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.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Dogura re-visited

It’s 9.30am, St Peter’s Day, Dogura, Monday 29th June. I am sitting here, under a mango tree, about a hundred yards across the field from the cathedral, waiting for Judge Sakora to finish his meeting with the bishops so that we can catch a boat back to East Cape. The historic cathedral before me stands tall and majestic, and as momentous as Robert Jones built it in 1930-34, against the backdrop of Keia, Topura and Taupota mountains in the distance. On my left, at the far end of the famous Dogura House, which once housed historical dignitaries such as Archbishop Henry Newton, including Sir Hubert Murray, is the much immortalized modawa tree erected as a corner post of the first church building by Albert McLaren and Copland King in 1891, overlooking the vast expanse of the Pacific and still standing strong and healthy at over 119 years old.

The service for St Peter is in progress and all around, no matter how far one strays from the cathedral, the landscape becomes part of that morning Mass. The hymns sung in Wedauan further echo and re-echo the significance of Dogura as the Jerusalem of the Anglican Church in Papua New Guinea.

“Vavana aiaina (Goodness is his name)
Mara ana nuaiai (For his is joy eternal)”.

Only yesterday, a contemporary of mine, Mervin Clyde Igara, was consecrated in this very cathedral as the new bishop of the Dogura diocese. The Primate of the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, Archbishop James Aiom, observed the ritual of consecration, in the presence of the Head of the Anglican Communion throughout the world, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan William. At this ceremony also the Chancellor of the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, Justice Bernard Sakora, read out the Bishop’s Charte, confirming the legality of the consecration and the sort of duties that a diocesan bishop was designated to perform. The blessing granted upon the new bishop was highly symbolic and traditional. A Fijian mat was spread on the floor of the cathedral, upon which a seiara (a traditional grass skirt made of besa leaf fibres and signifying the staple diet of the region from which Mervin Clyde comes) was placed, for the new bishop to lie upon and receive the consecration blessing. When the mitre was finally placed on the new bishop’s head, the whole cathedral erupted into a huge roar of applause and clapping, punctuated by traditional drum beats. Those witnessing the entire consecration Mass described it as overwhelming as much as “awesome”.

Now, as I sit under this mango tree and marvel at the structure of the cathedral, I wonder at the sort of changes that come upon men of different tastes and interests in a span of four or so decades. The former university school mate I am waiting for is having a meeting with the bishops as the Chancellor of the Church. My other contemporaries that I have spoken to yesterday, including Isaac Taitibe, the former MP for Alotau Open, could hardly think of seeing a former classmate such as Mervin in a bishop’s mitre! And at Martyrs’ Memorial School some 43 years ago, which of us at the Mukawa Garden House can ever forget scolding a clever little boy for sewing up his torn clothing with electrical wires instead of cotton and needles? But we would all be cautious then in our judgment with the prediction, of course, that anyone who was good with wires would do great things in time to come. And sure enough Mervin did proceed from Martyrs’ to the University of Technology in Lae where he had graduated in Electrical Engineering to later work for several years as a senior technician with the National Broadcasting Commission.

But the greater achievements of our little boy from Martyrs’ would come in June this year when 5 diocesan Anglican bishops met behind closed doors at Divinai, a few miles out of Alotau town and right in the heart of Charles Abel’s Kwato Mission, to elect him bishop of the Dogura diocese. The fact that the election took place at a strange territory was sign enough that what the new bishop and his colleagues desire seeing is all the Churches working together to develop that region of the Milne Bay Province, namely that spanning from East Cape to the coastal and hinterland borders of Milne Bay, Oro and Central Provinces.

The speeches made at the gift presentations by various Churches to the new bishop reflected this sentiment of inter-denominational cooperation. The LMS, Kwato Mission, United Church and the Catholic Church all expressed the need for cooperation in developing North East Milne Bay.

