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.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

What's new at The Anuki Country Press

We welcome comments at this blog. It is a forum through which you can discuss things concerning the Anuki people of the Milne Bay Province. Recently it was learned that the Bible has been translated into the Anuki language and that the Anuki people are preparing to go to the launching in June or August this year. If you have learned anything new about this launching then do let us know at The Anuki Country Press. Your opinion matters a lot to us. We look forward to hearing from you.

You can also send comments on PNG literature and PNG writers. Anything we are not aware of let us know.

Also keep an eye out for Soaba's Storyboard which appears Fridays in the The National Weekender. Good stuff to read, especially for the student of literature, cultural studies and other disciplines not far removed from the world of literature, the arts and social sciences.

The Anuki Bible launching noted above took place in July of this year. An article has been written about it and that seems to be a popular read on this blog.

This is an older posting but since it is oft visited by our viewers we might as well use it as our bulletin board.

Were the Kaiwatra mines a myth or legend? Something akin to H.R. Haggard's King Solomon's Mines? Or was it an historical kind of reality that got blown away to the furthermost corners of human memory? Why was its existence so exciting yet mysterious like Papua New Guinea's other waves of cargo cult activities semblances of which were seen in the famous Vailala Madness of the Purari Delta and the Paliau Movement of Manus? Those questions the Anuki people ask today and would like to see reasonable answers. A full story of this will be presented shortly in Soaba's Storyboard of these blogs.
Photo by Vincent Kewibu, Archeology Department, University of Papua New Guinea.

Keep checking for updates from The Anuki Country Press.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Lectures for breakfast

The other day the storyboard was going through his diary for the year 2003, when he came across two entries under the title Lectures for breakfast. What made him pause and mull a little over those two entries was that they were in French and he couldn’t understand a word of what it was that he had scribbled in that language. A further check revealed that these two instances of experimental scribbling later appeared as La naissance du Chaos (The birth of chaos) and La Fête de l’Art Oratoire (The feast of oratory art) in the Tahitian literary journal, Littérama’ohi: Remées de Littérature Polynésiénne (No. 5, May 2004).

Storyboard couldn’t help feeling proud that at least some aspects of his creative writing efforts were being published and read in the francophone regions of the Pacific Ocean.

But the story behind all this was that the storyboard happened to be at a place called Poindimie, about 4 hours drive from Noumea, as a guest in a creative writing workshop especially offered for the Kanaky writers (Salon du Livre, Poindimie – 17 to 19 October 2003). It was there that he came across his former students of UPNG (1980s) and you guessed it. “Gentlemen, translate these ‘lectures’ for me, will you?” and the rest was done on the spot.

The next thing storyboard wanted was to find a publisher for these “lectures”. In that search he ended up meeting one of the wisest woman writers/editors of the Pacific region. She is none other than Madam Flora Devatine of Tautira, Tahiti. Meeting Flora for anyone can be the most humbling of experiences in a lifetime. When Flora speaks in a workshop, a seminar, a colloquium, or a heavily epistemic and mud-slinging academic symposium, everyone stops and listens. She would, in our context, be ranked among such numwaya as Alice Wedega, Carol Kidu, Josephine Abijah, Nora Vagi Brash, to name a few. In Oceania itself she ranks among such numwaya greats as Patricia Grace of New Zealand, Alexis Wright and Kath Walker of Australia, Madam Dewe Gorodé of New Caledonia, Grace Molisa of Vanuatu and Julie Sipolo of the Solomon Islands. In 1972, at about the same time Alice Wedega earned the title of Dame, Flora was appointed as one of the twenty members of the Tahitian Academy (Fare Vana’a), a highest honour indeed in Polynesia.

It was Flora then who offered to publish those two prose pieces entitled Lectures for breakfast in Litttérama’ohi, of which she is founding editor and is assisted occasionally by a close associate editor Chantal Spitz. Of the two prose pieces Flora was particularly interested in “The Feast of Oratory Art” which deals with an age-old tradition of oratory competition held in the Anuki Country and whose competitors came from Cape Vogel, Goodenough Island and surrounding areas of the Milne Bay Province. She would be, since she herself specializes in oratory, traditional knowledge systems and onomastique.

