Favourite titles

Favourite titles
Whether it is "Redefining literary techniques and devices", "Justifying Papua New Guinea Literature", or "Translating the Bible into Anuki", these offer valuable reading for the paperless student of literature, and indeed the best sort of literary entertainment you can get out of Papua New Guinea. Check them out either on Soaba's Storyboard or The Anuki Country Press.

Saturday, 17 May 2014


From the diary of an old villager to town:


An unsung hero not many people hear and know about. But he is one of those responsible for UPNG’s fight against the dual salary structure of the entire public service and many private firms operating in Papua New Guinea. 


He’s known simply as Joe Mangi. He comes from a region of the country, the mid Waghi Valley, where people carry Toyota land cruisers on their shoulders over boggy and muddy patches of roads and place them on dry soil for easy driving instead of the other way around…  


In the 1980s and 1990s Joe Mangi, along with the other members of the National Academic Staff Union, led the UPNG administration into agreeing to certain terms and conditions currently dictated by the Salary Monitoring Committee – that all should get equal pay for the same amount of work, such as the expatriates and the nationals. He won his case as the then President of NASA, but he would be displaced, obviously, for political reasons.


Today, public servants right across the board and across the country enjoy some of the benefits of what Joe and his colleagues had fought for – DMA, field and risk allowances, accommodation allowances, the gagging 7.5% phenomenon,  anything to get closer to bridging the gap… The fight continues. The dual salary system still exists. But those greedy scavengers within the public service itself know how to manipulate the system to fatten themselves up as individuals while the rest of the entire workforce suffers. And will continue to suffer so.


One fine day, we will all receive equal pay for the same amount of work we do. But for the moment my expatriate colleague gets thrice more than what I get even though we do the same amount of work. Come Christmas holidays and he travels in style to Vienna, to Paris, to Dubai, to Tokyo, to Toronto and Beijing or Cairo. UPNG pays all of that. And here I am, stuck in this little hole as always, not knowing where the next dough will come from for me to feed my family….


We need only thank people like Joe Mangi for taking that initial step successfully in fighting for equal pay for the same amount of work done. A long time ago, it was the women predominantly who suffered that terrible economic fate. Today, we are all in the same boat, wherever we are, in whatever country we find ourselves in...
...and here's the funny part 
A lone traveller, a kind of globe trotter, and a very, very rich one at that, comes to the Waigani Campus one day and in her capacity as academic and researcher asks for board and lodging. She is granted a room which she shares with a 4th year student in Literature. Next, she asks if she can enroll for the basic law degree, a program that runs for 4 or 5 years. UPNG checks her credentials and decides to reject her application on the grounds that she already has a PhD degree in another area.  Her English is perfect, her Spanish pretty much the same and her Japanese just as good. She appeals. UPNG still says no. Her roommate says, “Let’s go see the old villager. May be he can help.” But even the old villager’s advice to the influential hierarchy goes unheeded. So everybody gives up. And that’s that. End of the story.
Then the literature student goes to the old villager again and says, “Sir, I would like to publish a book. It’s a kind of tri-lingual affair. Would you be able to help?”
“Gladly,” said the old villager, “if that is the last straw in our so-called fruitless endeavors. Now I must wonder what UPNG was thinking when it rejected your roommate’s application for a law degree.”
Today, the book is published. Its contents appear in three languages: English, Tok Pisin and Spanish (Argentinian). It enjoys a good number of hits around the world. But that is the way of internet publications.
As for our collaborator on the book: she is happily married to a fine young man and is indeed happy in her home of origin, Japan. Ah me, oh my… if only UPNG could have some kind of foresight, even hindsight… how much that basic law degree would mean to the world, especially if it came from UPNG, the premier university in the Pacific!

Monday, 5 May 2014


From the diary of an old villager to town:

He can’t come.

We’ve sent him the invite. We emailed.

We in boxed. He read the flyers;

read the whole program head to toe.