Aside from the main ceremonial activities, there were traditional dances performed day and night during the three-day long celebrations, accompanied by drama performances by various youth groups from dioceses throughout PNG. The notable crowd pleasers were flute musicians organized by the Melanesian Brothers from the Daga and Bonenau areas of the Dogura diocese, and the most colourful traditional dancers were those from BogaBoga and Wamira. Mothers from Wamira One and Two came and sang at the gift presentation ceremony, and the ones from the Kwato Mission looked equally elegant and colourful.

Indeed, hundreds of visitors, coupled with the hundreds that came from the immediate surrounds, gathered to witness this great event. All this added up to a couple of thousands in number, and these included clergy, government officials, guests, representative parishioners from all over PNG and overseas, not to mention pilgrims to Dogura who also were present. There were other visitors as well such as Holy Name Grammar School’s sister-school visitors on term holidays from Australia, but these were noted camping at the villages along the coastlines of Wedau and Wamira. Among the dignitaries were the Governor of the Bank of Papua New Guinea, Mr Kamit and his wife Mrs Kamit, the Provincial Administrator of Milne Bay, Mr Henry Bailasi, Justice Bernard Sakora, Mr Robert Igara, brother of the new bishop, and the tireless gift providers and faithful Anglicans, Dr Glen Mola and Mrs Mola.  Present as well were two representatives from the Australian Board of Missions, Bev and Robert, along with another from England called Chris. But the most colourful and flamboyant of the lot was the Catholic representative from Alotau town, Father Michael who coined the phrase “Local Boy Makes Good” in honour of Mervin Clyde Igara.

Bishop Mervin Clyde Igara comes from Mukawa, in the Cape Vogel area of the Milne Bay Province. Until his new post as bishop of Dogura, he was Rector and Priest-in-Charge of the Ascension Parish in Alotau town. He becomes the second clergyman from Cape Vogel to be consecrated bishop, the first being Bishop Blake Kerina of Tototo Village. 

Friday, 11 June 2010

The alienation of children through a poor education system

A child’s inalienable right to human existence and full development both physically and mentally is best protected by an education system that is faultless and incorruptible.

A child safely reared and nurtured by such an education system grows up to lead – in nation building, preservation of culture and national identity, and respect for human values.

Man is born free, runs the very first clause of every declaration of human rights document throughout the world, and as such he is free to exist without any form of hindrance to the course of his development from a child to an adult.

Those inalienable rights, properly implemented and executed, give every child in our case the liberty to exist, to eat, to grow, to speak, to think and to write.

A crime in all this is committed when an education department, being the main mentor of its country’s young, unwittingly and in most instances unconsciously denies its own children of such inalienable rights.

For the best model of how a free Papua New Guinean child should grow up, consult the children’s literary magazine produced weekly by the National Newspaper called “Young Life.” Now there you have an example of a plausible curriculum development unit in action. That little magazine represents the voices and opinions of our young people destined to become the best educated and good citizens of our country.

What is most disheartening, however, is that you don’t find this kind of vision, mission, objective and sense of dedication in our very own curriculum development unit of the Education Department.

Scan through the list of all the text books being distributed nationwide at Primary School level, and what do you find? An assortment of course text books full of expatriate titles, expatriate authors and expatriate publishers.

A Papua New Guinean child undertaking 8 years of primary education in that type of environment grows up thinking and behaving like a foreigner. Ask him what a myth or legend is and he will mechanically cite bits and pieces from Harry Porter or Lord of the Rings. He will not know what a myth or legend is and what it truly sets out to serve in a predominantly communal and moral setting like ours.

That child must be given every opportunity to know himself and his surroundings through literature. In the end and if he lives in the National Capital District, for example, he will know that Boroko is a Koitabu word for a certain variety of the eucalyptus tree, that Ela Beach is traditionally known as Era, that Koki is spelt correctly as Koke, and that Tubuserea is indeed Tubu Sene.

Sadly, however, the publications our children are exposed to are those that were done by clever expatriate businessmen, not writers, who have manipulated, indoctrinated, mesmerised and misled even the best of our qualified and experienced educators within the Education Department itself into buying them. Every year truckloads and shiploads of books are bought and transported by the Education Department from one part of the country to the other. But in those books lie the heart and soul of a clever businessman who is in a hurry to make the fast buck, all at the expense of a heavily taxed low-income earning Papua New Guinean whose child it is that is being alienated all the more in his own country.