The writers’ workshop at Poindimie was not as vigorous as the colloquium observed at the University of New Caledonia, in the city itself, from 19 to 24 October 2003. Storyboard noted with sadness that none of the Kanaky participants from Poindimie was invited as a speaker in this gathering and imagined that this had a lot to do with the poetics of literature itself, meaning the sort of meeting where one hears a lot of that jargon on race, class, gender and political/religious whatever-nots. The post-colonial critic, Chakravarty Spivak, describes such gatherings as those dealing with nothing but hegemonic and epistemic violence of the highest order. We know what that means. Dr. Anita Heiss of Australia, who was also present at this colloquium, once turned to the storyboard during a session and remarked: “Hey, Uncle Russ, this is like watching rugby league; we’re merely spectators here.” In the long run most get down to the simplicity of the whole resolve by citing John Barthes with the rhetoric: “What is the teaching of literature?” to which the response is: “Literature is what we teach.”

But Flora was invited to speak at this colloquium and we can now let out that sigh of relief. What she would say would bring out the essence of what Oceanic literature is all about. It was to critically re-imagine Oceania itself. To do that one had to be non-technical and jargon-free. We can go back to the human memory itself for further consultation, since writers in the Pacific not only come from strictly oral societies but are also supposed to be an epistemological community, becoming of themselves real models of our re-thinking the epistemological reconstruction of the Pacific region. Or at least that is what the storyboard thought he had heard through a translation gadget. Others took up the argument successfully and one imagines that that left some lasting impressions on some.

Among those who listened to Flora speak were people of great importance in the arena of world literature. The list reads as follows: Professor Christina Robalo Cordeiro, Vice-Chancellor of Portugal’s oldest and most prestigious university, the University of Coimbra where she also teaches literature; Professor Sylvie André, Chancellor of the University of French Polynesia; Jean Perot, Emeritus Professor of Comparative Literature at Paris University; Professor Paul Sharrad of Wollongong University, Australia; Professor Maria Alzira Seixo, President of the International Federation of Modern Languages and Literature who also teaches at the University of Lisbon; Professor Eva Kushner, President of the International Association of Comparative Literature who also teaches at the University of Toronto, Canada; Madam Sonia Faessell of  University of New Caledonia and upon whose invitation along with Alliance francaise de Port Moresby that storyboard found himself to be there; and, oh dear, the list would go on.

But by now the delicate reader might see what the storyboard means by the remark that meeting Flora Devatine can be quite an experience, and an exceedingly humbling one at that. When she accepted Lectures for breakfast for publication in her literary journal, it meant that the reputation bilong storyboard go antap yet long Oceania. Merci bien, Flora.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Who is James St Nativeson?

The question has been asked innumerable times by people who have read the poetry of this writer. The Anuki Country Press suspects that that writer in the history of Papua New Guinea litrature would be as mysterious as M. Lovori in Albert Maori Kiki's Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime or Russell Soaba's own novel, Wanpis, in which we read of a certain Jimi Damebo writing poetry. Close enough. Steven Winduo in his book of short stories, The Unpainted Mask, mentions this poet briefly. But here are two poems attributed to James St Nativeson and which appear in the Writers Forum of the Weekender in The National newspaper of Papua New Guinea.  

King of the Mountain  

Many moons went by  
Since we heard that song 
"De king of de mountain cometh"  
And we went about our daily chores  
Oblivious to cholera and other threats  

We concentrated on what to have  
For breakfast or dinner  

Then suddenly, this note from de king himself:  
"Your bills, dear citizens: K5, 000.00, ahem;  
For de corn I gif you K3, 00.00; for de  
Peanuts, I gifs you K2, 000.00 - ahem;  
But I gifts you discount, so you pay  
Only K2, 000.00... ahem..."  