And still he will not come.


We wonder if he dislikes us.

Or is it some kind of complex

on his part?

He just cannot come

to our meetings, to our seminars

to our workshops…

O pray, why, why, why?

Pour quoasimodo aio mama?

An ant in passing: Has it ever occurred to you that James St Nativeson, the poet, and we mean, THE poet of Papua New Guinea (pictured here and born on September 16th 1975), is always too poor to afford the bus fares to attend gatherings such as yours?

Sunday, 6 April 2014


I happened to be at Central Waigani, Friday 5th April, 2014, and what I saw there fascinated as much as intrigued me.

Fascinated because the place looked new, there were rumors it just opened up as part of that great family supermarket idea from CPL.  And intriguing because when I finally got to looking at what was inside I was taken aback somewhat by the vast selection of goodies at the groceries and, most important to me, the assortment of wines at the supermarket’s “liqueur land”.

The new building I soon discovered would become known as Waigani Central. Could that be an assumption on our part that we have a new architectural rendering and topographical landscaping arrangement bound to become known, simply, and should we say, the Graceland of Port Moresby city? Oh, but one doubts if we could be wrong there.

Over the last six months or so that I have ventured from my humble village surrounds to this part of the country’s sentiments of urbanity known as Port Moresby city, I have seen many sites and heard stories attached to each. There were stories of new buildings cropping up here and there; and there were stories of who was doing what with such and such. I tried interviewing as many as I could from the laymen up to those who claim ownership of these so-called new buildings in town. But rarely have I heard one as enchanting as the grand CPL (City Pharmacy Ltd) idea of the family supermarket.

“Ours is the ideal, sir,” a simple shop assistant would quip, handing over a cup of coffee at Bon CafĂ©. “And if you’re looking for a weekend family hide out,” a cleaner would join in, “Waigani Central might be the place to consider, sir.”

Surely the whole country has changed much over the years. And surely again each city is slowly taking up that urban idea of the metropolis in so many different forms.

But for the moment I began liking this new family supermarket idea coming from CPL. Gone are the days of BP’s, Steamships, Bank of New South Wales and related coastal trading enterprises throughout the land and its humble rural islands. Those were the days when the villager stood back and marveled at new buildings that came up or simply stood in awe whenever names such as Queen Emma of the South Seas were mentioned. But to us, all this, what we see now, seems to be beckoning us, asking us for our participation, as it were.

Here everyone is invited along, to view the range of medicinal remedies displayed, the groceries and their variety of offerings, the cinemas (space permitting, we assume), and the eateries at various sections of the new Waigani Central set up. I may get the chance to visit other centres of our country in due course. But for now CPL of Port Moresby seems to appeal as much as intrigue me somewhat.

Every new company that sets up shop in town has its principles and ideals to pursue. As ordinary as we are, and according to the climate of varying opinions of the times that we live in, we might feel, let us say, a little left out. But I doubt that would be the case with CPL. Somewhere in the not so distant future someone within the management of this vast business enterprise might say: “All right. Let’s have enough of this – this profit-making palaver and other hang-ups. Let us rather go visit schools, hospitals, sporting facilities, churches and charity homes, and share our ideals and business sentiments with them.” 


Monday, 4 November 2013



Available first semester of 2014 at the UPNG Bookshop, University of Papua New Guinea.

About the book
Scattered by the Wind remains today one of the most popular plays in Papua New Guinea. It has been produced several times by notable directors such as Peter Trist, William Takaku, Arthur Jawodimbari and Sophie Naime. The social and religious sentiments felt in this play are those of Papua New Guinea of the 1950s.

Set in the remote villages of Pem and Tototo the play deals with the theme of change and this is reflected on the lives of a traditional and religious family whose head is a simple Anglican priest, Father Ronald Keda. The focus of the play is Father Keda’s and his wife Anna’s anxiety on the effect of change on their children—Ben, James and Eulalia. Free-spirited James shuns the religious beliefs, obedient Ben follows his father’s footsteps and confused Eulalia eventually takes after James.

