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.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Publish or bust

The bust of John Gunther, the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Papua New Guinea.
It is always nice to serve one’s society as a chronicler of events, day after day – all that accumulating into several volumes to be stored away in the libraries and archives for the future generations. No matter how small and insignificant a certain occurrence may be, these need to be recorded.

Then you come across that problem or should we rather say that phenomenon of “publish or perish”, but in our case and for this article, at least, “publish or bust.”

Of course, it is not at all annoying or insulting to “bust” somebody – some important personality, for example. In many respects this is always the most fashionable and worthy thing to do.

By “busting” somebody we mean creating a portrait of that important personality through a sculpture representing his head and shoulders. The bust is then placed at a special location where it will serve as a reminder that a given environment we find ourselves in must carry with it a certain air of sanctity about it. We treat such a place with respect and reverence.
Last Thursday 14th April storyboard had a pleasant conversation with the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Papua New Guinea, Professor Ross Hynes, about the need there is of beautifying the university with, among other items, statues, busts and plaques, all commemorating personalities of importance who have lived and served this important place of higher learning in our country.

In that conversation the following were noted. If there is a statue visible around the campus grounds then the chances are that the onlooker may know who that statue represents without the necessity of going to a library to check for details. That statue may remind a student, for example, how much contribution to the university that personality had done in his or her time. It may also enable a stranger to realize that the place being visited is indeed an important place to be in. It will also help humble that mind which might want to doubt the existence of the university as a place of higher learning at all. But above all, the statue or bust may enable an individual to come up with a thought that he or she is also an important person present there at the same grounds of the university campus.
What prompted storyboard to seek that conference with the Vice-Chancellor was the way we at the university community might be lagging behind in the areas of properly honouring those who have served the university since its inception in their capacity as vice-chancellors, professors, prominent academics and men and women of renown, once upon a time, and at that campus. Surely these men and women deserve some gesture of commendation: a plaque in their honour, a bust or a statue.
The other and much pressing thing that made storyboard want to seek that conference was the way we reacted, as a community, to the passing of Professor Ulli Beier. Perhaps we did not respond quick and timely enough and in a noticeable way. Or perhaps some of us felt that just a few exchanges of emails when first hearing of the news was not enough. But it is true: something more needed to be done, both on short and long term basis.

At the moment all the university can boast of are the portraits of all the previous vice-chancellors displayed in the council room. But even that space will be filled up shortly. And when that happens we shall have that pleasant opportunity of turning to the overwhelming significance of busts and statues around the campus.

Aside from the portraits of the vice-chancellors in the council room the only bust that the university can pride itself in is one of John Gunther, the first Vice-Chancellor. This is displayed at the counter of the periodicals section of the Michael Somare Library. From that convenient spot the bust keeps vigil somewhat on the students poring over books a few metres away. It also poses as an overwhelming presence of the mind that helped start up the university. Other than John Gunther’s none seem to be seen or, speaking fearfully, forthcoming.

But the Vice-Chancellor said something in that conversation that now sets storyboard’s mind at rest. It is part and parcel of university policy that important men and women who have served the university over the years will be honoured with such little items of art work, within buildings and all around the campus, including the botanical gardens, if possible. By which remark we understand and appreciate the fact that this area of both academic and leisurely preoccupation will be included in the university’s current and future budgetary allocations. It will mean a lot of work for the artistic crowd at the campus. But it will be a gracious one at that, where families such as those of John Gunther or Ulli Beier will feel rewarded with the thought that the efforts those who have gone before them were not in vain.
As a result of that conference with the Vice-Chancellor and considering the historical significance of artistic activity such as these storyboard proposed to some of his colleagues last week that a committee be set up to take care of this side of the university’s work. The response received was enthusiastic and it is hoped that membership will extend to those outside the university community as well.

The task of this committee envisioned will be similar to the National Events Council once set up by Peter Barter, but limited to the activities of the academia. However, as storyboard types this he hears a few grunts here and there that such committees usually work in isolation for a while and then dwindle away. But listen again to the drone of the very number coming over to join us.
                            HAPPY EASTER WEEKEND!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Corruption: where it all began

We seem to mislead ourselves with the thought that corruption must be defined in an intelligent manner; and then, once sure what it is, tackled head on.