Come on, king of Moresby Mountains  
That ain't no good business.  


I am waiting  
For the bus I heard  
Would be coming round this way.  

Three miles down the road  
I see no movement  
Two miles uphill  
I see no one and no motorists  

For many hours I stood here, waiting.  
Whisper the cicadas at sunset:  
There are no buses In the Anuki Country.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Elements of surprise in poetry

 The storyboard was thinking of poetry and certain elements of surprise in poems when he walked over to the Main Lecture Theatre at UPNG last Friday, 23rd April. It was half past 12 noon and the theatre was packed to capacity. There was not even standing room for anyone to squeeze through to hear Mr. Chronox Manek speak. The best one could make out from where the storyboard stood were mumbles from the speakers in the theatre, and that made a few wonder if the nation’s watchdog had finally been muffled to the point of non-utterance.

Outside, visitors and the university community alike milled about, asking what the whole nation was coming to. Someone commented that by the following Tuesday the NRI had better think of a venue that can cater for 3,000 or more willing to participate at its proposed seminar on “Amendments  to the Leadership Code.” By close of business that Friday over 2,000 signatures were collected at the Waigani Campus alone, petitioning against the amendment.

But poetry and all its elements of surprise kept coming to the storyboard’s mind as he moved among the crowd, listening to what was being said about Manek’s visit to the campus. “Writers are the unofficial ombudsmen of society,” lamented some. Others, with some degree of vehemence: “The pen is mightier than the sword. That is what our forefathers had in mind when setting out to write the constitution. Dare we render the pen ineffective in the face of the sword whose whims are to cut down the powers of the very watchdog that alerts us of bad times ahead?”

Some comments heard were ruminative, however, such as: “The constitution makes provisions for us to create new laws complementary to it, amendments included. But if we look at it closely, it discourages us from grafting tooth and nail onto it, lest it turns around and gnash at us long before we have finished reading it.”

And yet others, “Where is that wisdom from ‘the university of Melanesia’ as propounded by the founding fathers Narokobi, Kiki, Momis and others?”

At which point the storyboard’s mind had wandered off some geographical paces, and he found himself travelling in a car at 150kph along a highway from Poindimie to Noumea in New Caledonia. It was 3.15pm, a Sunday, 19th October 2003, having left the north coast villages some minutes earlier and intent on reaching Noumea before nightfall. The driver’s skill at negotiating sharp turns at that speed kept her passengers alert throughout the journey. Her only passengers were the storyboard and a younger colleague, Anita Heiss, of Macquarie University (NSW). Anita was up front with the driver, fiddling with the knobs along the dashboard when suddenly some loud ethno-musical sounds hissed out, causing all to shift a little in their seats. Turning to the storyboard, Anita smiled and said, “Did I wake you up, uncle?” Replied the storyboard: “No, Dr. Heiss. You surprised me with poetry.”

And surprised by poetry the storyboard was. Surprised by the sort of epistemic wisdom found in most indigenous communities such as ours, the Kanaky, the Aboriginal Australians, the Maori, the Samoans, the Tahitians and the Hawaiians, the Navaho and the Hopi of America, and so on. All that poetry of surprise came through the CD that Anita was playing in the car.

For a moment the storyboard thought he had lost that poetry, as he moved around the Waigani campus last Friday. But it all came back: firstly, through recollections of Anita’s CD and secondly, through a part Aboriginal Australian part Motu Koita young woman recounting her experiences of geography and space and sense of indigenousness. It came back in the form of the latter’s extensive quote of a poem that will haunt the human senses forever: 

I will make oppression work for me
With a turn and with a twist
I will let you pass me over
Believe me stupid and ill informed
Then once you believe me gone and controlled
Will rise
And surprise you by my will.