Looming at the background is the village of Tototo and all its norms of traditional livelihood and existence. Christian beliefs and traditional norms come into loggerheads ultimately, and what ensues is a tragedy that the parents had never imagined.

About the author

Russell Soaba was born in Tototo, Milne Bay Province, in 1950. He received his education in Papua New Guinea, Australia and the United States of America. He teaches literature at the University of Papua New Guinea.

Monday, 28 October 2013


So who gave Samarai Island the name “Dinner Island”?

 Was it Captain James Cook? Captain John Moresby? Or Captain Luis Vaez de Torres?

Captain Luis Vaez de Torres might have as he would have been among the first European explorers to sail past that island in the seventeenth century. Captain James Cook would not have had as there are no records available of his venturing anywhere near the islands of New Guinea in his time as explorer. That leaves Captain John Moresby the key figure in the speculations that he probably was the name giver.

A brief quiz was conducted through a Facebook group Alotau, Milne Bay Province with the following poser:

How well do you know your province and your history? Assuming this were a million dollar question, what would your answer be to this:

Who gave Samarai the name Dinner Island?

Was it Captain James Cook in 1779 (a)? Captain John Moresby in 1873 (b)? Or Captain Luis Vaez de Torres in 1606 (c)?
Just type a, b or c.

26 people participated in this quiz. 10 said A. 12 said B. 2 said C. 1 said “none of the above” and  1 probability.

Those who chose A were noted to be keen observers, often with a light-hearted sense of humor and most important of all, overwhelming love for their home province. They’d embraced the quiz as a worthy gesture of community service to their province. Said one of the participants in this segment of the quiz: “I love history… It’s better to learn from each other about the history of our province…” These probably depended too much on popular opinion and fable as much as oral history and further assumed that Captain Cook rhymed with Dinner Island.

Those who chose B were noted to be careful observers, somewhat scholarly types who were sure of the answer they gave. Some insisted they were right, courtesy of Google and the encyclopedias.

Those who chose C were noted to be more than keen observers but that their speculations depended on creativity such as when history gives one the opportunity to let the human imagination get carried away. They would make great historical novelists.

So eventually, and speaking officially, that is, the answer anticipated was B. It was Captain John Moresby who was recorded to have named the island “Dinner Island” in 1873.

The rest was left to speculation and the eye of that keen observer who says, “I am rather interested in what is not there.”


Sunday, 6 October 2013



A review of the film Mr. Pip


The Papua New Guinean soldier wants to know who Mr. Pip is. His men round up the villagers who are then severely interrogated. A little boy, as slow a learner as Mr. Watts is (for that is Mr. Pip’s real name), says he knows where Mr. Pip is. The boy points out a house and a white man is brought forward. The white man soon realizes the dilemma of fiction and discursive information and in the process of differentiating the two for the benefit of the soldier and his men, he, the soldier, shoots him twice on the chest, calling him a liar and a spy. His body is then dragged to the back of a house and hacked to pieces. To the soldier Mr. Pip is never that fictitious character from Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, but a master-mind controlling the BRA. The soldier’s next task is to find Mr. Charles Dickens himself and similarly execute him.  


Or so goes the story of this film, Mr. Pip.


When Lloyd Jones set out to publish the novel Mister Pip in 2006, he probably had in mind the Bougainville copper mine as not only the largest mine in the world in 1988 but also a complex multi-billion dollar corporation from which much would be expected, all at the expense of the ordinary Bougainville islander and those that came to live on that island. Schools and other government service agencies on the island were shut down, the people had nowhere to turn to but unto themselves for all possible means of survival as just a few meters next to them was a war raging between the BRA and the Papua New Guinea armed forces. But it was to the people themselves that all bruises and trauma of that war were left, with so many desolate hours of “great expectations” lying ahead of them somewhere in the distance of an unseen future. And the resultant revelation for all of that would be nothing but an abandoned crater, a hole in the ground not worth fighting for.


