MY GRANDFATHER IS A CANOE was published in July of this year and is the first solo book by Samoan wayfinding poetess Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i, published under Flying Geese Pro. Felolini’s very first appearance as a poet in print was in ‘Fika – a fictional body of new writing by First Draft Pasefika writers’ (2008), along with a group of Pacific Island writers under the banner of Pacific Arts Creative New Zealand. Her poems also featured in ‘dried grass over rough-cut logs’, by this author in 2020, published by late PNG poet and essayist Francis Nii.
Faumuina is her chief name, signifying a ‘high chief’ in the Samoan tradition. Tafuna’i is the surname of her late husband. She lives in Christchurch New Zealand with her son Oliver.
Faumuina is a waka sailor who adheres to the traditional knowledge and skill of Wayfinding under the tutelage of navigator Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr from Aotearoa (New Zealand). From many guiding conversations with and by voyaging on the ocean on traditional sailing canoes, Faumuina created a dynamic wayfinding model that has become the lens for all the design work for her company, Flying Geese Pro. She created the model to design better aid and development programmes because she saw that the models used in the Pacific were outdated and biased against our cultural values and ways of being. Faumuina has now developed Wayfinding models for business, strategic planning, and suicide prevention. It was this model that led her to become an Edmund Hillary Fellow. Through this Fellowship, she is able to collaborate with other innovators and entrepreneurs.
A journalist and media worker in the development arena, Faumuina has recited her poems on many occasions, including ‘I see you’ which was written and presented in Goroka. In 2014 two of her poems, namely ‘I see you’ and ‘Mary and the Fe’e’, were featured on Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude blog. The first poem had a PNG story to go with it, and provided more reason for this poem to be a personal favourite. Now I am very glad to see the poem included in her recent published collection (Also below). Here is the story related to me by Faumuina in December 2014.
“When I was at UOG, there was a point where four women were on stage – Mama Daisy and three academics, with one being an anthropologist who had worked with Mama Daisy and Bena for 20 years. A comment from one of the audience members (a PNG academic based in Moresby) said “I see three women on stage” and proceeded to compliment them about their work. She did not “see” Mama Daisy. I felt for Mama Daisy, and thought of my own mother so afterwards I interviewed her and wrote my poem, which I performed at the end of my presentation. Ladies from Bena gave me bilum as a thank you and we all became fast friends. So far, the poem is unpublished.”
After receiving gifted copies of the book by post earlier this month, I sent Faumuina six interview questions for her to provide us with some insight into poetry, writing and her approach to this skill and art that we enjoy, and the creative products that we cherish.
How does it feel now to have published your own book and what have been some of the reactions you have had from your readers? It feels amazing. It feels like destiny fulfilled, especially in what my late mother would have wanted for me. In terms of reactions from my readers, they have been really affirming. Some have wept and laughed with the poems. A friend had his son read poems out loud at the breakfast table. A former NZ Prime Minister emailed me saying it gave her insight into the world of voyaging and who I am. Other people have talked to me about the poems I wrote about the loss of our loved ones, and how it put words to feelings they felt but could not express. A client told me she had read the poem I wrote for my son to her network because it was a powerful expression of what it means to be a parent. One of the reactions that I’ve also had within my immediate family is to have my nieces and nephews look at the book and understand what is possible for them to achieve. That has real meaning for me.
There’s a description about the books’ creation, which will be part of our article on your work, but I want to hear about your process, why and how you do what you do. You started writing poems as a teen but really got into poetry later in youth. Tell us about your approach to writing poems and why poetry is important to you.
My poems often come to me in a waterfall of words. Sometimes I’m woken by a poem and I have to turn on the light and write it down. What I find is that I’ve been thinking about this poem for days, weeks sometimes, maybe even years. What my mind has done is assembled all these words together. I do very little editing. I also write poems as gifts dedicated to friends, family, people I’ve met. They are often a reflection of our relationship. A keepsake.
My approach to writing poetry; I try not to be preachy though I do want to release what is deep within me and hope there’s some resonance in the audience. That said, I don’t think you should write for the audience. I think that it’s important for the craft to be sincerely yourself and write for yourself. Poetry is important to me because it helps me better understand who I am. It also heals me. It helps me let go of negative stuff that is holding me back and celebrate the good stuff. Also, I write when I’m pissed off at people and events – so it’s a great pressure valve.
To me words are like paint, and I get to paint poetic landscapes, cartoons, portraits and abstract ideas. Poetry has also given me a place to put pain. The greatest pain I’ve ever felt was in the loss of my husband. Poetry gave me a place to put that pain and help me grieve. It also gave me a chance to document all my experiences good and bad such as the poem of me stumbling around in a police cell. I don’t want to deny parts of myself that are less shiny. Through poetry I get to embrace the challenge and complexity of being me.
You name Tusiata Avia and Konai Helu Thaman as influences on you taking up poetry as a mode of expressing yourself. Are there particular poets, poems or elements of poetry that attract your interest as a creative person? Tusiata and Konai opened the door for me and showed me that poetry could have Pacifica accents and rhythms, it could be about Pacifica lives, of hibiscus, of island lovers, and wild dogs. Before that I only found Pacific stories in academic texts and history books. Another poet who has influenced me is Michael Dom, whose passion and candour has helped me understand and embrace my poetry. He can be a blunt bugger but he’s honest, and I prefer blunt over polite and indifferent. Being Samoan and growing up in New Zealand, I have had the greatest pleasure in hearing Samoan and Maori orators use poetry in their speeches. In that respect, my father, Mau’u Lopeti, was my first influential poet.
One of the elements I enjoy about poetry is the efficiency of it. That with only a few words much can be expressed.