There are then no Papua New Guinean authors represented in these batches of publications. If there are, they are merely local business partners – partners in the crime of publishing the wrong books for the wrong audiences altogether.

The only exception noted in the current list of texts for Primary Schools is a book of poems by one of our students in Literature. Now that book should be targeted towards the upper secondary and tertiary levels of readership and scholarly preoccupations. How it has come to be recommended for primary schools merely reflects the poverty of the Education Department’s sense of selectivity in assessing and distributing the correct text material to their appropriate level of scholarship. So here, clearly, you have an equivalent of Emily Dickinson’s existentialist and New England transcendentalist poetry being read by our primary school children!

I have yet to come across the prescribed and recommended text lists for the secondary and matriculation levels of study. But I imagine when I do I will notice that the crimes pointed out at primary school level will have been doubled at those higher levels.

Every country in the world has a reasonable looking education system in place that begins at the roots of its own cultural setting, and progresses thence to some higher achievement in academic enterprise that in turn contributes positively to world civilization as a whole. But if we begin our education system with Harry Porter, or any one of those Australian and New Zealand publishers with their boomerang authors, we are telling the rest of the world we do not have a culture of our own.

So how do we steady our poor curriculum development unit that is threatening to stumble and fall by the wayside? Firstly, the men and women working in this unit are themselves well-qualified individuals and they themselves must be made aware of this valuable asset that they possess. Secondly, we need to remind them that literature always serves as a strong foundation of learning, before any other subject of study – be it mathematics, agriculture, economics or those in the medical and pure sciences. It is through literature that language first consolidates its position as the chosen tool of instruction in education. Literature contains in it morals and ethics, norms and values – indeed, the very constituents of human conduct and behaviour. Without literature there would be no organized system of language in place for man to learn anything at all. And literature begins when one sings a lullaby to a child, when one sings hymns and psalms in church, and when one recounts one’s history through song. Thenceforth, we progress to learn: to count, to read, to write, to assess, to analyse, to recommend, and to build.

Thus, when an education department chooses to operate without literature, particularly its own national literature, it will most certainly end up producing a nation full of men and women without souls. As human beings we must not deny our children the right to grow up in a country that does have a soul.

For the PNG student of literature, I recommend Gouri Guha’s Peppery Thoughts and Leisure Rambling. Check those out today.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

An open university for all

Lets us refresh our minds with a suggestion made by a certain professor at UPNG during the 70s about outdoor lectures and learning for all.

That professor, whose name slips the storyboard’s mind, suggested that an airport terminal would serve as an excellent venue for lectures, what with people going and coming or transiting, while waiting to board an aircraft. In that time and space, consider a lecture on environmental issues, the gender divide, population statistics, HIV/AIDS, the spread of TB, malaria, excessive landowner migrations, carbon trade, poor public transport systems, the country’s youth threatening to go astray as early as ages 6 to 10...the list goes on.

How fortunate a traveller would be to again witness and hear the sound of a lecture at a busy airport terminal as those usually observed in a vigorous academic environment. Besides, should that professor of the 70s return to the Waigani campus today he would be relieved to learn of UPNG’s outreach programs and resource centres nationwide, an idea he might have envisaged as a scant possibility in his time.

Part of that suggestion of the professor’s, however distinct, has indeed taken a positive step today through the inception of UPNG’s Open College, a.k.a. Open Campus, Distance Education, University Centres and Help Resource Centres throughout the country. This is an area of academic enterprise where our so-called premier university of the Pacific is seen to be performing its best, in answering the literacy and resource development needs of much of the nation’s population, particularly its young generation. For those “home scholars” who might regret that they have missed out in our current education system of tertiary entrance selections, this is an ideal place for them where they are given the opportunity to continue with school.

And they will learn a great deal in subjects covering virtually all of the academic disciplines. Programs range from Certificate in Tertiary and Community Studies to Diplomas and even qualifications proper to accede to the main campus as degree students.