The journalist Sean Dorney looked at Bougainville and offered extensive reports over ABC and other media publications of atrocities on the island and for which he was threatened or deported.


But this film, Mr. Pip, needs to be understood not so much as a report on what happened on Bougainville as to its insistence on asking some of the greatest questions of literary merit since time immemorial, especially on the plight of ordinary people in extremely difficult circumstances. Miss Xzannjah Matsi and Hugh Laurie join forces to give not only Bougainville but also the whole of Papua New Guinea the best of performances since Abert Toro’s Tukana and the William Takaku-Pearce Brosnan portrayal of Man Friday. The casting was excellent and the use of organic material in the form of raw village talent deserves commendation. Who can judge between character and real life? Who can boast of who’s who in Hollywood or Bollywood but a remarkable piece of literary rendering of ordinary humanity on film, the big silver screen, like this one? There, and only then, do we hear voices of the masters, like Charles Dickens; like Mr. Watts aka Mr. Pip; and that little Buka girl that snaps out of a reverie, out of the strangeness of a long dream just to learn from the wisdom of the crabs and Mr. Dickens that home is where we all want to be and certainly not a thing to be ashamed of. Mr. Pip, the only white man in that village perishes. The other villagers, including Matilda, barely manage to escape. And when they do, there is much to look back to as reminder. In essence, the civil war was utterly senseless.


The film also carries some historical references, through dialogue, character flash backs and certain locations of filming, that trace and reflect upon those famous yet now forgotten black birding voyages of the 18th and 19th centuries. The island of Bougainville has once upon a time been a gold mine of black slavery. Not a single 19th century British novel, be it Dickens or Jane Austen, passes by us without a slight mention of slave trade whether from Africa or anywhere else such as the Pacific islands. Both the author of the novel and the film makers have been careful enough to remain faithful to their historical research data, by sparing us a little of that information. In this film, Mr. Pip, in particular, we are given the opportunity to trace those black birding voyages, when Matilda (the character Xzannjah’s portraying) makes her way from Bougainville to the Solomon Islands, to Australia and finally to Great Britain where she inherits part of a house that belongs to Mr. Pip. Matilda, of course, turns down the offer when she remembers she could not, much as she might have, save Mr. Pip from the PNG soldiers. She inherits rather a copy of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.


This is a good film. Get to see it soon. 

This review posted simultaneously by Soaba's Storyboard.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


This is the revised version of Chapter 4 of Russell Soaba's novel, FINAL ISLANDS IN THE SUN. More on this novel can be read on Soaba's Storyboard.



    Earlier at his office in Alotau, Tomwaya had obtained from the passenger for his own business records scant details on what village he was traveling to, how much that would cost, the type of transport appropriate for the trip – except, of course, asking for more information on the client’s employment, location of job, spouse, dependents, next of kin if any, and so on. He simply said fill in this form, sir, and the girls will complete the rest of the details later. He was more concerned with the thought of earning some good money that day. Aside from that, he resolved not to allow any one of his employees handle his brand new and coveted double-cab four-wheel drive in transporting the passenger from Port Moresby, except himself.

     The passenger came in the morning flight surprising those at the Numwaya Nathalie Lodge. Since the whole town would not begin conducting business until 8.00am the shuttle simply left him at the reception desk without any directions of where to go or who to see. But the man seemed to be sure where he wanted to be. Foroga and Mimi were the first to set sight on him, and rushed over thinking of a familiar face only to stop short in their tracks and smile apologetically. Then they had asked, while setting out to prepare breakfast, if he wanted to sign in. There were rooms available, there was also breakfast. The man shook his head.

