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.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Step aside, Shakespeare!

Pray, dinghy operator, heave thy vessel closer, shoreward...
Could Shakespeare step aside? Alluding to the sort of power play observed at the Papua New Guinean national parliament?

Of course the bard can!

But wait. One of the great literary devices in imaginative literature is irony. Those familiar with storyboard’s widely read article through these blogs, “Redefining literary techniques and devices,” should now be able to distinguish the differences between literary techniques and devices. And yes, irony is a literary device, not a technique.

It is the sort of device that made Cleopatra get rid of her messenger first and hear the bad news that she was losing a war later. The irony there is straightforward. With or without that messenger with the bad news you are still losing the war. But the most famous of ironies in any Shakespearean tragedy is that of a hero soaring to the heights of fame and glory just to fall at a slight detection by peers of a personal flaw. No one goes scot free.

Thus, Othello the powerful general in command of several hundred soldiers discovers that he is weak of heart just like any one of us. Or Coriolanus, for that matter, a spoilt brat of an aristocrat and once Rome’s most powerful general would learn towards the end of his colourful career as a soldier and gentleman that the only personal record worth keeping of him was the fact that he was Lady Volumnia’s son, nothing more, nothing less.

Elsewhere, and away from Shakespeare, other examples of literary irony abound. One such example is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, Ozymandias, where one reads of a powerful Pharaoh sneering at those who dare criticise his lifetime achievements with the curt remark: “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!” What follows in the reader’s mind is the powerful imagery of a kingdom in the form of a sea of desert stretching far away.

There is really nothing to see there.

But the irony in all this, and we now come to the point of what storyboard is getting at, is that the poet who penned those words remains in the minds of humanity for centuries on end and will probably do so for as long as that humanity lives on to remember. Indeed, the very consciousness of literature and art in our lives is the thing that lasts forever. It will never step aside.

And here’s the oracle about literature overall that will blow your minds: that a literary device lasts, whereas a literary technique as a supportive companion in literary creation does not. The technique as noted in Shakespeare is the bard’s choice of theatre as an avenue through which he told England and does the world today that the Greco-Roman world was and is worth study. The device noted in his craft is the choice of character study in that Greco-Roman world. Each of these tragic heroes is worth studying for no other purpose than for us to learn the truth most common to us all. The plebeians eat as much as the aristocrats, even though the manner of eating for each one may differ. But they all eat all the same. And that’s the common truth. The word grain (as in The Tragedy of Coriolanus) becomes food as much as a political tool for all parties concerned. But it is the sort of word that causes powerful men such as Caius Martius Coriolanus to begin experiencing certain obstacles in their career developments. Then, of course, they lose patience and in some cases start swearing.

On that last point storyboard would usually point out to his students that Coriolanus was lauded the best of Shakespearean tragedies by literary greats such as T.S. Eliot. Ironically, however, it is the only play where you find more swearing than in any other Shakespearean drama. But we do get the point, don’t we? It is considered the best because of its ordinariness in character study. Coriolanus gets into the habit of addressing the plebeians as “curs” and as people less deserving of Rome’s lofty mannerisms and sentiments of intellectual enlightenment. That of course leads him to so much pride and arrogance and eventually to his downfall.  But the gist in all this as far as character study goes is the way Lady Volumnia influences him into taking up a position in the hierarchy of the Roman senate. He does get to the top but of course there are men such as Brutus and others to reckon with.

And now back to the question of how Shakespeare would fare in a country like ours. Would he step aside as the bard of England? Yes, he did step aside at a much younger age than many of us think. That was when he made just enough to retire to his village at Stratford-upon-Avon. He had land; he had a family to fend for. But in many respects he had been the most fortunate of writers and artists who lived at a time when the monarchy itself became the great lover of literature, the arts and the theatre. Everywhere she went, particularly in the provinces, Queen Elizabeth I had asked for nothing more than a cultural fete or festivity. She would of course be the one responsible for this word ‘royalty” a sort of stipend paid to writers and artists at her bidding and which nowadays assumes so many roles as the “paymaster” of all sorts of trades and set ups here and there – quite, quite removed from the world of belles letters...
But wait, what’s that place I see yonder? Pray, dinghy operator, cut down the throttle; heave thy vessel closer, shoreward. Is that Bogaboga I see? Looks bucolic enough; isolated, idyllically enchanting and far removed from the noise of Port Moresby. Pray, operator, leave me here, on these remote shores, and don’t come back for me. But wait again, what’s that I hear up the beach. Voices. More voices. “Welcome home, storyboard! Where’s our sugar? Where’s the tea? And the rice and tinned fish? And hap spear? Some buatau?”