One can locate this poem in a publication called untreated, a self-publishing venture by a group of Aboriginal Australians at various locations throughout Australia. But the closest place where this poem is available is at MAPS (Melanesian Institute of Pacific Studies) of UPNG. The poem, which is actually by the Aboriginal Australian poet Romaine Monton, is quoted in full by the Motu Koita/Aboriginal Australian, Julie Foster Smith (mentioned above), in a publication to be released shortly by MAPS called Reframing Indigenous Knowledge: Cultural Knowledge and Practices in Papua New Guinea. It is edited by Steven Winduo and runs for 146 pages or so.

Though currently in its proof-reading format, the book promises insightful reading for the researcher in Melanesian and Pacific studies and in a discipline generally referred to as traditional knowledge systems. The book is dedicated to the late Pascal Waisi, a lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Papua New Guinea. Waisi in that book discusses at length the philosophical significance of pingis, which in essence denotes epistemic wisdom and also forms the basis of the whole cosmological universe that governs our lives as a people and a nation. 13 other scholarly papers are represented in this publication, whose authors come from within and outside Papua New Guinea, among them the former Secretary of Education, Peter Baki, along with Sam Kaima, Sakarepe Kamene, Naomi Faik Simet, Alice Street, Don Niles and others.

This is the kind of book that our leaders must read before venturing out to (and speaking with due respect here) write novels, get elected to Parliament and do God knows what. That is if we believe in the slogan that the best politician is the one who has written a novel.

In any case, we must consider Romaine Monton’s element of surprise in poetry: 

I shall spring upon your words familiar
then watch you re-gather as they drop about
like precious tears thick with fear

hear you scream and shout
then I shall watch convictions break away
and crumple like paper bags
and then as beauty I shall rise
and surprise you by my will

it is only when you believe me gone
shall I rise
from this place where I

This article: dedicated to the storyboard’s uncle, Bodger Matasororo, a great leader of the Warakouta clan, who passed away at his home Besima (Tototo), Saturday 24th April.

Elements of surprise in poetry appeared in the National Weekender, the newspaper of Papua New Guinea,  on 23rd May. In this article Soaba talks about the dangers of making easy amendments to the nation's Constitution, which was written through much thought and deliberation by the founding fathers of the Papua New Guinea government.

Leadership and traditional obligations

When we first read A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe in the early seventies, the general understanding then was that Papua New Guinea should not repeat certain political blunders experienced by some African nations immediately after independence. African novels such as this one by Achebe posed as essential pointers to what we were becoming as a new nation.

A Man of the People talks about Odili, a young school teacher who becomes fascinated by the wealth and power of his former teacher, Nanga, now a minister in the government. He is so curious about Nanga’s method of accumulating wealth that eventually his girlfriend too becomes interested and finally runs off with the minister. Odili plans revenge by doing what Nanga had done to become rich, and that is to campaign and beat him in the next elections to parliament. This he does, to a point. But as Odili braces to triumph over his older rival, and when revenge itself is about to taste sweet, there is a coup in that African country, and Nanga, the “man of the people” is ousted – faster than Odili might have anticipated.

Novels such as this, along with Things Fall Apart, were common subjects of discussion in literature at UPNG in those days. Even those from law and political science would pop by our dormitories and participate in these discussions. Occasionally one or two would get so excited they would outtalk us by reciting W.B. Yeats’ poem in full when referring to the titles of Achebe’s novels. “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/...The ceremony of innocence drowned/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

And if that wouldn’t do, we would walk down to the staff residences, in search of Ulli Beier’s “palace”. The palace consisted of a ground-level cement bungalow and an out-house where the artists Kauage, Yakupa and Ruki Fame worked under the mentorship of Georgina Beier; and where, of course, Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime was written. There we would join our professor and feast as writers and artists. Those who joined us would immediately qualify for admission by reciting the password: “Where there are writers there is wine and song.”

