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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, 19 May 2011

Exile and the kingdom recalled

Mr. Mike Kuta at the Waigani Campus.
When Albert Camus wrote about the phenomenon of “exile and the kingdom” in the fifties of the twentieth century, he had in mind the plight of individuals ensnared somewhat in the sentiments of obligation on whether to serve the self or the establishment of which they were part. There is a strange sort of pull in this, towards the philosophical arena of whether one is part of a group or not.

But Camus did offer some options for the mind that may be curious. Either serve the kingdom or be done with it all.

That philosophical brooding, looked at closely, simply means that one can either be part of that crowd that believes (for example, in the existence of a nominated deity) or does not. Thus, the endless debates on whether there is God or there is not, whether one is a scriptural being or a scientifically evolved one, and so on.

Whatever the situation, and in the final analysis, and this is where Camus excels as a literary artist and philosopher, the choice is absolutely that of an individual’s. We are free to make choices for ourselves.

On the subject of freedom of choice, Camus’ contemporary, Monsieur Jean-Paul Sartre, had this to offer. Feel free to choose what you want to do. But do so with commitment and responsibility. Here, of course, we are reminded of that oft-quoted Sartrean phrase, “Man is condemned to be free.”

And so the philosophical rigmarole of the hours drones on, as endless as time itself can contain it. Now when we translate all that Western philosophical jargon into our own PNG setting what do we have? Choices abound. Indeed they do. Our PMV driver, for example, can change course right in the middle of thick traffic any time he wants to and at will. And we as his faithful clients or passengers render support because that is the PNG way of doing things, especially in cities or predominantly urban areas. 

No so in the rural areas. There they think differently. Thus, if our PMV driver (and assuming by PMV we mean personal mind valuation) along with us, his faithfully and worthy clients, found himself conducting similar antics in the village of which we would all be familiar, the reprimanding encountered by the villagers there would be enormous. The driver along with his passengers would be posing as total strangers to that environment, more as intruders than guests or visitors. When that feeling of difference became visible we would automatically consider ourselves as “outsiders” in Camus’ sense of the word, albeit the same sort of meaning as the word “exile”.
A feeling of “exile” comes about when one feels unwelcome, isolated and abandoned simply because one’s conduct and behaviour differs considerably from the norms accepted by the majority. It is the same sort of feeling that enables man to take a different direction once in a life time. And in that change of direction he finds himself doing great things, achieving so much which he would not have done in his former setting. But all that has to start somewhere, such as learning and adapting to new rules, new codes of conduct and most importantly making new friends along the way.

Thus, an isolated geographical setting such as Paiamanda or Kepa villages somewhere in the outskirts of Kikori, Erave and generally the southern higher altitude parts of our country, would certainly be the areas where we would feel all the more isolated and exiled. There would be nothing unwelcoming about the people of that area but that our presence and unusual modes of human conduct and behaviour would prove reproachful to them. There things are so well organized, particularly in traditional settings, that our city conduct and manners would warrant rebuke and amendment on the first day of our arrival there. But we would have to conform to such a setting in order to share that wonderful moment of exile with them.

And here’s storyboard’s point for mentioning that area of our country. Imagine finding yourself as a teacher somewhere there. City born and bred what would your reactions be? How would you feel? Exiled, of course.

When a colourful personality like Mike Kuta who comes from that same general area describes life in that part of the world we are awed as much as moved. And as he explains the setting of each village, the location of schools and the simple ways of the people there we get that general feeling that this particular area can be considered one of the most exiled in our country. Some reflections on his life as a simple school teacher serving that area for almost 20 years reveal to us the meanings of the words exile, abandon, isolation and neglect. In his classrooms or what appear to be so we see images of traditionally attired adults having just interrupted themselves from work at their kaukau gardens to listen to this man tell them about school. Some come with offerings of kaukau and kumu and that seems to be all: you cannot find tea or sugar, rice or tinned protein there. But they are all happy, content. And yet so much isolated and exiled.

Mr. Kuta has certainly done a lot for that are and he must be commended. One of his touching anecdotes is the one about how, at a school close to the Porgera area, which is supposed to be one of the richest areas of our country, he and his pupils are honoured by the presence of a district school inspector who comes to visit but only for a few minutes by helicopter. Amazing. That simply aggravates our sentiments of exile and we have reasons enough to hear our teeth gritting at the thought of this. How can Papua New Guinea do this to us, the simple teachers of the rural areas?

In the end, of course, Mr. Kuta would make a choice of a lifetime for himself. Go to university and that way try to gain enough knowledge and experience to return and start re-building what he had started. There are various schools around that area which had been successfully helped with permanent buildings through his negotiations and hard work.

Mr. Kuta is currently undertaking studies at the Open College, NCD Campus, of the University of Papua New Guinea. During seminars and tutorials of the various courses that he participates in he stands out as the most colourful and wise member of the university community whose populace is dominated by a very young generation of scholars.
Recent graduates of UPNG.

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