“Dear oh dear, talk about stepping aside. Let the nakimis and tambu lewas take over the whole global theatre then,” chuckles the bard. Backstage, the bard is heard drinking wine, cackling and cracking jokes with the youth of Stratford (or is it rather the youth of Bogaboga and Tototo?).

                               MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Glad tidings

Photo: Ekar Keapu, The National newspaper.
The name Powes Parkop sounds like glad tidings around Christmas time. That is what residents of Port Moresby went to discover at a local park Sunday evening (5/12/10). Among them were storyboard’s children and grandchildren.

And the grand children’s reaction?

There were lights, many of them – lights of different colours. And there was an elephant and a giraffe and some other animals. The city was lit up. It was really beautiful. Here, bubu daddy, we even have a video recording of it all. You should have stopped listening to your Maria Callas and come with us.

“True, true,” nodded storyboard, “if only your parents took the trouble of buying a 15 seater to fit us all in. Were there many people there?”

“Yes, bubu, many people came. Even the securities could not allow us to sit on the elephant’s tusk and take photos.”

“Tusk or snout?”


One thing is clear. These little children are beginning to see that the city they are growing up in promises to be lit up all around, colourful and safe. As they grow up they feel certain they can walk the city’s streets from the fall of evening to late without anyone bothering them. And it would be all the more encouraging if they felt addicted to such a sentiment of cleanliness and feeling of safety, a sort of homely atmosphere for all.
This does not mean that Port Moresby has never been such a spot of beauty and enchantment once in the history of its making. What men like Parkop are doing is revive those familiar sights now lost to the rush of so-called development and transmigration of people from various corners of the country. It is the sort of sense of belonging that we all must claim ownership to.

Port Moresby is not a city that belongs to a collective few who initially are Motu Koitabuans on the one hand and to pocketful concentrations of Highlands and non-Highlands settlers here and there. Port Moresby is a city that has now become everyone’s affair. It is indeed an affair. But we must regard that properly as a love affair. How can we claim we love a city if we turn around and abuse it with so much litter and spit? How can we, for that matter, claim we love a family member or a loved one if we go on panel beating her as an expression of love?

Men such as Powes Parkop and his team of parliamentarians and landscape developers who are now creating that strong sense of collegiality among themselves for no other reason than to beautify the city once all over again must be commended. They are good people who need our support as members of the city’s community more than words of flattery. These are very simple people like you and me who care about the city so much that they will not rest until they make Port Moresby become a centre of all manner of festivity throughout the Asia Pacific region. Be that instance of festivity centred around sports, cultural festivals, regional summit meetings or certain contests such as the recent beauty contest – these become important observations for which and through which we can feel prompted enough to keep the city clean.
Another aspect of Powes Parkop and his group of workers that deserves commendation and which indeed deserves a lot of thought on our part as ordinary citizens is their choice of simplicity in starting up a project and completing it. In all these situations these men and women do not opt for expensive and lofty jargon as much as literature to get their message across to the ordinary member of Port Moresby community. Listen, says one at one time or another, we just want to build the Great Wall of Koki down town. Or we just want to put a few huts and seats at various points around the city for our children to play. And there we go.