As a communications and media professional you have travelled globally and had the opportunity to mix with creative people of different cultures. How relevant is poetry today and what has been your experience when sharing your poems? In my work, I often have opportunities to speak in front of large audiences. But often I am not given very long to speak about complex topics. So, I started writing and reciting poetry for these fora. When I recite a poem, that poem is authentic, it’s real, it’s not part of some marketing spiel. I also try to incorporate local languages in these poems. These poems then become a point of connection for the audience and for me. One thing I notice is that people remember me and remember the poem, which is a pretty great thing when you are trying to make an impression.
You are familiar with some PNG writing through the Crocodile Prize and PNG Attitude. What comments can you make about writing you've read in each of the three major genres, fiction, essay and poem?
Two things I note in the writings I've read from The Crocodile Prize and PNG Attitude are earnestness and tenacity. PNG writers have taken on the mantle of holding the government accountable, holding community leadership accountable. Through poetry, through essays and fictional works, writers are holding up a mirror to life in Papua New Guinea. I think these are incredibly important responsibilities in the literary sector. I also have read some of the best descriptions of the natural world in PNG poems. Another aspect in the sector I am a bit envious of is unshackled freedom of who gets to publish. In New Zealand, publishing is still dominated by mainstream publishing businesses. The result of that is that sometimes they may look at someone like me, a Samoan female poet and say, oh we have enough of those. So, we can be left on the other side of the gate and what I like is that within Papua New Guinea, there is no gate. That's freaking awesome.
What are three points of advice you would give someone wanting to write a poem or poetry and become a poet?
My three pointers;
The poem must be independent of the poet. It is its own offering and the quality of it is all contained within the poem. And so, in some ways you know, awards be damned. Acclaim be damned. It’s really about the poem.
Write for writing’s sake. Figure out what’s your best time, your best environment to write. Writing is a creative pursuit, a pursuit that requires practice. And so, I would say just write, and remember the joy of writing. Hold on to that joy.
Write about what you know, what you have lived, what you have observed.
I see youFor Mama Daisy Meko Samuel
I see you mother with no husband
I see your born son
I see your grown son
I see you provider
I see you humble
I see you kiss goodbye
I see you in Berlin
I see you adopt a daughter
I see her a new sister
I see you destroyed
I see you rebuild
I see you guardian
I see you Bena
I see you Napamogona
I see you Mama Daisy
I see my late husband
I see me and us
You are my eyes
Artists have always played an important role in societies, both traditional and modern. The works of one kind of artist are collectively known as literature. Every society, culture, country has its own literary tradition and its own collection of literature. Thus, we can speak and read of American Literature, English Literature, Australian Literature or Papua New Guinean Literature. Perhaps, the significance of literature in a society can be grasped from the fact that there has never been a society without a literary tradition, whether oral or written. The world is created by the writer, based on his/her experiences and observations of the real world that he/she lives in. Thus, this paper surveys the important years in PNG history within the realm of literature and its growth, and some of the early publications by Papua New Guinean writers.
Papua New Guinea Literature is diverse as much as the cultures and traditions of the country. Stephan Bernard Minol once described PNG literature as “Truth- Telling, Myth-Making, and Mauswara.” The description obviously highlights the point that our stories tell a proper, all-encompassing national story. It is also shown that PNG writer’s had reasons to write. They aimed to search for identity and is embedded in many of the themes in the stories that have been written down today.
Before independence, Papua New Guinea (PNG) was a colony to few European countries and was once owned and ruled by Australian. Prior to the sudden excessive flooding of explorers, traders, missionaries, administrative officers and entrepreneurs, there was little indication of the feelings and response of the Papua New Guinean indigenous towards the colonization they experienced in relation to literature and cultures. Thus, they remained silent with not knowing where to expose the bias of the European discourse.
The successful journey of Papua New Guinean writers emerged with the establishment of the University of Papua New Guinea (1964) with creative writing course being offered and considered an academic subject as well as the arrival of Ulli Beier as the creative patron professor. In the development of the indigenous contemporary literature, Beier played a significant role in encouraging and motivating the Papua New Guinean writers and making their work publishable and available to the public.
Birth of PNG Writers
Between the 1968 and 1973, indigenous writers emerged as a political weapon in protest against the imperial powers’ colonization and injustice treatment. There are actually other books written by Papua New Guinean writers and most of them used metaphors in their writing to illustrate and compare the anticolonial sentiments and bias given by their colonizers and even to raise their voices in protest against the unfair treatments from the Australian Colonization.
The forthcoming of the first writers was led by Albert Maori Kiki (AMK), who emerged as the PNG’s own path breaker to the indigenous literature. In bringing his biography to publication, AMK was assisted and encouraged by UIIi Beier, a catalyst in the development of contemporary indigenous who arrived in PNG in 1967 and played a significant role in encouraging and assisting young Png Writers to make their work publishable. Albert Maori Kiki’s autobiography (Ten thousand years in a life time, 1968) eventually, gives rise to the birth of indigenous writers. Albert Maori Kiki’s autobiography in its simplest and directive form revealed something about an indigenous Papuan boy born to a traditional lifestyle and was brought into the world of the whites and a record also on the record of disappearing traditional culture and a commentary on a colonial regime.
Another milestone for PNG in the realm of literature in the late 1970 was the publication of a well-written and pleasant novel ‘Crocodile’ by Vincent Eri. In its political content, the novel simply demonstrates the clash of cultures in which the PNG indigenous was manipulated and mislead by the white men as superior and indigenous as inferior
Most of the PNG writers emerged from The University of Papua New Guinea (first graduates, 1970). Upng has been a training ground and the environment to indigenous writers. Some of the writers came from other schools like Goroka Teachers College and the 4 national high schools (Kerevat, Sogeri, Passam and Pomnaths) along with few public servants and others.
In much of the indigenous writings, most of them aimed at the search for their identities and expose the bias colonization of the colonizers. For example, ‘Wait Dok na Black Dog’ by Leo Saulep, with its light but telling thrust at Australian colonialism. There are other poems that mocked the Australian colonialism that are featured in Kovave and other indigenous published books.