Yet, not all of these study programs are far removed by way of significance from the program content of those found at the mainstream campus. And neither can a professor worry that he may not be performing enough by way of community service and outreach program demands. Nor should he fear the risk of losing points himself as far as the necessities of assessment and accreditation on his performances go. One or two of his regular or mainstream courses, for example, are already represented at the campuses or centres of the Open College throughout the country. That means that as much as offering his regular courses at the main campus of UPNG, the professor can let out that sigh of relief as these same courses are externalized to the extent that certain versions or variations of them are also being taught at these campuses of the Open College. He may occasionally pay a visit to various University centres to see how his courses are fairing and who is studying them. But in this day and age when modern technology gives allowances for easier communication at a wider scale, what more could our professor anticipate than a phone call from a learner from the Milne Bay Uni Centre or the Lihir Resource Centre asking after definitions of literary techniques and devices.

Our educators might want to pay some attention to this aspect of scholarship which is targeted to the young who have difficulties in fitting into the mainstream education system. A closer examination of the Open College and its activities reveals that the country’s younger generations, being the most vulnerable in the nation’s progress towards a more safer and prosperous entity, is being well catered for in, as noted earlier, virtually all areas of academic pursuits ranging from the humanities to business studies, law and the medical and pure sciences. 

Literature, let us note with relief, alongside other subjects offered as regulars at any university, are offered in these open college campuses as well. A recent visit to the NCD Open College campus by the storyboard found one literature course offered there. Familiarizations on how the course itself is fairing will come later when the first batch of assignments are received and read through, but the storyboard’s meeting with the director of the Open College proved to be not just an eye opener for someone from the main campus but an encouraging one.

Students or learners there are treated with special regard. Left alone to work on the given texts consisting of study guides, resource books and course outlines, they are more or less their own bosses, masters of their own destiny, as it were, and are happy to be studying in that manner. Therein lie some of the answers to what we can do for our youth today. The classroom environs and the dreaded roll call on who is present and who is cutting classes are missing. A tutor is not described as a teacher, instructor or educator but rather as a mentor, a companion, in the learner’s venture into discovering new things by way of gaining an education. Beside the texts themselves, a student or learner from these open college campuses can also, if he or she is studying at the NCD campus, for example, gain access to the use of the laboratory facilities or the library of the Waigani main campus. 

All this put into a single package proves less costly for parents wishing to send their children to the Open College. Fees set at K200.00 per course for each semester coupled with a surcharge of K50.00 for each will probably keep parents away from meddling with their annual savings by visiting the banks for loans, but that is the story of what an open university for all is all about. No one misses out in this type of partnership activity.  

[This, of course, is a Papua New Guinean experience, first published in the National Weekender of the National newspaper of Papua New Guinea, March/April 2010.]

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Regarding September as a book hunting season

The weeks following the National Book Week in August and the beginning of preparations for the Independence celebrations in September should be an ideal period we could regard as a book hunting season. Armed with bilums, pocket note books and pens we could go out on a book hunting spree. A travel book left at the airport by a tourist, or a rare book spotted at a second-hand clothes shop, would do nicely as our first shot at the sitting ducks of a lucky find in this hunting season.

Sometimes we could come across a book we have once read at high school, such as Day That I Have Loved or Cry the Beloved Country. Other times we would be fortunate enough to spot Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird at an unlikely corner of the Waigani Market, among electrical appliances as spare parts displayed for sale. Occasionally, perhaps, we would come across that dreaded text book that we couldn’t get hold of right at the end of the semester when we were advised in earnest to base our thesis on it or risk not seeing our names on the graduating list.

Such expeditions would help us alleviate some of the problems we experience in the scarcity of reading material in our schools, universities and libraries. In fact, ours is the only country in the world where books are considered unnecessary commodities, simply because there are no plans for them in every clever budget passed by the government.

A parent whose child studies literature at UPNG, for example, might complain of spending extra on “hidden costs” for texts, aside from meeting the nominal fees of tuition and board which amount to five or six thousand kina. But this difficulty can be overcome if we regard times such as this very week in September as our annual book hunting seasons in preparation for the following years of study.