So who are we then who, instead of helping and supporting them by similar gestures of doing something positive for the city, turn around and spit buai juice at billboards asking for our cooperation? As storyboard once heard a grass roots youth remark, “Sapos yu no bihainim tok bilong ol biglain bilong yu mi, kanda bilong dispela stap yet.” (If you don’t pay attention to what the biggies are saying there is a reward forthcoming, meaning, “Woe unto that youth who refuses a word of blessing from the old and wise elders.”) That youth was very wise indeed.
Cleanliness and observing a lifestyle of hygienic habits is free of charge. No one will demand payment for the good shower you have had this morning. (Then again no one will help you pay Eda Ranu for that shower.) We must develop that attitude about living in the city that we love by feeling addicted to the cleanliness and hygienic settings that surround us. Seeing a strayed trash in the form of a candy wrapping flying towards you should be sufficient clue in picking it up and putting it in its proper place. Feel addicted to that. You don’t do that out of sense of duty or because somebody else told you to do it. You do it yourself because you are addicted to the habit. That simple gesture done a thousand times over in a month leads all of us to seeing a city that is at once clean and beautiful. So let’s get addicted to this. Let’s help Powes Parkop and his team clean up. Here, in the head firstly, as the appropriate the poet says, then along the footpath as we walk along. Clean up.
This sentiment of cleanliness and hygienic living is our glad tidings from Powes Parkop and his team of dedicated workers.

Finally, and as pointed out above, a great number of us living in Port Moresby today are outsiders. We are indeed an eye sore to the people who are the real landowners. We must pay a certain amount of compensation for that. There is no better gesture of compensation than making ourselves look tidy and keeping the streets of the whole city clean and beautiful. That much the landowner would ask of us more than all of King Solomon’s kingdom and wealth put together.
Photos this and above 4 by Perry Poha & the Soaba family.


Saturday, 4 December 2010

More favourites from The Anuki Country Press

Biriko in the moonlight

(an Anuki children's folk dance)

Hus gowin tu da mun?
Not mi;
Ai kamin from dea, mon.
          Kwarureregi, kwarureregi;
          Kwarureregi, kwarureregi.
The children join hands
in a biriko ring;
fingers stretch, clasp, hold firm.
They dance the biriko
to the right, to the left
          Kwarureregi, kwarureregi;
          Kwarureregi, kawrureregi.
Two break into the centre.
The others move in, complete the cirle:
fingers stretch, clasp, hold firm.
They dance the biriko
to the left, to the right;
        Kwarureregi, kwarureregi;
        Kwarureregi, kwarureregi.
The two in the centre dance:
feet down, palms touch;
his head wags and her hair flies.

They dance the biriko
to the right, to the left;
to the left, to the right.
         Kwarureregi, kwarureregi;
         Kwarureregi, kwarureregi.
Hus gowin tu da mun?
Not mi;
Ai kamin from dea, mon.

From Kwamra: a season of harvest

Afternoon rain: campus consciousness


for the nth student

rain clouds at 3pm
greyed green absorb
matters of campus consciousness

walking neath slothed clouds
equatorial j.w. turner storms
neath concrete pillars
& erected sands
to the halls – lecture rooms
tutorial cellars – the floors
once swept by last semester’s
feet are again dank & inhabited
by frogs who caint leave us alone

the earth is laid flat
back aching
on the green of the now tired gods:
this is the only begotten
afternoon rain
laid bare & tropical before you

the rain’s a-drumming on sagothatched memoirs
a houseful of masks & tapa patterns
marx assignments & confessional testimonies
& mirrors that promise champagne
satin ecstasies/solitary lake
ghost city of the last graduates

                                                    From Kwamra: a season of harvest

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The love poem

Papua New Guinea does not know how to write a love poem.

Look around you now and notice the wattle-looking trees in bloom. In all their golden glory, you say, someone should write a sonnet about them. But then a young man comes along with a stick and with a single swoosh mows the yellow things down. Petals go flying everywhere, and these poor trees, surely, did not ask for that. All that they wanted to do, if they could talk, was bring joy to those who look at them. And perhaps in response to their glory we, as human beings, would walk under and around them holding each other’s hands.
The joy of writing that love poem nowadays is thus restricted to those students of creative writing at high schools and universities. No one else seems to be interested. Oh, yes, writing a sonnet is part of growing up, many of us say. “And then we get over it,” we add, in favour of that young man with the stick knocking the lovely petals down. We have certainly lost the way in growing up.
Writing a love poem is base, we then say. Indeed, all act of poetic composition belongs to that caste that is primordial. Thenceforth, we opt for articulacy, the sort that woos us into forgetting that we have a culture of our own. And all cultures are deeply rooted in poetry – particularly love poems.
The only love poem that Papua New Guinea is familiar with is the song that we regard as our national anthem. But even that, if one recalls Justin Kili’s words, is left to the children at primary schools to recite everyday of their lives until they get to high school when they forget all the words. We could perhaps add here that aside from the children in primary schools, mothers and the elderly, usually at the local churches, take the trouble of singing the song at all along with the pledge that goes with it.