The growth of PNG literature at a more populist level, had had some counterpart in the presentation of the three notable Pidgin/English national newspaper: Pangu Nius (first issue, Apriln1970), Bougainville Nius (first issue, 1970) and Wantok (published by Wirui Press [catholic mission], first issue, August 1970). These national newspaper acts as means of people to express their opinions via letters to the editor and are geared to the local audience.
New Guinea journal of literature (Kovave) and other publications
Just a year after Kiki’s autobiography was published by Cheshirebin in 1968, a journal of New Guinea literature known as ‘ Kovave’ appeared in 1969 under the editorship of Ulli and was published by Jacaranda Press alongside the New Guinea Cultural center of the UPNG. The kovave journal was a collection of creative writings written in both English and Pidgin, traditional folk tales, poetry being translated, as well as few literary criticism and notes on traditional art. The first four series featured in the journal have included stories by PNG’s own writers namely; Vincent Eri, John Kadiba, Kumalau Tawali, Peter Lus, Wairu Degoba, John Waiko, as well as the cook islander Marjorie Crocombe, Maurice Thompson and Lazarus Lami Lami. Poems featured in the journal are written by Pokwari Kale, Tawali, Allan Natachee and the Indian Chakravarthi; plays by Leo Hanneth, Waiko, Rabbie Namaliu, and Arthur Jawodimbari. As well as traditional translations of folklore and poems by Maori Kiki, Don Laycock and others, and a critique of the poetry of Natachee- the first Papuan poet ever to get into print-by Beier (Kovave ceased publication in 1947).
Besides, Kovave there are several other book being published that are educational, inspirational and entertaining that were published by the Kristen Press in Madang by Papua New Guineans along with creative writing center courses and workshops for writers, translators and editors. The Bureau of Literature assisted with the publication of a low-cost quarterly New Guinea Writing as well as organizing residential creative writing courses and has sponsored literary competitions.
Papua New Guinea Literature acts as a forum for reflection on world and even domestic from the stand point of PNG. Through PNG literature, we have the gift of the written word and the privilege of being free. We can reflect on our ancient past and the modern life. We can have responsibility to ourselves and to the world to bring to the world the treasure of our civilization. For far too long we have known ourselves through books written by others.
It is a sadden truth that PNG literature are dying out in the recent era because of the failure of not publishing them and also Papua New Guineans have been lazy to write their thoughts and perspectives on specific areas as well as their own country. It is vital for PNG writers to write or record something worth readable of their traditional cultures before they fall apart, because there is no doubt that Papua New Guineans will greatly benefit from this, especially the upcoming generations of our country. Additionally, we can marvel at the wonderful rich writing which was signaled a time for renaissance in PNG literature, which had been on the brink of collapse. It is of significant that our oral literature and culture must be preserved or we watch it die in the next 20 years.
I pay tribute to PNG’s writers who have taken up the noble profession of writing and to expose and portray truest writing of PNG’s culture and to out an end to the misconception and misinterpretation of the outside world to PNG. What an encouragement this was and will be for the upcoming writers of PNG to follow in the footsteps and to keep promoting PNG indigenous literature. It made a more noble profession for upcoming PNG writers starting from small traditional stories and folktales to bigger achievements on the field of literature. It is hoped that through forum such as Ples Singsing, Papua New Guineans will be honestly presented and exposed to other foreign countries as well as Melanesian countries.
“Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i’s captivating debut poetry collection is a waka to enter; sit and take in the vista of her world and the world of the greatest moana on the planet. Here is a waka to shelter in, to feel the roll and swell of aroha and grief, joy and the many people – from both land and sky – who inhabit this vessel. My Grandfather is a Canoe pulses with rhythms of the Pacific: story and song, laughter and tears, drumbeat and heartbeat” — TUSIATA AVIA
My Grandfather is a Canoe, by Faumuina Felolini Maria Tafuna’i, published by Flying Geese Productions, June 4 2021, available at Flying Geese Productions
There is a lot of humour and wit in these poems which happens from a very much peopled intelligence. The basic building blocks of these poems are often in the imaginative use of the mundane and the unremarkable, the simple moments which sound the depth of a character, an experience, or an emotion. The picture they provide is vivid, sharp and contrasted.
The collection is illuminated by the sparkles of light and flashes of insight made in personal sketches. A perfect example is Miss Kat. “She came in the cat door / A small opening / Of friendship / On an island / Where portions / Are the size of small pigs”. And enjoying that is having read half the poem in the opening. The other half seals the poem in a solid box of understanding on which you may sit and contemplate the cat doors in your own life.
Faumuina’s easy reading smooth flowing prose is often hooked and barbed, twisted and bent at odd angles, making the poetic statement in its quirkiness. These pieces can reel you in like a Red Perch, with the bait caught in your gills. “Pedicure me and give me insoles / For I am an urban-footed Samoan / My feet have no purchase / On volcanic remains / Nor beaches strewn with coral”.
But the hands of this angler are gentle and kind, generous and loving with the sunshine bold strength of an aislan meri, who can write of a friend, “She is daughter, wife, mother / All things woman and all things Samoan”. Of a son, “To know what good love feels like / It should challenge him / Support him, keep him vulnerable”. And of a lover, “I want love that is truth / Cutting deep to who I am / Revealing the inner woman / Then puts me back together again”.
Ever the aislan meri, Faumuina has a strong sense of her selevah as a Pasefik islander and of our ancient history, our rich culture and the possible future, rocked by the waves of modern age challenges. As she writes in If I could be so lucky, “You should leave. Leave NOW! / And find a rental unit, / In a thriving developed nation / In a street where people can’t pronounce your name / Go from being the holder of an ancestral name / To becoming Frank or Terry or Rita / And your grandchildren / Will be left to wave a flag that knows no home soil”.
This collection of poems offers a pathway to negotiate our outrigger canoes, by using the ancient art and skill of Wayfinding.
