a startling comparison of PNG literary development post-independence with that in African nations and exposed to us the thoughts of key African writer-scholars of the period. One of those comments regards the facilitation of discussion about literature and dialogue between national writers as suggested by Nigerian scholar Biodun Jefiyo that; “the postcolonial argument which posits Africa-for-the world tends to overlook what he regards as the central issue of African cultural politics, which ‘is the relationship of Africa to itself, the encounter of African nations, societies, and peoples with one another’. Africa’s internal dialogue with itself, and indeed Africa’s self-representation, is important before Africa could unfold her being on a world stage”.

If we substitute Papua Niugini for Africa in the text above it still reads as true and relevant to the present context. In short, there are conversations we must have amongst ourselves to determine who’s drum beat we are following and why. This is also the message from Winduo’s Dancer and what I myself had begun to unconsciously extract through my experiments with the Korean poetry form when I wrote Sijo on the loss of culture (O Arise, 2015). We should encourage the development of indigenous forms of expression in literature. This will broaden and deepen our national conversation. We should dance to the drum beat of our own kundu na garamut.

During my early poem experiments and poetry explorations I wanted to go one step further than my past contemporaries. In my collection 26 sonnets (2020) I intentionally appropriated popular Western and Eastern forms of poetry. The poetics however were indigenous. As Konai Helu Thaman wrote in her review “although this form originate from elsewhere, Michael has used it successfully, contextualized and made it his own, including the Tok Pisin poems”. Tok-singsing, then, is one antidote to the “current, fashionable ideology of globalization” towards which Konai reckons “we need to re-thing and re-claim our own approaches”, danis bilong yumi iet.

The words of the late great Australian poet and author Clive James (Poetry Notebook, 2014) are also emblematic, “a new nation doesn’t project itself to the world by flaunting its characteristics. It projects itself as a creative personality, which finally comes down to a tone of voice”.  Although James was addressing Australia once again the statement applies to PNG because the creation, nurturing and celebration of culture are universal across all communities.

Papua Niugini is emerging as a nation and it is vital, therefore, that we continue nurturing our culture through national literature and arts programmes, by contributing as individual authors or in organized writers groups. We may yet achieve Apisai Enos dream of “national unity through literature” (Kovave, Vol.4, No.1, Nov. 1972, 46-49.).


Papua Niugini has a growing literary tradition with good roots in history and a respectable volume of classic works which provide us with modern day cannon.  However, literary output alone does not afford a basis for understanding ourselves and our literary culture. There is a need for interaction and dialogue about our literature, apart from literary criticism by writer-scholars, in a process which is supported nationally. There rests the importance of using our indigenous poetics, as expressed in all our available languages, but particularly in Tok Pisin and Tok Motu.

By publishing this collection of poems in Tok-singsing I am completing one phase of my exploratory voyages of external discovery and turning back to converse locally. I want my Tok Pisin poems to be lyrical and musical and give back a dance which is our own – Tok-singsing igatim danis bilong yumi iet.

The Historicity of Orality

19 October 2020

Papua New Guineans must unite to create their own history. Papua New Guineans must speak to establish their own history. Papua New Guineans must write to establish their own history. Papua New Guineans must dare to create to make their own history. – – Bernard Mullu Narokobi, 1980


History is one of the oldest forms of knowledge among academic disciplines. It should come as no surprise that it is also one of the most diverse forms of knowledge, for what is history but the functional abode of all human knowledge and experience. The principle tenets and guiding framework that might govern the discipline of history operate at such a high level that it becomes ambiguous and may even seem invisible to specialised practitioners of different branches of history and especially to practitioners of other related disciplines within the social sciences, like anthropology, archaeology and sociology. The truism that everything and everyone has a history cannot here be undermined and it is when one understands this simple, albeit platitudinous, statement that one can truly appreciate the task that a historian of anything is faced with. Historicity is an omnipresent quality ineradicable in all things. Writing a history of anything must then employ an interdisciplinary approach if it is to make a substantial contribution to the body of knowledge of the subject.

In essence, the aim of Ples Singsing is to broaden the scope of how history is written in PNG and encourage oral history, orature and other traditional forms of cultural expression as legitimate ways in which PNG’s past can be historicised. This entails creating and promoting a Papua New Guinean historiography in the form of audio and video recordings and a strict observation of other traditional forms and sources of history. It goes without saying that the turn to the medium of writing since the early 1930s is now a form of expression of our Papua New Guinean ways and Papua New Guinean literature. It is important to promote a sense of history among Papua New Guineans that our historical movement is worth actively recording and is imperative for the future development of PNG and understanding itself within the global context. It is not enough to just assume that traditional societies had no sense of history, or to deem them inferior to ‘hard evidence’ dug out of the ground devoid of context; rather, it is better to analyse our traditions and customs to understand our past and how it can facilitate the writing of our own histories through our own research models, cultural frameworks and forms of expression.