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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.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

A senate of poets and philosophers

Tototo, once a trade center of Milne Bay and Oro Provinces, as it is today.

One of the things that prevented the Warakouta from delivering goods and services to the people of the Anuki Country was the slow disintegration of its senate over a 40 year period. There are today few that are willing to form the senate. Thus, for the last 40 years that region of the Milne Bay Province would see no development, and its populace consisting of Anuki, Doga, Dimadima, Kukuya and Dawakerekere would merely sit back and wonder what the Warakouta would do next. The Warakouta senate was thus virtually non-existent.
Times have changed. The syndrome of “once were Warakouta” began seeping in as early as 1969 upon the death of the Gaesasara, Romeni Bogerara. With members of the Warakouta aristocracy spread all over PNG in whatever vocational calling they found themselves in, there was no one left in Tototo to uphold the principles and administrative strategies of the senate. The best the successor of the Gaesasara could do was to appoint a nephew to assume the role of a custodian for Tototo village itself. But even a custodian would need a senate to govern at all.   The Warakouta senate, which has proven its worth as the most powerful governing body of the Anuki Country for centuries and as sanctioned by the god Maimaitua or Raganiwonewoneyana, consisted of Mara Gaesasara, Mara Kerina Mamadeni and Mara Matasororo Payayana – in that order. To enhance its status as a resourceful governing body, it formed unshakable alliances with various tribes and clans comprising Damwapa, Gunuara, Kimoya (now known as Gabobora), Doga, Dimadima, Dawakerekere and remnants of clans from Maisin and Ubir (Oro Province), not to mention the Are, Gapapaiwa and Ghayavi factions of clans and sub-clans within the Rabaraba District itself. With that sort of administrative set-up in place outsiders, with the exception of the Anglicans and the Bible perhaps, found it impossible to conquer the Great Anuki Country.  
It is often lamented by many people, not merely by the Warakouta themselves, that had the colonial administration as much as the present day PNG sovereignty recognized such a traditional form of government in existence it is true that today our modern versions of Local Level Governments would have no difficulty whatsoever in utilizing such entities to successfully translate and transfer power and service deliveries to the people. But come each LLG elections and the slogan turns out to be not “united we stand, divided we fall” but rather “It’s every man for himself, for the ship is sinking.” Bad politicking and lack of consultation with the appropriate elders of the Anuki society often leads young men into getting elected, getting into power, and then ending up doing nothing at all for that area of Cape Vogel today. The villages themselves, once great centres of trade around the border areas of Milne Bay and Oro Provinces, grow wild again, with weeds and moss, bog and mire and thick undergrowth. Everything and everyone goes bush again.
One other contributing factor to all this disintegration in traditional forms of government is the lack of dialogue between the old and new generations. Part of that blame goes to the sort of culture shock experienced during the sixties and seventies, not only by the Anuki people of that region of Milne Bay but with every little community of traditional settings throughout Papua New Guinea. The new think they know better than the old and so on, and that subsequently leads to so much that has been discarded by way of traditional knowledge systems, giving way to inevitable deterioration of well-ordered community settings such as the Anuki Country itself. What the Warakouta would experience in utter severity during the last 40 years was watch its own senate turn into a school (so to speak) of poets, philosophers and thinkers. How much such a group of people achieves by way of development need only be seen by the practical realities of what they talk about at the end of the day. We know that poets and philosophers are not workers; they are thinkers. And a senate that spends days on end thinking does nothing. All it need do is lament those days gone by.
                                          O Tototo, time-worn
                                          In your solitude and anonymity
                                          What is this silence you bring down
                                          With you from Ribua? How often have
                                          Dreams walked by your spare hut upon
                                          The hour of waking? In the high kwamra
                                          Your mapa trees meet the season; leaves fall
                                          And no son returns to a father
                                          No conch shell blows
                                          Nor drums beat.
                                          The coconut palms mourn over the fallen.
Now to come straight to the point of this article: storyboard believes that there are in existence such traditional societies throughout Papua New Guinea. Given the leeway these will contribute enormously to the aims and objectives of Vision 2050, particularly at LLG levels. Every little rural project spelt within that vision must be translated into the framework of such senates that will indeed insure their workability and sustenance. But for as long as we ignore the existence of these very senates at traditional level, it is true that we have rendered ourselves as a nation to yet another 40 years of economic carelessness and self-neglect.
Storyboard’s recent visit to his own village setting, however, reveals that every positive step is being taken through various partnership activities both with government and NGO agencies to help revive such traditional norms of governance as much as accountability. The LLG factions must learn to respond favourably to these.                         