Coming soon…: an interview with the wayfinding poetess
‘Hurry up, come on lets go!’I heard my big brother Angna, screaming on top of his lungs ordering, everyone to get of of the house.
‘Were coming’ my cousins and I responded, as we all ran out the house, with our bag of clothes and a bilum of roasted kaukaus.
The blazing midday sun was directly over our heads, relentlessly shining bright yellow lights on the ground as we walked out of the house. The blue sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds that drifted lazily in the breeze, as the roads shimmer in the heat of the tropical midday sun.
My family and I had just arrived in to the village yesterday afternoon, to spend the Christmas Holidays with our family from my mothers side. I always liked coming to the village, especially during Christmas, as it certainly the Best Time of the Year! Christmas is no doubt the best time of the year, because that is the time I usually had the most fun, usually because there no school and no rules. This year was no exception, more so this year was more exciting because my family had not been to my Mum’s village for the last five years. And we had just arrived in the village yesterday, for a family reunion, and I was looking forward for the many adventures I was going to have in the village.
At around 11am this morning, my parents, my uncles and aunties had left my siblings, my cousins and I at village and went to do some shopping. The nearest town was about an hour drive from the village, and they went to do the shopping for Fridays Reunion Program, which was three days away. Before they left, we asked them several times if it was okay for us to go to the river.
‘We just arrived yesterday, after a long five years and its not safe to go to the river yet!’ my mother snapped at us, in her high-pitch voice as she pointed directly at me and my siblings with her long sharp finger.
‘How could it, not be safe?’ I wondered to myself, starring blanking back at her. ‘There’s no tribal fights going on, and the river is mostly filled with kids playing and having fun’
‘And don’t you all dare taking Mani to the river!’ she added, pointing to my four year old younger brother, playing in the corner.
‘Why not?’ Nhol, one of my cousins asked
‘Because I said so’ my mother replied, shaking her head at Nhol, looking at him like his question was the most stupidest question she ever heard in her life.
Then she turned around and looked at all of us from head to toes, paused for a second and stared us down with death stare. Her stare was so cold and sharp, it was like a pointy dagger piercing through our souls and murdering our hope of going to the river today. She just stood there like a disciplinary teacher at school, scanning us with her deadly and authoritative glare getting ready to punch somebody’s tooth out, if they dare to ask her another stupid question.
‘Lets go!’ my father called out from his car, tooting his horn loud enough for the whole village to hear.
‘I am coming!’ My mum yelled back as she grabbed her bilum from the chair, walked out of the house, and ran to my dad waiting for her in the car.
‘We’ll see you in the afternoon’ my Mum said, her anger disappeared from her face as she cheerfully waved goodbye to us, as they drove away.
We all stood there in front of the veranda, smiling back at them and waving goodbye looking like good obedient children.
‘Well who wants to go to the river? Ally asked, as soon as my parents car was out of out sight.
‘Me! Me!’ everybody loudly screamed, and shoot their hands-up to the sky.
‘Wait! lets do our chores first!’Angna announced to about 13 of us siblings and cousins standing next to each other. ‘And I’ll be the one to decide if we should go to the river’ he added
Angna is the eldest sibling in my family and he is also the eldest brother among my cousins. He is the first grandson to my grandparents, and the first nephew to my uncles and aunties. Since he is the eldest, everybody usually puts him in charge when there are no adult around, so today he was put in charge of looking after the children.
And let me get this straight, being in charge is completely different from baby-sitting. I think Angna enjoy his temporary position a little to much, because as soon as the adults are out of the house, he thinks he is the Commander in an army and starts ordering people around to do things.
He wanted us to do our chores first so he stood straight and tall in front us, his hands folded under his chest as he starts shooting orders at us.
‘Hey, you fetch some water from the drum, and wash the dishes’ he ordered some of my cousins ‘Do your job properly, I want the dishes to be spotless and sparkling from a mile away!’
‘And you people, chop some woods’ he added, pointing to my cousins brothers
‘And you broom the house, wipe the windows and mob the floor!’ he said, continuously shouting orders.
Everybody listened to him, without question and started doing the chores allocated to them. I was busy helping out with the chores when he screamed.
‘Ginna bring me a glass of water,’ I annoyingly turned around to see him, noticing that there was a bottle of water on the table next to him.
‘There is a container of water next to you, get it yourself!’ I replied, shaking my head in disapproval and rolling my eyes at him.
‘Soldier, I said I want my glass of water in the next second, or your not going to the river with us!’ he angrily ordered as he stood stationary at where he was positioned.
I ran as fast as I would, grabbed a glass of water and brought it to him, because I did not like the idea of getting left behind.
‘Here you go Sir!’ I said in a nice, sweet voice and a full smile, as I gave him the glass of water
‘Now drop down and give me twenty, for being so disrespecting to me before!’ he ordered
‘Arr! I hate that guy!’ I though to my self as I dropped down to do my twenty pushups.
I did not want to argue with him, because he might order me to do another 20 more push-ups or he will make me stay at home, while they will be going to the river, so I just obeyed him. I quickly did my push-ups, while my cousins were laughing at me and went back to complete my chores.
After, we were done with our chores, we went to our rooms, got our clothes and towels and walked out of the house, wanting to go to the river.
‘You all know that, we’re not suppose to go to the river!’ Angna teasingly said, walking around the house inspecting the chores we have just done.
When we heard that, we were all mad that he made us do our chores and now we are not going to the river. Our faces suddenly turned sad, like a dull gloomy day, and the rainstorms from our eyes were ready to poured down in vain and watered our cheeks any second now.
‘Wsshh! We’ll be bored to death if we just say here the whole day!’ Mani, my little brother and the youngest in the group exclaimed in frustration.
‘I have never seen Larr River before, I wanna go!’ he bagged Angna, as his cute chubby cheeks burned up in red from anger.
‘You know we can quickly go to the river, have a swim and come back!’ one of my younger cousin suggested looking at Angna with sad puppy eyes, hoping for a good response.
