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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, 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.

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