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.

Students Writing to Support Their School

19 October 2020

This year, the Education Department has transferred the functions of schools in the nation’s capital to the National Capital District Commission (NCDC). NCD Governor Powes Parkop believes that this will improve the level of education and will also solve imminent problems currently faced by schools in Port Moresby. One such school that is dealing with the imminent problems in NCD is the New Erima Primary school which has performed well despite the challenges it faces. The school is an eight-level school and one of the largest primary schools in the country, with more than 2000 students and 43 teachers. Currently, the school is planning to upgrade to New Erima Academic school status and decided to take grade nine next year and grade eight students will either do grade nine or be enrolled into Technical Education System (TVET).

So far, students in grades 5, 6, 7 and 8 have used their writing skills to help the school by taking part in the School Writing project. The School Writing project is a first of its kind voluntary project. It is currently being carried out at the New Erima Primary School because of fears that the standard of education has dropped and most students are not encouraged to read and write which leads them to speak poorer English. To avoid this situation, schools must immediately start implementing a school writing plan to encourage students to write and publish their school anthologies so that students can read their own works. The School Writing project has sent a proposal to Governor Parkop seeking government support for the programme and are still waiting for feedback from his office.

In the School Writing project, students are encouraged to write essays, short stories and poems regarding what they are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDs, tribal war, culture and traditions, violence against women, their own villages and other topics.

In the Kids Kona section of the new Ples Singsing website, we will be featuring some of their writing and we hope this will garner more interest in the School Writing project.    

“Re-thing and reclaim our own approaches” to express our story

19 October 2020

Michael Dom

A small sample of PNG literature.

LAE – In her review of my poem collection 26 sonnets (available for free on PNG Attitude) Professor Konai Helu Thaman of the University of Hawaii provided a task to Papua Niuginian writers which I believe is central to our current dual objectives which are to, firstly, make our own contributions to national literature and, secondly, establish and maintain a national literary society in some manner, perhaps as Phil Fitzpatrick expressed in June.

In my thinking the two objectives we have are rolled into one very doable task within what Konai instructs us is our responsibility as writers, readers, poets and pundits.

“We need to re-thing and re-claim our own approaches to appreciating if not attempting to find solutions to issues such as community conflicts and contradictions, education, environmental degradation, politics, social and interpersonal relationships, many of which are directly linked to existing inequities and injustices in our various island nations and are linked directly or indirectly to the current, fashionable ideology of globalization.”

I have been thinking about what it means to “re-thing and re-claim our own approaches”. Although I am sure that Konai and Professor Steven Winduo of University of Papua New Guinea, both eminent writer-scholars, would be able to provide a detailed and deeply thought out expression of these terms but here I provide my own liklik tingting.

It is my understanding that to “thing” means ‘the act of naming, identifying, presenting and placing’ the elements within our own environment, of our lives and society, in our collective consciousness, in the context of our material and imaginary world – the world of Papua Niugini culture.

We have names for the objects and subjects within our own cultural milieu and we should ‘take back’ this societal activity, recover that act of “thing-ing”, we should “re-thing”. By doing so we can re-claim the process by which we define ourselves; as one people.

We reclaim our history, our society and our cultural knowledge and traditions, and by doing so we are able to reorient ourselves in the modern world; as one nation.

In a true sense, this reclamation of our own nationhood is also what Hon. Gary Juffa first propounded in what the Marape Government has now placed as their revival slogan ‘Take Back PNG’.

Writers and poets may often comment on politics, a long standing tradition for which, in the Pasefika context, it was argued that;

To some extent literature cannot divorce itself from politics. George Orwell is by and large correct maintaining that “There is no such thing as genuinely non-political literature, at least of all in an age like our own, when fears, hatreds and loyalties of a directly political kind are near to the surface of everyone’s consciousness.” The statement has particular relevance for South Pacific literature. There is an inherited political element in it because it has emerged as part of a counter ideology to colonialism.

Subramani, South Pacific Literature, from Myth to Fabulation, (Suva, 1985), 154.

The taim bilong ol masta are gone but today we often speak and write about so called neo-colonialism, and the repercussions of global politics and the world economy on our national predicament.

As a poet it seems to me that the environmental slogan “think globally, act locally” has taken over all other facets of human society. So, what does this mean to us in PNG literature?

Whereas, our political leaders immediate objectives are directly within the political and economic agenda of Papua Niugini, writers and poets must “re-thing and reclaim” the cultural and intellectual territory of our nation in order for our literature to flourish, through the application of our rich cultural heritage.

This task also includes giving back our own names, using our own languages and expressions, and reviving our own metaphors, metonyms and allegories.

While in today’s modern world the agenda of politics and economics have achieved a status above all else, and are the main drivers of many global conversations, Ples Singsing harkens back to a taim bipo, when the well being of our own society was central to our discussions before stepping into the domain of relationships with other tribes or nations.

Hausman emi ken istap olsem Paliamen, tasol Ples Singsing em hap bilong olgeta man, meri, pikinini na tumbuna long bung wantaim.

The Ples Singsing blog is created to encourage and facilitate this process to “re-thing and reclaim” our own stories, poetry and drama. Here we may interact with each other through our writing, in literature which expresses what it means to us to be Papua Niuginian.