When we compare this attitude that we have about love poems to other cultures we will notice how much we have omitted in the very process of making ourselves become human beings. Man is a project, says the appropriate philosopher. He is what he makes of himself. Thus, if that love poem is missing in our lives, then that is what we have made ourselves become in the final analysis. Never mind about that young man with the music box and who’s got all his ears plugged up he looks like he’s floating on the blades of grass, not walking on earth. He is bound to lose the way if we don’t stop him in time and show him the direction to his own house. But at least he tries to know what a love poem means compared to, let us say, a parliamentarian who never tries and none of whom, come to think of it and seeing that ours is a Commonwealth country too, has ever heard of Dame Shirley Bassey singing Big Spender.
And now we come to the point of this article. If all our parliamentarians knew what a love poem was, or what a sonnet was [pastoral, Shakespearean or Petrarchan], it is true we would begin to realize how beautiful our country is. Beautiful towns and cities, clean streets, no spitting, no littering, no traffic jams and unnecessary dumping of waste along public drains. The green foliage, the enchanting shores and coastlines, the islands, the rivers and mountains, and the opalescence of the ocean depths – all these things we have as national treasures; and they are crying out for a love poem to be written about them. Nine times out of ten we do not care. Yet this is the only rich cultural heritage that we have. It would help our image a lot if we took up the habit of writing sonnets and odes: to our loved ones, to our neighbours, to our people and our country.

Two months ago storyboard went out in search of a poet who could write the best poem about his or her love of the country. What he received was hardly encouraging. The word corruption seemed to take toll of each poet’s vocabulary, along with greed, cruelty and avarice. But storyboard managed to come across James St Nativeson selling peanuts and corn at a certain settlement, so he announced: “Sir, spare me a love poem for our country.” He did get it, and we reproduce the whole text here.

         red eyes
a cold stare
a mindseye bedazzled
par picasso butchers
greening your yellow profile
kandinsky bloodbaths
roygbiv absented

      & tis a temple
or a chapel
a cathedral, even
no once were
nor future
tourist resort
none comes out
of there alive
just a few
corrupt men
being maggots
on an island
of paradise...

The poem sounded so creepy and scary that storyboard asked for aspirin before a translation, if any, on the spot. To which response St Nativeson said: “My dear fellow, in order to understand the whole poem you must be well versed in Cubism as well as Expressionist and Fauvist art. But if it is translation you want, I’d much rather explain what the poem really means. The poem is about young initiates who enter the haus tamabaran for the first time, and thereupon become hostages, or more precisely victims of a curse or spell under which they start worshipping an ogre whom they address as chief. As they bow down deep in worship, and at the same time confess that they have no more baby brothers and mothers and sisters left to be brought to the ogre’s sacrificial table, he starts devouring them, one by one.”

“Naughty boy,” was all storyboard could say of the “persona” of the poem as he came away. He felt faint.
When storyboard was a few metres away, St Nativeson called after him: “You asked for a love poem, didn’t you? That is the best I can provide for you. Believe me, it kept me going when I was in Budapest, singing it as a jazz piece at side cafes for change, which in turn helped me pay for food and lodging. That is the best love poem other countries can ever expect from out of Papua New Guinea.”
Photo by Ketsin Robert; the ones above by storyboard.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Smooth Operators

The taste of the salt wind...
 There is a saying among dinghy operators in the Cape Vogel area that the moment you reach the decision to travel during rough weather, there is no turning back. “Once you get that 40 horse power going – don’t turn back,” they say with the click-swish of the thumb across the throat. And they are serious with that remark. A panic-ridden decision to turn back in mid journey might have terrible consequences. Many lives have been lost in this part of the Cape Vogel Basin through such errors in judgment.