‘Yeah we should do that!’ everybody wholeheartedly agreed, bagging Angna to approve of the idea.
There was a long silent pause, and then Angna finally responded ‘Well I guess, a quick swim wouldn’t hurt’ he said smiling at us.
‘Yay!’ everybody screamed and jumped for joy, their tears instantly disappeared from their eyes, and happiness lightened up their faces.
‘And you all Promise, you wont say a word about us going to the river if our parents asked’ he questioned us.
‘We promise!’ everyone excitedly cried out in unison as we grabbed our bags and towels from the ground.
‘Hey where are you all going? We heard our grandfather Pap, called out to us from his little hut, in his clam quite voice.
My grandfather usually goes to his garden very early in the morning and comes back at 1pm or 2pm. We thought he was not at home and we wanted to sneak off to the river, but he must have gotten home early.
‘We are going to Uncle Nain place’ Angna lied, nervously biting his lip and holding his breath, as we all looked to Pap’s hut, anxiously waiting for his response. We looked to his hut and saw white cloudy smoke slowly raising up from the grass roof of his hut, and heard him putting his teapot on the fire.
‘Okay, but make sure to be home, before your parents come!’ he replied
‘Yes we will’ everybody cheerfully screamed, as we run towards the dirt road leading to the river.
When we arrived at the river, it was almost full. There were kids running here and there, some sleeping on the big rocks on the river banks, trying to get themselves warm after spending hours in the river. Some were playing tags and some were splashing and playfully fought with each other in the river. There were screaming and shouting and you can hear the sound of joy in their voices, filling up the atmosphere. At the river bank, there were a several mothers doing their laundries, while others were washing the dirt from sweet-potato they have just harvested from their gardens.
When we saw how fun the river was everybody quickly left their bags at the river bank, and dove straight into the river. I did not know how to swim, so I left my bag of clothes at the side and went swimming in the shallow area of the river.
‘Hey Ginna, its your turn to ride!’ my cousins yelled at me after a while in the river, holding up the black tire inner tube.
‘I don’t want to!’ I replied ‘Somebody can go ahead’
‘It’ll be fun!’ my brothers insisted ‘The river’s not that deep, you’ll not drown’
But I just sat there, a little hesitant with the thought. After a few minutes of considering the idea, I decided to go for a ride on the tube.
‘I want to try” I said to my cousins, as they gave me the tube.
I nervously jumped into the tube, and my cousins pushed me into the river. The tube slowly moved away from the shallow waters, and I was now in the deep area of the river. The rushing waters of the river rocked me back and forth and suddenly my hand slip and the tube overturned, leaving me hopeless as I feel straight into the deep.
‘Oh No!’ ‘Today will be the day I die’ I thought to myself as I was being pulled under the pressure of the rushing river.
I tried to swim but shore, but could not. “Where is everyone? Do they even saw me falling into the deep?’ I asked myself ‘I should have been rescued by now’ those seconds felt like an eternity and my lungs were running out of breath.
I was quickly falling into the bottom of the river, and I knew this was my last breath, so I started saying my last prayer. Suddenly I felt a cold hand grabbing me by the my wrist and pulling me out of the water. I slowly opened my eyes, panting and shivering with shock and realized that it was Angna. He had a big grin on his face, and was trying to hold back a giggle as he took me to the bank of the river. I quietly sat on a rock and saw all my brothers, sisters and cousins laughing their hearts out at the fact that I almost drowned, and some started teasing me.
I just sat there, hardly being bothered by their teasing or laughter. I was just glad that I did not die today. I sat on the rock shaking from the cold and the shock from almost drowning so I turned to my right to get a better feel of the suns ray on my soaking wet body. When I turned around, I saw Mani running towards a lady about 10foot away from me. She had her back towards the river and her face facing the thick green forest next to the river bank. She held out her hand waiting for Mani to come to her. She wore an unusual white gown fully covering her body and a hood of the gown loosely hanging off from her shoulders.
‘Mani?’ I yelled, but he did not seem to hear me. He kept running to that lady and hold her hand as they walked towards the forest.
‘Mani? Wait!’ I yelled at him, getting up from the rock I was sitting on and ran after them. My heart was pounding in my chest and I took off running like ‘Flash’ to get my little brother from this weird looking stranger.
‘Ginna? Where you going? Wait up!’ I heard my cousins screamed after me, but I kept running. The thought of losing Mani was overwhelming my heart was beating faster and faster and I started crying. I could see my world falling and crushing hard on the ground, somehow turning into an isolated desert somewhere in a vast empty land.
‘I’d rather die, than loose my little brother!’ I said to myself, as I kept running
When I turned the corner to reach them, I saw Mani and the stranger disappeared into the tress.
‘Noooooo!’ I screamed my heart out at him, sobbing uncontrollably.
‘Hey what is wrong with you!?’ I heard my cousin sister Tyna confusingly asked, as she grabbed my hand and pulled me back from going into the forest
‘She took Mani!’ I replied, tears freely running down from my face, wiggling my hand around trying to let go off her grip so I can run after Mani.
‘Who Mani?’ she asked sounding more puzzled ‘Mani is right there, playing in the river?
I was surprised at what she had just said, I stopped sobbing and quickly turned around. I looked up the river to where my cousins where playing and saw Mani laughing and playing with the other kids.
‘Oh Mani’ I said crying feeling relived that he is still here. I ran to him, pulled him out of the river and hugged him with my life.
‘You okay?’ my brothers and cousins asked, looking confusingly at each other, as they gather around Mani and me.
‘I thought I lost you!’ I said looking at Mani and hugging him again and again, and wiping tears from my face.
Mani confusingly looked at me, wondering why I was crying and hugging him. He did not seem to be bothered by my concern for him, and was trying to wiggle out of my hands and go back to the the river.
‘She thought she saw someone taking Mani, that’s why she wanted to run into the forest’ Tyna answered my brothers question and pointed to the spot I thought I saw Mani going into.