A book hunting season pays a lot of dividends in the end. It is a time when we search for and find that rare and out of print book about to be auctioned. But it is also a time when we must produce a new book that will sell as fast as the Independence celebrations itself.

There are several people who can help us make these book hunting expeditions become successful. Firstly, parents of students studying literature. A parent whose job demands a lot of conference travel is in an advantageous position. During those busy travels overseas he can always spare 10 minutes to visit a book stall (most major shopping malls usually include a book supermarket) where he can buy a book for his child. That child in turn will bring the book to us and announce that perhaps we in literature need it more because he is majoring in Mathematics or Law. I can cite two occasions when I received some of the most needed books for my literature courses this way, thanks to students and their generous parents who understood the needs of our department. On yet another occasion, a former student of mine who went away to read law at Deakin University, brought home for me a copy of T.S. Eliot’s The Sacred Wood.

The second lot are the academics themselves. Here also, I would like to acknowledge a gift I similarly received from Professor Lawrence Kalinoe (School of Law) who brought home for me from one of his conference travels a copy of Professor Paul Sharrad’s study of Albert Wendt, the Samoan writer – a book we use extensively in our literary criticism courses.

And the list would go on, of course.

But these being fair examples of how we could treat the month of September as a book hunting season, I do believe that the exercise would be an enriching one for us, long before we think of getting that school fee loan from BSP or Teachers Savings and Loans for next year.

Now with the limited amount of learning resource material made available to us, how we manage to survive with our students each semester is a miracle. A good number come to school prepared.  They in turn help others and the rest of us get by, especially in the area of photocopying when our own machines are exhausted or have actually expired. Since the 1990s we have been spreading the word among our good students that in order to excel in literary studies one has to spend one’s own money. Sometimes I feel guilty enough to ask if I can reimburse a student’s K10.00 spent on photocopying for the benefit of all of us in a literature class to which the reply I get is, “Oh, no, sir; don’t worry. We are doing this for our own good.”

But writers particularly must take this idea seriously. Every time a book is published, several copies must be deposited with us so that we can include them in our course offerings. It is pointless publishing and operating out there, in isolation, when our students are in dire need of reading your work.

Finally, one other group of people who can help in this book hunting exercise is our successful business men and women themselves. There is always a kind of premonition in store somewhere that makes them believe books mean virtually nothing to them, particularly works of fiction, drama and poetry. When I was at the Institute of Business Studies during book week in August, I was asked by a lecturer there if there could be ways through which those in the business sector and those in the humanities would come together and form some sort of collaborative partnership that would help us all one way or another. I replied immediately that the suggestion was a good one, because as with other instances of partnership liaisons I do not see why people of two different entities altogether cannot converge and have a party with books.

By a party with books I mean simply buying books and giving them away as gifts, especially to certain segments of society which need them most. A good business man or woman is not quite the one who dreams of becoming a prophet of Wall Street one day, but the one who, instead of having so many hours of restless and sleepless nights, actually relieves himself of all worry and trouble by buying a book in September and sending it away by sea or surface mail to The Anuki Country Press, P.O. Box 1375, Boroko, NCD 111, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

They never return

Modern interpretations of myths and legends prove useful in our attempt to understand ourselves as a people, a nation or a country. These interpretations give us our sense of identity as Papua New Guineans, our sense of place or geographical setting, and of the times that we live in.

One such interpretation of importance lies in the area of land ownership; who owns a particular stretch of land, water or sea. The other deals with the origin of plants and animals, and man’s relationship with the surrounding flora and fauna in general. Examples of these in PNG folklore or oral literature and traditions abound.

But we do not often look at the significance of the much more heavier and philosophical aspects of interpretation surrounding the phenomena of life and death, the quest of immortality, and the search of a deity to fear or worship. Our attitude to such a phenomenon is noted to be shy or timid and there is often much taboo that surrounds it, thereby causing us to become reluctant interpreter/critics of the subject matter.

