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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, 3 March 2011

The unwavering myth of continuity

Photo by Ketsin Robert
This came as suddenly as when storyboard felt he was dozing off. He had sat up almost all night reading the day before. He wanted to impress his students of literature that no matter what time and history dictate to us we are here to continue writing and will do so unhindered.

This article serves as a prelude to a review of a forthcoming novel, 

The Mountain 

by Drusilla Modjeska. 

And there it was, the whole concept of continuity, as deadly sure as Captain Moresby or Commodore Erskine each sailing into Fairfax Harbour for the first time. Or Trevor Shearston’s Merrie England repeating the journey in 1900. That literature, surely, and whoever writes it, will never cease. It will go on as Beatrice Grimshaw saw the port and the harbour once, some years later, from the cliff tops of the town’s high rise.

But did they, the colonial minds, so-called, start it all? Or was it really the Motuans and their uncanny, somewhat perilous idea of the Hiri trade against and within rough waters? Canoes would sail out and return, boats would come and go, in the same flow of random as the tides and the winds themselves changing direction, continuously, oblivious to what judgement would come upon them for such a habit of movement. But such a movement seemed intense, solemn and determined. So much so, says storyboard, so much so that even today we cannot stop moving and writing.

No, it was not the colonial minds only. It was ours as well. And that’s the point that storyboard is getting at here. We took up the writing habit and that’s that.

In fact, when we think of the work of Steven Winduo today, or Jeffery Febi’s, or Melissa Aigilo’s, or whoever it is that continues to write, we are at the same time mindful of those past and oft forgotten generation of writers. The Hannetts, the Tawalis, the Kasaipwalovas, the Waikos, the Jawodimbaris, the Namalieus, the Eris and the Kikis. Only one question comes to our minds about this. When the present generation writes does it have a definite sense of direction? The same also can be asked of the generation of writers now waning into history and human memory. Was there, or is there, any sense of direction at all for both parties?  

Now if we look at a character like James St Nativeson – you have read some of his poetry on these pages of the Weekender – or Milton in Drusilla Modjeska’s forthcoming novel, he would be one of those writers who would argue that yes, there had always been a sense of direction for all us, for the whole of Papua New Guinea. This character would be one that would eternally be unwavering in his decision to write, to faithfully chronicle all that went on and is going on. Even if a government which started off that movement forward towards Independence can waver along the way a character like St Nativeson cannot. Even if there is so much going astray involved, so much corruption and loss of faith in the human soul, St Nativeson cannot. And that is the sad and melancholy part of our lives, indeed our destiny as writers.

Our belief in that sense of self-hood, the sentiment which we have treasured for many years still lingers on, despite the number of logging companies cropping up here and there to change our topography and landscape, despite the number of mines that dig deep into the earth thereby attempting to deface us by way of geographical maps, the fact remains that our soul is still there, intact. That had been and will be our sense of direction, our beacon and our course to steer towards, our very destiny.

And here we come to that important point in our literature. Gone are the days when the early writer shouted out slogans of and for independence to Australia and the rest of the world. What we need to be mindful of here is that we have not wandered away from this very sentiment. There will creep in words such as betrayal, defection and so on but that does not strike us as a matter of importance attempting to abolish our belief in ourselves. Literature never strays, never betrays, never dupes or swindles – but it can be melancholy sometimes, it can be brooding and over-ruminant even the skies themselves will threaten to fall. The earth is such a nice place to behold – why so much poetry; why then, so much written beauty and splendor?

A clerk writes poems. A security officer expresses his or her love for the country through poetry and song. Was not that what we originally meant by the phrase “sense of direction”? Was that not what we really wanted in the first place? Of course, scholars and literary artists such as Winduo would talk about mapping out our sense of things, our sense of direction, our belief in actually seeing results at the end of such contour tracings and which would be there sure as tangible.

All this brings us back to one serious flaw that we have been overlooking for many years since independence; since Prince Charles walked out in the mud and saluted the new country. We forgot to cultivate. And yet cultivation has always been part of our lives. We forget the metaphors that we ourselves have invented; the metaphor of corn and peanuts strewn right across the hills of Port Moresby city, making it become quite unexpectedly the greenest of green cities. Was it always understood that Port Moresby would be one place that would remain semi-barren in its savannah climes as much as desolate and riddled with patches of charcoal after bush fires? Yet look at what our Highlands cultivators are doing to our landscape. Therein lies your answer. Cultivation. We are not doing it enough.

A government policy is indeed a seed that is meant to be distributed throughout the country, province by province, district by district. And whenever and wherever it is distributed there must be soil for it, and farmers to till and sew the seed. This is the metaphor that, our international donors and NGOs will concur, has been thrown at us over and over again. And still to this day we do not know how to till the soil, to sew the seed. We have become beggars more than choosers of seeds.

So then this is our story of continuity. If the writer cannot take up that metaphor then who else in our country can?


Anonymous said...

Storyboard, this is one great site. I visit it regularly, and enjoy every visit immensely.

It soothes my jangled mind. It is a refreshing and invigorating change to the sometimes gloom and doom we hear so much about.

You must keep it going !!!

The Anuki Country Press said...

Thanks, Anonymous.