A dinghy operator in that area professes to be an experienced sailor. He knows the nature of the tide and the current that flows with it. He knows the taste of the salt wind that touches the hair of the skin and what that might mean a few minutes later in the journey. And just by feeling the strength of the surge of tide against his vessel, he can tell how far he is from land, even if he has no compass nor stars to guide him. When the waves get bigger and fiercer, lancing white teeth at his vessel from virtually all directions, he knows when to hum down on the drone of the 40hp throttle and when to rev it up, as if dancing along with them and all the while allowing his 23 or so footer to surf, not cut or surge through, atop and along one before landing with ease at the side of the next. The passengers in turn place their trust in the operator because they know he will get them home.

Sometimes the weather gets so bad fog and mist cover much of Goodenough Bay and if a dinghy happens to be out there, it can quite likely stray towards the Solomon Sea or Trobriand group of islands and further beyond. One cannot even see the mainland from which one had sailed out. Even in that situation, the operator can tell how far he is offshore by simply watching the waves converge. Each time the waves converge, forming a formidable looking apex somewhat – that indicates a meeting point of the incoming tide with the receding one. He then knows he is not too far off from land.

One of the fascinating sights to behold is the way the operator and his crew ease out the dinghy to the depths in the fog of morning light, as their passengers settle themselves securely on their seats before each journey. While there is so much anxiety about how the weather might turn out as the sun rises, the crew carries on the usual ritual of wading into the water and tasting the salt from the finger tips. Some crew members stand up front and, on the pretext of lighting a spear, determine the speed of the salt wind before giving the signal for the operator to start up the engine.

At this point we should give those dinghy operators a hand for the wonderful work they do in transporting their passengers as well as goods and services from main centres like Alotau to their villages and back. Though they may not look fashionable or crafty as much as mysteriously elusive as the “Western male” in Madam Helen Folasade Adu’s jazz rendering of the phrase, they are indeed, and in this context, our “smooth operators” in the banana boat mode of transport.

But storyboard’s reasons for mentioning this crop of dinghy operators in a Milne Bay setting like Cape Vogel are as follows.

Firstly, the good work that Charles Abel has done by providing all the LLG wards in his electorate with dinghies. The dinghies serve their purpose at communal level in the areas of health, education and certain awareness programs that come under the auspices of AusAID and UNDP, including insertions of programs from various NGO entities such as the Summer Institute of Linguistics and VITAL (vernacular initiatives in scriptural as well as literacy workshops). These programs would not work easily or successfully without the availability of these Samarai Plastic products such as the 23foot banana boat or the 18/19foot outboard motor. For that Charles Abel as much as his group of dinghy operators from Suau to Midino must be commended.

Secondly, the Cape Vogel Basin remains quite certainly the most ignored area of the country by the PNG Government, not outsiders, and this has been evident for the last 40 years. During the last 5 decades no development program under the trade mark of this government or those previously has reached the Cape Vogel area. We have seen glimpses of one man’s efforts so far, and these come in the form of dinghies and their smooth operators that we talk about. Michael Somare has never in all his years as Prime Minister heard of Cape Vogel.  

Turn the coin, however, and what do you see? This particular area, though remote and insignificant in the eyes of innumerable PNG governments and their land developers, braces to welcome the global community as the final and certainly the largest of resource locations there is ever to be found. What the people of this area are doing nowadays is preparing themselves for that day. How will they handle the enormous wealth that lies buried deep within their land and under their seabeds?  

For the present each village makes do with whatever its people can afford; in lighting up a village with generators, for example; or working in collaborative partnerships with certain NGO factions in the areas of health, literacy and education. And though the whole region (Rabaraba District) looks agriculturally poor, there is often abundance of food and meat made available.