Friday, 17 September 2010

Remembering Kirsty Powell

September 16, 1975, and Kirsty Powell would not be around to see the great dawn arrive. John Guise had read the declaration of the new sovereignty and the flag had been raised in the presence of Prince Charles. Reports came from all over the land of much cheering and clapping, much feasting and dancing. A new nation was born.

But Kirsty Powell was not there to be part of the celebrations.

In a bleak hut which would later turn out to be a chapel for the Waigani Campus, and a day later, a quiet remembrance service was held in honour of Kirsty Powell. Her body by then had been taken home to Australia. Present at that remembrance service were a handful of Anglicans, Dr. Elton Brash who was then about to be appointed Vice-Chancellor, and a few dignitaries from town. In all, there would have been a mere one or two hundred people in attendance.

A few hymns were sung in the Anglican tradition, one or two speeches made, and a brief eulogy read. Then the eldest of Kirsty Powell’s children stood up quietly and spoke of her mother and on behalf of the Powell family. There was something she said that would trouble storyboard deeply for a long time.

“Kirsty died,” said the young woman, “having just completed the final chapter of her thesis which was on Russell Soaba’s plays.”

Was the young woman angry? Was she sad? Was she forgiving when she said all that? Was her mother taken away too much by work to be present even for a brief moment and be with her children? If so, how significant was that work compared to her own life and family’s? Storyboard came away feeling more remorseful than ever. Remorseful, because he was the writer at that time that Kirsty Powell perhaps felt more at home with.

At the fall of evening that day, and all around Waigani Campus, there were heard hushed tones of poetic lamentations.

“She was a nice woman; a friend to all, enemy to none. Why such tragedy?”

The more he thought about the tragedy the more shocked storyboard became. Was it an existential exit? Surely, this can’t be Kirsty. Kirsty always lets everyone know who she is, up here, in the head.  Or has she rather left a riddle, a maiba, for the Papua New Guinean writer to solve? Or was it something else that she could not share easily within the circle of campus writers some parts of which comprised “outsider” writers led by the storyboard himself. There and then the whole campus felt like an intellectual jungle that the explorer-pioneer needed to discover. Storyboard was so shocked at the thought of this he stopped writing. Occasionally, however, a poem would come to mind, and then slip away. “Come to my village one day, and you will see that... No, what you see are two eyes stilled and a smile falsified. Here, let me move an inch, and there, right before you is...”

And that seemed to be all. And the clock would not stop ticking by.

Storyboard had always enjoyed the company of Dr. Kirsty Powell: an afternoon tea at the FCA (Faculty of Creative Arts) UPNG, or at the cafeterias of downtown Port Moresby. And at each of these occasions there was a poem read for the world over the rim of a cup. Sometimes he would go away to the village and a letter would follow with reminders from The Four Quartets.

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land's edge also, the granite,
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale's backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.

Then of course there would be additional reminders from Sophocles, as if the storyboard’s choice of departure to the village was an act of self-imposed exile, such as this dialogue between Antigone and Isemene. “Let’s go back.” “For what?” “To see the final resting place.” “Whose?” “Father’s.” “But that’s not allowed; don’t you see?” “Don’t reproach me.” “Remember he had no tomb.” “Take me there and kill me too.” “Oh, I’m lost, helpless, and without a friend. Where should I go and live?”

All this, including Antigone’s concluding remark: “There’s no way for me to go home again.” And all this, again, amid so much unease and speculation on the sort of associations observed by the academic populace of the Waigani Campus itself. Who indeed could tell what so and so was thinking about whom and for what reasons. And amidst all this, again, storyboard had always taken it for granted that Kirsty Powell was a friend and that was it – but a friend he could not save from a sudden turn of destiny he could not define or whatever there might have been that could have been troubling her deeply.

A quotation of Kierkegaard in her thesis remains something that storyboard will never forget for as long as he himself lives: “Man sees deeply, and what he sees is chaos.”

Three years after that Waigani Campus remembrance service storyboard completed the novel “Wanpis” and had it dedicated to Kirsty Powell. It may not have been, and it might never be, a good gesture by way of tokens commemorating the lives and works of worthy and learned colleagues, but a gesture nevertheless according to storyboard’s own way of thinking and viewing the world.
 We remember Kirsty Powell today for the good friend she was: as one with a witty sense of humour and as a great lover of words. But she is best remembered by the work she has done in the form of a thesis that remains unsurpassable. The University of Papua New Guinea published that work, “The First Papua New Guinean Playwrights and Their Plays” in 1976, thus earning her posthumously the degree of doctor of philosophy in literature. She died tragically in a car accident at Wardstrip on the night of 15th September 1975.