When Ulli Beier first came to Papua New Guinea, one of his literary interests and preoccupations lay in the area of folklore. As much as encouraging Papua New Guineans to write their own literature, to assert a firmer stand in the face of global politics through writing, he drew his students’ attention to what they had had by way of ownership in their own cultural settings. Was there a deity or a god among the Nasioi speakers of Bougainville, or among the Binandere of the Oro Province or the Motuans of the Central Province? If there was then what was that deity named as? Did Papua New Guineans believe in life after death? If so, how did they explain this?

But Ulli Beier, rather than become overtly metaphysical about such universal questionings, felt that there was no greater fun in creativity than experimenting with a variety of genre selections in literature. He chose the drama format and here we see the great mentor of the Papua New Guinean student of creative writing at his best. Two “Papuan” traditional plays are attributed to him as an author himself. They are Alive and They Never Return.

Both plays are based on PNG oral literature, on the theme of life after death – or in the strictly PNG sense, on the world of both the living and the dead. Indeed, in PNG mythology there is no dividing line between the living and the dead. As Papua New Guineans we just grow up with the idea that the only thing that separates us from our dead ancestors is the stretch of water, mountain or valley before us. Our dead relatives are just across the hill yonder and that sort of thing.

The play Alive talks about Ada, “a petulant woman, bitterly resentful of male pretensions and male exploitation of women” [Kirsty Powell, 1975] and Gombe, the man who succeeds in taming Ada to realize that she is just like any other woman in the village. How Gombe succeeds in getting Ada to accept the traditional norms of where women should be angers the latter so deeply that towards the middle of the play she kills Gombe. Gombe then departs to the land of the dead. Upon reflection, as the drama slowly unfolds, Ada merely looks at the red laplap, the material luxury item with which she was seduced, and hates herself even more.

But the drama of the play revolves around man’s desire to explain life after death. Gombe does appear occasionally as a dancer during feasts in the village but a now relented Ada cannot join him in the festivities as a dance partner because he is dead. Much as she tries, Gombe merely shakes his head and dances away. In the end, Ada kills herself in order to become one with Gombe. And such dance feats continue, of course, in traditional settings, but the world itself becomes one for both the living and the dead. Everyone enjoys, just as much.

The play They Never Return is based on the Motuan rendering of the theme of life after death. Moeka Helai, once a student of Ulli Beier, gathered the material from Porebada, and they both set out to construct the play. When Moeka was away, Leo Morgan assisted Ulli Beier with the write up of the script. The result was both plays being produced in Canberra in August 1969 by Prompt Theatre and under the directorship of Algis Butavicius. When both plays became popular to those audiences in Australia, the media in turn referred to those two plays as written by a Papuan student called M. Lovori. Storyboard came to the University in 1970 when he learned that M. Lovori was a student of literature then but had difficulties in meeting the author in person. All storyboard can remember is seeing the cheques for M. Lovori floating around the pigeon holes of literature students but that there was no one to claim them for months on end – until disappearing into thin air somewhat.

But we all know now who the “author” is and are, of course, curious about the titles Alive and They Never Return. A man and a woman, Ubi and Hene, love each other so much nothing can separate them. But Hene dies, and that is sad. A little boy approaches his grandfather with a lot of questions surrounding Hene’s death. Can the dead return? These are difficult questions to answer, but upon even Ubi’s request and insistence, the old man relents and thereafter advises that a feast must be held in which the dancers will no doubt be both the living and the dead.

During the dance Ubi pours a special potion on Hene and she becomes powerless, unable to move. By dawn when the dancers are making their escape, Hene is left stranded in the village square. Ubi is then able to reclaim his beloved.

But, the old man warns Ubi, there are certain conditions to all this. And we know the rest of the story. If it wasn’t for Ubi’s stupidity we would all be able to commute freely between the world of the living and the dead. Ironically, the elders and the rest of the village populace could thereafter only let out mutters of exasperation and in a typically Porebadan fashion: “A curse on Hene whose beauty turned Ubi’s head...” 

This article was published on Friday 4th June 2010 in the National Weekender newspaper of Papua New Guinea.