‘Whoa!’ Everyone gasped in surprised, some shocked and some scared by that thought
‘Let me go, let me go!’ Mani screamed into my ear, as he managed to unlock my strong grip around his little body, pushed me aside and ran back into the river.
‘You should just go home and get some rest’ my brothers instructed, and went back for a swim in the river. They all seemed unbothered by my heart-wrenching experience.
‘It has been a rough day for you’ I head some of my idiotic cousins commented sarcastically and quietly giggle as they ran back and joined the other kids playing in the river.
‘Yeah I guess I need some rest!’ I quietly said in agreement with my brothers and cousins, as I stood up from the rock I was sitting on.
As soon I stood up, I suddenly felt the hand of tiredness and exhaustion creeping up on me, like a thief and stole my excitement of playing in the river. I weakly crumbled to the ground, picked up my towel and walked back to home in my wet clothes. When I got home, I changed into some dry clothes went into my room and straight to bed, sleeping peacefully like a child.
‘Ginna! Ginna! Wake up!’ I got startled and woken up by one of my cousins ‘It’s Mani, I think something is wrong with him’
I quickly got out of bed and I checked the time on my phone, it was almost 8pm. I got out of my bed and followed my cousin sister to Paps house, rubbing my eyes trying to shake off the sleep still clinging on to me. When we got outside, I saw that night have already fallen, and I have slept thought the afternoon and missed dinner.
We walked into Pap’s house and I noticed all my siblings and cousins quietly sitting in a circle around the fire place. The house was oddly quiet and the silence was defending. I confusingly looked at them, wondering what was wrong with them and notice that their faces was filled with terror.
‘Ginna I heard what happened at the river!’ Pap said, walking out of his room ‘Aillim have taken the spirit of your brother’
‘What?’ I confusingly asked ‘What is going on! where is Mani?’
‘He is my room, with your grandmother’ he replied comfortingly ‘But he had not been able to talk and move his body since he got back from the river’ He added as he sat in the circle with my siblings and cousins.
I heard Mani crying out in pain and I wanted to check if he was okay, but Pap looked at me and instructed me to sit down, as I took my seat and he started talking.
‘Mani’s spirit has been taken by the Spirit at the river, so Ginna and I will go to the river to bring him back’ he said across looking to me.
Everybody’s jaws dropped down to the floor in shock and we all sat sill, looking like lifeless sculptures on an sculptors canvas, puzzled at what grandpa had just said. We all were aware of the stories that our elders used to tell us, growing up. We would sit around the fire place, close to our parents and fighting off the cold hugs of the highlands winds. As our elders would tells us of the many legends of the land, and one of the many legends told was the story ‘Aillim’.
Aillim was the daughter of the first Chief who lived in the village a very long, long time ago, and she was the most beautiful young women in the village. When she got married, her husband built them a very big house next to the river. She was kind and generous and everyone in the village adored her. As time goes by, she was not able to bore any children to his husband so her husband left her. He quickly got married to another women, and the people in the village started despising her. She become so unhappy and would cry herself to bed every night and would burn or cut herself to let out the pain she was feeling inside. One day she finally had enough of the pain and hurt so he drowned herself in the river and died.
Legend has it that her Spirit still lives in the river and walks around the river banks to take little children. So whenever, children are done washing or playing in the river, they walk up to the a hill looking down on the river, and they would called out to their spirits at the river, saying that its time to go home now. If they do not call out to their spirits at the river, Aillim will take hold of their spirit to be her children and their body will crumble to death at Mid-night. I have always heard that stories, but I never thought it was true. I thought it was some made up stores, our elder tell us over the fireplace to keep us away from the river.
‘We tell you these stories not to frighten you, but to protect you and help you uphold the values of our tradition and culture’ Pap’s said, reminding us of the importance of our tradition and cultures.
After reminding us of the importance of doing the things tradition has taught us. Pap instructed Angna and 3 of my cousin brothers to chopped 3 bamboo tubes behind his house and to get 10 hens from the chicken cop, to use it as a ritual to bring back Mani’s spirit.
‘Okay Ginna lets go” Pap said, as he took the the three bamboo tubes my brothers and cousins jot and put the ten hens into a bag, and gave me it to carry.
‘The rest of you, don’t go to your houses!’ he said, looking at the group of kids standing in front of him ‘I need you all to stay in my house, until we come back!’ ‘Okay’ everybody said and ran into his house.
It was around 9pm, the air felt cold and damp on my skin, as I lifted the chicken bag and put it on my head, to carry it. I heard the tiny insects loudly singing their night ritual songs, calling sleep to come fill the land. I suddenly felt the grip of fear filling my being and making me a little hesitant to make this journey.
‘From this moment on, you will not speak or ask any question’ Pap instructed ‘I know you are scared, but just do everything I said and we will bring Mani back’ He added as he starting walking towards the dirt road leading to the river.
Before we went to the river he made a quick stop at a small creek. The cheek has a small fountain of water coming out from pieces of rocks, and that water is usually used for drinking and cooking. I was following Pap, shivering form the nights cold and wanted to ask why we are at the creek but it seem as though I have somehow lost my voice. So I just stood there looking at him, chanting some soft but eerily scary traditional ritual songs, while fetching the water into one of the bamboo tubes. He then pulled out a long green leave from his old bilum and tie it around the opening of the bamboo tube. After he was done wrapping the leave around the bamboo, he started walking to the river. When we got to the river, it was sounded awfully quiet, without the joyful screaming of children. The only sound was the loud roaring of rushing water crushing against each other, and flowing sharply down its path. It sounded loud, insistent and intrusive and I was caught off guard, instantly felling anxious and scared.
‘Put the bag here’ Pap said, to me as I took the chicken bag off my I head and put it on the ground. I stood there looking at him, as he searches through his bilum and pulled out, something looking like a dried-up plant leaf.