That mistake we hold strong leanings to when we believe that the word “corruption” is a separate entity altogether and not an inborn thing. We forget that it has been present in our lives the moment we left certain things undone and then found it difficult to undo them – in order to free ourselves from the scrutiny of the authority that approves or disapproves. When we fear the word “corruption” we succumb to its very power of control. Under that spell we find it extremely difficult to redeem ourselves.

So where does corruption really begin?

Let storyboard do a bit of illustration here. When he was seven years old he was sent by his mother to fetch two water melons at a garden house about two hundred yards from the main village. Having collected the melons (and they were heavy) he had to struggle over a wooden fence with them. He could not let go of either one of them nor leave them on the ground while climbing over the fence for the fear of hungry pigs grunting close by. He did what was correct: nurse them and deliver them intact to his mother.

In the process of struggling over the fence one fell and broke much to the pleasure of the pigs. So he was able to take only one home. His mother sliced the melon to the required number of delicate pieces and these were then served to the elders by storyboard’s sisters.

Now the moment of judgement arrived soon after the visiting elders left the village. His mother asked what happened to the other melon. She had to ask that when she noticed that storyboard was not making a move to go back to the garden house to collect the other one, if they were both too heavy to be carried in one trip. So storyboard explained what really happened.

But the crime in all this was the time it took for storyboard to come up with some justifiable explanation of why he was able to manage one when he was indeed asked to produce two. Worse, the explanation came after the mother’s prompting; not before that.

Thus, the moral lesson. When in all our undoing we fall into the habit of needing time before providing an explanation of our mistakes, the mind that needs to be rightfully informed of our weaknesses feels vanquished. And if that mind happens to be someone we love then that little moment of misgiving on our part becomes unforgivable. It will thenceforth take years to undo.

This illustration we can regard as the origin of the word “corruption”. You will be mindful of a seven year-old’s inability to manage two heavy objects over a wooden fence. You will also be mindful of a mother’s anxiety in seeing just one melon provided when she had previously prepared two at the garden house for the guests. Wherever the scales of justice finally fall there is no denying that corruption had seeped its way in, into the consciousness of these two individuals. The demands of accountability, therefore, rule the day – for both parties.

Papua New Guinea as a young country went through a similar process from the sixties and seventies, trying to inch its way into the arena of global politics that demanded self-rule. There were rules in place; requests hinted upon; and activities carried out to warrant its status as a community of a people ready to govern itself. Its public service apparatus in particular was a worthy tool which a new and independent government would depend upon in order to implement and execute new policies.

What all that meant was a faithful translation and if need be re-wording of rules, freshly thought up or borrowed, that would help keep the new nation afloat for several years, at least until the country itself reached some stage of maturity. Within the sixties and seventies, for any government to come into power, it would need an efficient public service which would carry out its orders. When Michael Somare started serving the new nation in his capacity as Chief Minister and later the Prime Minister the demand on the efficiency and workability of that public service machinery was heavy. The Grand Chief himself was particularly vocal about the usefulness of the public service: that without it pulling up its socks the new and independent nation could go astray. And he was right. So where was there room for this new visitor called “corruption”? Even the chief himself would walk to work some mornings to save fuel and energy.

And then, and then, things began going wrong. Everyone was lending a hand in this business of government. An ordinary clerk in this great public service machinery became wiser than expected, most times overnight. Mr. Jones of George Orwell’s Animal Farm went missing suddenly. So who was there left to fear? A new elite was born. And this elite was no longer just attending to the chores of translating the laws word for word for the benefit of the masses but also re-writing the clauses of those laws wherever possible for its own benefit. Now we know very well that in Animal Farm no animal is allowed to sleep on a bed once enjoyed by humans. That would be uncouth. Until, of course, there is a select number that crawls into the mansion in the late hours of the night to rest a tired pot belly on one.

That select number would now go down, correctly, in our chronicles as a fine example of our attempt to define this word “corruption”. Never mind about the troublesome nakimi or tambu lewa (in-law) who comes loitering around your workplace each pay day. He ain’t corrupt. He’s doing the right thing. Nakimi madi, na narimu (Ah, beloved in-law, I’m here to wait for you), etc. Consider the seven year-old boy with the water melons. If he hasn’t yet started promising a pay rise for the whole of the public service for the next decade (because the elections are just around the corner), then he is the one planning a strategy by taking his time to explain where things have really gone wrong. Says his colleague, the well-respected lawyer and academic, “Alas, we are but our own worst enemy.”