There comes a time when a nation pauses in the general course of its development to reflect. It does so to ask several questions, among them: “Was it worth it? Have we done well or ill? Where do we go from here?”
Yet no matter how reflective we feel about ourselves as a nation we cannot help but go back to those times when everything around us was full of life and colour. Those were the moments of our fancy: a festival, for example; gestures recalled; food shared; and words exchanged as lasting memories. And always, all that comes to us in the form of poetry, song and dance.
One such moment of fancy is the OndoBondo, a feast observed by the people of Binandere as much as any other in the Oro Province.
On Saturday 16th July the Oro Students Association of the University of Papua New Guinea had their OndoBondo at the University’s Drill Hall. There were eight districts in all who were involved in this feast, among them Kokoda, Sohe or Ioma, the Ewage areas extending from Oro Bay to Ambasi and Mamba, Tufi, Central Kaiva, Bokoro, and Afore. One of these districts, possibly the Central Kaiva, stepped out and did what was true to reputation for them all by performing the famous butterfly dance – a dance in which one witnesses the splendour of the giant butterfly in flight enacted by the outstretched spread of the tapa cloth, the eternal regalia of the whole province.The butterfly dance is commonly performed by those from Ako in the south coast to Ambasi and Manau in the north coast of the Oro Province, and occasionally by those of the Bokoro and Central Kaiva areas. Watching such a dance certainly reminds one of James St Nativeson’s poetry:
But I shall return to tradition
When I have died me that alien death
And for our reunion I’ll bark you
A laplap of tapa designs and cry:
Oro da, oro! Oro kaiva!
The initiative taken nowadays by various student associations and societies at UPNG is to bring PNG cultures closer to the doorsteps of academic environment so that this becomes part of the spiritual wellbeing of the student population itself. Some weeks earlier a similar feast was held at the same location by the students from the Autonomous Bougainville Government and that was well received by city residents. And there will be more such feasts to come.
The OndoBondo of 16th July was observed not only by the students themselves but also by participants coming from the villages and church, women and youth groups of Oro Province itself. The result was an authentic traditional feast performed much to the satisfaction of many.
President of the Oro Students Association, Donald Moi, and his Vice-President, Sandra Kwafen, felt that the feast should be given its traditional appeal. And well that the occasion should be that way since also present at this bondo were a few of the old timers from UPNG itself who lamented not having done better in their own time.A student called Henry Hataya of Kupiano and Oro parentage did the honours of soliciting and providing food from his Kupiano village for the entire feast. A pig was bought from 14-Mile for the occasion and this along with the food from Gavone was distributed among the participating tribes and clans of the Oro Province. It was an occasion indeed when the young of the city led by their UPNG peers came away from the hypnotizing influences of gadgets like ear pieces and cell phones to participate fully in a traditional gathering. A good number of the young got themselves painted up, wore the traditional tapa regalia, picked up the kundu drums and joined in. The word OndoBondo itself has its significance deeply rooted in the history of the University of Papua New Guinea. In the late 70s and early 80s it succeeded Kovave as an internationally recognized literary journal, run by the then Literature Department. More importantly the journal represented the post-Ulli Beier albeit neo-colonial literary era of the country. Works represented in that journal were new, authentically Papua New Guinean. The journal proved its worth as an aftermath of the experimental “new writings” that rapidly emerged to global recognition. Then the journal changed form over the next decades becoming known as the PNG Writer briefly, and then later, with a certain degree of permanency about it, the Savannah Flames. But in the pre-electronic media days, these were the journals that overseas subscribers looked out for in the hunt of substantial research material in creative writing and literary studies.
OndoBondo also branched out in its literary publication program and took other forms of literary genre as well, such as the famous OndoBondo poster poem series which would within weeks of production sell as fast as hot cakes throughout the world. The poster poems became a better and easier format of literary production through which PNG literature was made readily available not only in PNG but elsewhere as well. It also, spiritually speaking, brought hope and encouragement to those who found themselves abroad and studying at foreign universities. In the mid-80s, for example, a strayed OndoBondo poster poem somehow found its way to Brussels where, it was learned, a Papua New Guinean read it and broke into tears. The poem at least brought him closer to home.But the point that storyboard is getting at here is how quickly the present generation of young scholars have taken up the sacred essence and meaning of the word OndoBondo or simply bondo. The word signifies the human mood of festivity. But that mood of festivity, looked at closely in its philosophical context, denotes the feast of thinking. We speak of OndoBondo in intellectual terms as we would trudge through countless forests of human wonder and mystery in search of a clearing – wherewithal a certain celebration must ensue. And we must celebrate because we see that we have arrived at that clearing. Now if we read the Preface of Kwamra we will get closer to seeing what this means. The pursuit of education and in indeed the quest of knowledge simply means walking through forest in search of a clearing. After we have completed that degree, yes sir, it means we have arrived at the clearing.
When we know we have arrived we must hold the OndoBondo feast. Oro kaiva!