‘Eat this!’ he said, lifting my chin with his hand, to open my mouth.
I slowly and hesitantly opened my mouth as he placed the dried leaf in my mouth. The leave instantly dissolved on my tongue, like an ice-cube left out in the sun. It was bitter and tasted horrible, I wanted to spit in out but my mouth would not allow me. I uncomfortably stood next to grandpa making all kinds of faces and unwillingly swallowed the horrible taste of that leaf.
‘Now help me help kill these chicken’ Pap ordered, as he finished building a small alter with rock on the bank of the river.
I nodded my head and quickly went to help him. I held the wings and the legs of the chicken, and he held the head with one hand, chopped the chickens head off with his other hand.
‘Bring me the empty bamboo’ he said pointing to the bamboo tube.
I walked behind him got the bamboo tube and gave it to him. He was singing and chanting ritual songs as he collected the blood of the chicken into the bamboo tube.
After we have killed all the chicken, he placed it in an orderly manner on the stone alter.
‘This is for you to take and make a trade’ he said handing me the three bamboo tubes. ‘The first bamboo is chicken blood and the second has a mixture of secret dried leaves, spice and perfumed leaves, and some traditional salt’ he added
‘When you find Mani, take him and leave these two bamboo at the place you find him’ he instructed ‘The last bamboo is water, when you find Mani, have him to drink some and some for yourself’
I stood there listening to his instruction without saying a word. The full moon was high up in the sky and cast a bright light on us, lighting up the river banks like a spotlight standing in a football stadium. I looked up to the rive and saw Mani sitting on a the biggest rock on the other side of the river.
‘Mani!’ I called. As I ran up to the river suddenly forgetting all about Pap. I went to the shallow area of the water and started crossing the river, with the three bamboo tubes tightly wrapped around my arms.
‘Mani what are you doing!’ I called out to him. He sat on rock hugging his legs and resting his head on his knees, he somehow did not seem to see or hear me.
When I got to him, I realize that he looked so tired and exhausted. He was awake but did not have the energy to talk. When I touched his shoulder, he hands and legs dropped down and his head was just hanging down from his neck like a dead person, struggling to stay alive. I quickly left the chicken blood and the spice leaves with the traditional salt next to the rock and lifted Man’s head up, to drink the water from the bamboo tube. He seem to be asleep and also awake, like he was in between two different world and is undecided which way he should go to. He was weak and struggled to keep himself awake as took a sip of water from the bamboo tube I was holding.
‘We are going Home’ I said to him, as I drunk some water from the bamboo, picked him up from the rock and carry him. He weakly placed his lifeless hands around my neck and put his heavy head on my shoulder as I carried him cross the river. When we got to the other side I saw Pap standing a few meters away form the stone alter, getting ready to go home. When he saw us coming he turned around and started walking. He was about 8meters in front of us, so I did not bother calling him to wait for us, I just followed him and walk back home.
Mani was unusually heavy, it felt like I was carrying a hundred people at once. I was feeling thirsty and constantly running out of breath, so I was continuously drinking from the bamboo tube. After slowly walking up for the river and through the bushes and small hills, we finally arrived at home. When we got home, everybody was sound asleep on the floor, some sleeping comfortably on the mattress and some sleeping peacefully on the bamboo blind next to the fire. We quietly walked in and Pap instructed me to leave Mani outside his room door, so that he can take him in. I was exhausted I left Mani at Pap’s room door and walked over to where my cousin sisters were sleeping and lay down next to them, realizing that it was almost 12 mid-night.
‘Papa, where are the kids!’ I heard my Mum’s voice calling from outside, but I was too tired to wake up to see them.
‘Everyone is with me’ I heard Pap called back and walked out of his room to open the door.
‘Why is everyone here?’ I heard Mum asked ‘And did they went to the river?’
‘No they did not!’ he lied, ‘I was telling them some stories waiting for you all to come, and they fell asleep’
‘Okay then we’ll see them tomorrow’ my Mum, uncles and aunties replied, as they said good night to Pap and went on to their respective houses.
I heard Pap quietly closed the door shut and slowly walked back to his room, the dogs were peacefully sleeping outside and the whole house was so calm and quiet. I willingly let myself fell into the thick comfortable hands of the mattress on the floor. I put my head on the soft fluffy pillow, letting the anguish and anxiety of the day diminish into the distance. My eyes voluntarily closed, as I felt the warm arms of sleepiness cuddling me, with the most inviting blanket on her hand. Eventuality, I heard the hand of the wall clock move no more, as I float into the dream world, awaiting what adventures tomorrow holds for me.
Did you know, there is an estimate of over 773 million adults around the world who are illiterate? That’s not just it, United States, the most powerful and developed country in the world has an estimated 32 million American adults who are illiterate. That’s quite shocking right? Okay, now try imagine a developing country like Papua New Guinea in this big picture. Where do we stand in terms of literacy and benefiting from the digital age?
In the 21st century, literacy is a blessing taken for granted. With the changes and advancement in technology, people prefer reading information on a computer screen than reading a book. So what are the outcomes of on-screen reading compared with reading in print? Current research suggests that reading online results in lower understanding and less critical reflection. “[Print reading] is kind of like meditation — focusing our attention on something still,” (Mangen, 2020) In this changing world, we need to navigate with being able to read or write and without knowing both is going to be a barrier for us to experience and see many things life has to offer.
Literacy Day is important to everyone hence, it is good for community participation, effective communication and employment advancement. Literacy is the key to personal empowerment which gives us personal dignity and self-worth. We need literacy so that we can engage with the written word, keep up with current events, communicate effectively, and understand the issues in everyday life.
Even though, there has being some progress in improving literacy rates since the first International Literacy Day in the past fifty years, illiteracy still remains a global problem.