But those were the days when discussions affecting our new nation were observed in their “passionate intensity.” There were great men with whom these conversations were shared. Men such as Albert Maori Kiki, Vincent Eri, Bart Philemon, Bernard Sakora, John Waiko, John Kasaipwalova, Leo Hannet, Arthur Jawodimabari and others. Men such as Mekere Morauta were busy with their girlfriends or getting married, and would occasionally drop by to render support. Others, such as Narakobi and Father Momis, came around as well, not to drink wine and palaver but to ruminate with the betel nut or offer to hear confessions while looking like they were nursing some thick folders under their arms. Everything that was shared then was indeed the very act of writing not just literature but the constitution itself. From elsewhere, others would join in and dub in the necessary additions, the phraseology and clauses according to their respective fields of expertise, and if all that meant re-writing or continuing what first transpired at the Bully Beef Club (ADCOL), then this was it – our very own government in the making. And we could remind our well respected leaders then to go back to the novel, to the dome of literature, where the world began.

Now we come to the point of this article and that is leadership and traditional obligations. When we think along the lines of the novel A Man of the People, the irony and the satire noted therein lies not so much on a third world leader’s negligence of duty as to his acceptance that the burden of leadership is heavy upon his shoulders and this he must not lose sight of at all times. However, as “a man of the people” this Nanga does not do, and what we see in young Odili is his, Nanga’s, failure as a leader.

The concept of traditional obligation, on the other hand, is not at all a complex one as many of us would like to think. Much of our perception on traditional norms of livelihood becomes clouded by what we have learnt in the classroom on to the office environment and finally to our jobs as “leaders.” Every one of us is a leader in the true meaning of the term. But we cloud that moment of clarity by getting our perceptions on the word wrong.

Not every one of us free of traditional obligations. And neither are we exempt from any observation that is tradition-oriented. Whether we are in a metropolitan or rural setting, our initial attitude to family and neighbour alike is traditional through and through. “Bara, hap buai kam (Brother, share your betel nut with me)” or “Naki, lau sig ta negea mai (In-law, throw me one of your cigarettes).”

Ask a six year-old child what a bride price ceremony is and he/she will tell you. That same child will grow up to be a good leader with just the understanding that what happens in a bride price ceremony is accumulation of wealth that belongs to the entire community. The process of education on the notion of leadership and traditional obligation as seen in that child’s understanding of the bride price ceremony is therefore complete. If that child grows up and makes it to parliament but does not become a good leader, then we are looking at our country from a different perspective, through a different concept box, and in a different time frame.

When Chinua Achebe completed writing A Man of the People, Nigeria began experiencing a series of military coups and some major civil wars. Though the novelist did not intend to predict what Nigeria would become, some critics make inferences that the novel itself might have been taken too seriously.

By which time, Ulli Beier had left Nigeria and was in Papua New Guinea with a bigger role to play than what many of us may care to admit. His little band of creative writing students and writers at UPNG played a major role in the authorship of our nation’s Constitution. Now there are those that talk and claim sole authorship of the document. But the archives at the University of Melbourne nowadays seem to be pointing in the direction of who did the talking and who actually sat down and wrote the Constitution.

This article appeared in Papua New Guinea's The National Weekender on 21st May 2010. It discusses the phenomenon of leadership and traditional obligations in Papua New Guinea, with a focus on Chinua Achebe's novel, A Man of the People. The article also attempts to clarify the sort of influence Ulli Beier had had in Papua New Guinea during that country's fight for political independence from Australia. Beneath all that the article tries to point out who were actually responsible for setting the foundations of PNG's fight for independence and who indeed were involved in constructing the country's Constitution.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The Anuki Country Press? Wow!

Welcome to The Anuki Country Press. Much of the blog content appears in the Weekender of The National newspaper of Papua New Guinea, under the title of Soaba's Storyboard which contains mostly book reviews on work written by Papua New Guineans. This is using the book review as a forum of discussion on Papua New Guinea literature, culture and the arts. Within a space of 1,000 words a lot can be said about books, literature, culture and the arts that is available in the country. I hope that soon all these reviews will be compiled and published under the imprint of The Anuki Country Press, a small self-publishing venture that I run as a creative writing workshop. Occasionally, I get editorial assistance from my colleague, Miss Margaret Daure, the editor of the National Weekender. Titles published so far are just one: Kwamra: a season of harvest.