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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.

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.

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