International Literacy Day was founded in 1965, by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It takes place once every year on September 8 to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights. Its main purpose is to raise awareness and concern for literacy problems that arise in local communities as well as globally. In 1967, the first International Literacy Day was held in government schools, and communities all around the world to participate in activities designed to focus on effective ways to end illiteracy even at a local level. International Literacy Day turned out to focus toward the literacy skills necessary to navigate digital-mediated societies.
I was born in the 1990s when computers and phones were not as influential as they are today, it was that decade when cell phones and internet started to take off. I’m thankful to have grown up reading books and writing journals. Comparing my time to today, there has being a drastic change. Looking back, I had good times compared to this century as everyone is always on their phones, people do not communicate face-to-face anymore. The abundance of technology in today’s society had increased poor performance in writing and a decrease in critical thinking. We need literacy for a human centred recovery. I remember back in primary school, we always participated in events like national book week and I loved it so much because I was interested in reading and I had a passion to write. I didn’t know about International Literacy Day until this year, however I think these important dates are no different to each other.
International Literacy Day is just as equally important as any other date set aside to remember, however in Papua New Guinea, not everyone knows about this important day and its purpose. Although schools celebrate this day, the rest of the populace does not know this day’s importance. Illiteracy is a big issue in a developing country like Papua New Guinea. The question we should ask ourselves, what should I do to educate people about this International Literacy Day?
Tell someone about ‘International Literacy Day’. Donate books you don’t need to local schools that need them the most, gift someone a book because you don’t know what it could do to the other person’s life. You don’t have to start a community lending library but you can still help your local community by teaching people how to read and write. Remember literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.
Before I start on the next episode, let me tell you the meaning of Haiveta Mori. It means Happy Girl in the Toaripi language of Gulf Province.
Haiveta was in her element, she got everything organized, her father Mr. J.P. Sarufa constructed a wooden chest to pack the bulky items like blankets and pillows, cooking pots and pans plus other utensils.
We got our travel documents like passports and visas, and did the medical checks at the Port Moresby General Hospital.
We brought back from Lae my niece Grace whose mother passed away after giving birth to her in May 1979. She was included with baby John Maiva Babul in Haiveta’s passport.
Before going to Nouméa, I had to attend a Population Census conference in East West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii from end of May to end of June.
Soon after arriving back from Hawaii, we were ready to go to Nouméa.
The new Babul family flew by Air Niugini to Brisbane airport, then boarded a Qantas flight to Nouméa.
We were picked up at the airport and taken to our new home in Nouméa.
I started working with Mr. Groeneweld, a Dutchman who was a consultant to the Pacific islands on Population studies. Joining me was a Fijian woman Ms. Vilimaina.
Haiveta wasted no time in settling in to our home, which was a two bedroom flat, upstairs with a lounge downstairs. A Solomon Islands family had the next flat.
We were pleasantly surprised to meet a Tolai wantok called Mr. Ellison Kaivovo and family, plus a Mr. Bob from Australia with his Vabukori wife with their kids. Both Ellison Kaivovo and Bob were employed by the South Pacific Commission.
Life and work at the South Pacific Commission was easy going, and the life was perfect. We had a canteen at the Commission where we obtained our food supply, and it was deducted from our monthly allowance.
Once a month, the Papua New Guinea families including Bob and his family, and our Solomon Islands wantok had a barbecue and games and we men would drink our French beers.
My eyes were pouring, my sobbing’s as loud as a giant’s and my mind’s overflowing with wild, crazy thoughts. It was as dark as your first two steps away.
Music’s at its highest, confessions to friends and family. Even the silence was revving like a racing car. It’s deafening. It was as dark as your first two steps away.
Alone with machines, balls of tears rolling down my cheeks and the loudest music is totally unheard. As hot as a boiling pot of water were my eyes sending off those hot balls of tears. I can’t even feel the heat but my head freezing! It was like meteors travelling through an enchanted space. It was as dark as your first two steps away.
Thousands of conversations going on in my mind, each one trying to be heard but they all seemed to be unnoticed. It’s so devastatingly cruel, lonely and anxious.
An opinion article on education from one perspective of youths
Why education if you can’t find yourself in colleges or university? What is an education? Why does one need knowledge to aid one’s survival? How long has the education existed on earth? Who is to be educated by whom? Where can one find education and when is it applicable?
Education is riddled with so many unanswered questions of human tragedy, the plague of illiteracy has rooted deep in our culture.
Education was rare in the recent past and only those families who have been able to achieve levels of education with the “white man” or Western life are enjoying the fruit of the education while the vast majority of the population are yet to gain the full value of education and what benefits it holds.
Sadly, the majority of our populace are still live below the average life expectancy. Poverty, sickness and associated shame has ruined our society.
We are lame to some predicaments that have become our lifestyle and continually pass the baton to the next generation.
We are preying on the next generations that we should instead raise up to take life to different level.
The helpless youngsters who should contribute meaningfully to the society are enraged with the dismal educational system which is only design to flush them aside.
The millennium that we are heading to is not a time of optimism but pessimism, despair instead of hope.
We are instilled with fears of losing our education, failing and falling behind in our educational pursuits. We fear failure more than we look forward to the education we get from the classroom.
Classroom is becoming a place of intermediation between life and death.
Fatal decision one can ever make during the first or second decade of one’s life are well chorus at the classroom.
We spend two to four years in the high school classroom only to graduate with the fear that we might not be able to continue education or finding job.
We are doomed to some unforeseen life that has reaped from society and our generation.
Since independence up to now there’s no real benefit of education in most homes in our beautiful country.
What we call a country is a ship manned by the drop-outs, the undeniable statistics that have stood test of time.
Should we allow this to continue for the next 50 years or resolve the education issues and let the dreams of our forefathers ride freely on the air?
We have had enough of this and its time our government should come up with a plan to salvage this generation and engage them into some areas that can benefit
them and the nation.
Julius hails from Menyamya in Morobe Province and is a student in Mechanical Engineering at the PNG University of Technology. He was an entrant in the Tingting Bilong Mi Essays.