    When Nathalie and Tomwaya walked over from their abode, they regarded the visitor with the same air of curiosity. Only Nathalie looked the man over a little longer and then being sure he was a total stranger proceeded to the kitchen to begin directing the girls to prepare breakfast. Tomwaya was then left to the duty of asking how he could help the visitor whereupon the man said that he needed transportation to the north coast. And that didn’t sound like a request, Tomwaya thought.

    “Good, I’ll need some forms filled in then… if you don’t mind,” he said instead.

    The man nodded with a slight sniff and followed Tomwaya to his office where a form was given him to look over. Tomwaya then explained the necessity of the forms and left to help with breakfast for the guests of the lodge.

    A while later and as breakfast progressed at the lodge, with chores of the day carefully planned out and each worker assigned a duty, Tomwaya still wondered about the visitor from the city. Some gnat was buzzing around his head, hard to snap at. Finally, he turned to his wife and announced he would be taking the man to the north coast or wherever it was that he wanted to go.

    “There’s five hundred secured,” he said, in a tone that made Nathalie know he was asking for permission to travel that way.

     “I keep my side of the business neat and tidy, my good husband,” she said after a moment of reflection, and her husband heard the crunch of burnt toast in her mouth.

      “Trust me, nothing will go wrong,” he said reassuringly. “He looks like a good customer. Just worry about our guests and the trip to Samarai.”

      Nathalie was not convinced. She had her eyes narrowed at Tomwaya. She had warned him then of whom he chose to transport across the rough terrain from Alotau to the Raba Raba district, including the dreaded Cape Vogel area. Hadn’t he noticed, she went on, they had to let Pomio Queen remain at anchor out at the bay for two hours while the police went through each passenger’s baggage checking for drugs, evidence of arms smuggling, black market liquor and so on. There were rumors going on as well that people from Baniara within Cape Vogel itself were now sporting strange connections with certain religious sects throughout the country, hadn’t he heard? He should be more careful with whom he was dealing. And anyhow, she concluded, you can’t trust these Baniaras. The Deputy Governor of the Milne Bay Province is from Baniara, mind you.

“And you, my dear, are also from Baniara, let us not forget,” said Tomwaya with a smile.

     “I know... and so my concern for your welfare and our business. So listen to me, my good husband. I am serious. You must know your customers well. You must be selective. Think of all those good clients you always have, who pay ready money and without complications – the government ministers, the public servants, the landowners, the academics, the researchers, the lot. Why this one? How can you possibly trust him? ”
     “Nathalie, he looks trustworthy enough. I mean, look at him. He looks… well, imposing, a bit pompous to say the least but, believe me, he would be that sort of character not to stand on other people’s toes. When I talked to him briefly I felt that of him. He would be that kind of man. Too old to be travelling, too grey, a little bent, but gold enough, that’s for sure. He could even be loaded with retirement money, you know - if you’re worried about prompt payments and all that. And, well…yes, there’s something oddly peculiar, something intriguingly familiar about this man – a teacher perhaps? An advisor to some important leader in ages past, perhaps? A professor, even, a millionaire pretending to be poor, or a retired colonel, perhaps? ”

      “You are so sure of yourself in your judgment of character, Tomwaya,” said Nathalie, taking another nab at the overdone toast then swallowing hard at her tea to wash the crust down. “You just talked to him briefly and now listen to yourself go. The next thing you’ll be telling me is that this man, this total stranger standing over there, looks like my dead uncle.”

     Tomwaya almost choked sipping his tea.

     “And which uncle might that be?”

     “The poet.”

     “Ah, that one…yes,” said Tomwaya and appeared thoughtful for a moment.

     He had decided not to argue with his wife any more. But she let him take the north coast road with the passenger.

     Now, as Tomwaya looked at his passenger slumbering away beside him in the double cab four-wheel drive, it occurred to him that his wife could have been speaking sense after all. Did he know his client’s name? All he did was ask the city traveler to fill in the required forms “and leave the rest to the girls” without taking the trouble to check what was written there. Now he just did not know who his passenger was, least of all memorize his name if he had to.