A well-respected politician and academic from the Nipa-Kutubu area, who had never made it to Parliament, thank God, once looked at that area of the Milne Bay Province and remarked: “You people are the tiller at the end of the boat that steers the nation along. Liken Papua New Guinea to a dinghy that tilts its head up when the 40hp engine is revved up. There, you can see your significance as the operator of the nation clearly.”       

Friday, 5 November 2010

Poetry is the right word the right time

The ever popular Hetei Dickson singing "Sail Away" at the Murray Barracks.
A genteel folk and jazz artist like Tracy Chapman would probably ruminate for days before settling down to pluck out the right words at the right time on her guitar. Words surely don’t come easy in poetry, eh?

But in the Milne Bay Province they do.

There, poetry is always the right word sung at the right time. It does not matter when you sing it: in the 50s, 60s, 70s or the 80s; or right up to the present; it comes naturally through the avenue of the five key bars on the guitar; and at any time. And anytime is always the right time.

Come away to the islands
Down eastern Papua way

See what storyboard means? Whether it is Harry Belafonte, BB King or Chet Atkins one has in mind these would be synonymous with Kulusia and Hetei Dickson. Kulusia and Hetei Dickson are indeed the blues and jazz, the country and folk of the Milne Bay Province. In the 60s and 70s young people throughout Papua New Guinea came to schools and even to towns humming Kulusia or Hetei. And if those tunes weren’t about those idyllic settings of swaying palms and lovely beaches then they would be about a certain location called Logea, the centre of Milne Bay music.

How many of you men and women of the 60s and 70s today, for example, can deny ever singing or at least humming Kai, kai, kai Logea mo? Storyboard has contemporaries from the Eastern and Western Highlands who can sing Kai Logea better than he. And they can handle the five key bars very well, too. By which remark we mean to say that Kulusia and Hetei Dickson are our national heritage, our treasures in poetry, music and dance.

And that is part of an idea which storyboard went to witness at a fund raiser organized by prominent lawyer and musician, Allan Baniamai. This was two Saturdays ago at the Sergeants’ Mess of the Murray Barracks. A fair crowd gathered there, consisting mostly of little family groupings from Milne Bay. And it was nice hearing Hetei sing again.

Baniamai’s idea of such gatherings is to bring music and poetry together, a little like what John Kaniku did around Port Moresby in the 70s and 80s. In these gatherings, and as each family enjoys the food and feasting, there must be a poem read, a song sung, a little drama performed and a new format of choreography put to test – all the time ensuring that creativity stays alive and useful as a communal pastime. But most of all to promote new and upcoming Milne Bay musicians right in the midst of celebrities like Hetei Dickson. 

The new and popular band being promoted at this Murray Barracks fund raiser was Peter Philemon & The Charms Band. They were fantastic in representing songs in all the languages of the Milne Bay Province. They sang all the songs. When they came to singing a song called “Niworoa”, in the Are language, a language closer to where storyboard comes from, the rain fell.

But beyond all that Allan Baniamai wanted to express something deeper: that as Papua New Guineans music has always been part of our lives for the last, one might say, 50 years. That is, speaking strictly in “contemporary” terms and from our perspective. We do have a rich culture of music prior to that, but when it comes to translating part of that onto the bars of imported instruments such as the guitar and the ukulele, our very life in that bracket of the music world has been in existence since soon after World War II.

And it was out of that imported experience that we would in the 50s and 60s have musicians such as Kulusia and Hetei Dickson emerging into national prominence. Those were also days when names such as Skeeter Davis, Slim Dusty, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, etc, proved influential in our musical sensibilities. But despite all that “influence” notice what Kulusia was doing to Milne Bay music overall. When interviewed by Radio Milne Bay in 1972, his reply to the code word “how” was as awesome as any ethnomusicologist would want to look for and discover: “I walk along the beach with a kipa board. I hold the board against the wind. How the wind strikes a strand of that kipa board is the first note of my song.”

Thus, the creation or composition of the classic Mana eo bagodu (Wind and waves).

The word “kipa” is not, by the by, a Suau word, the lingua franca of the Logea/Kwato area. It is a Cape Vogel word. The kipa board in modern terms translates as the keyboard instrument. Kipa is part of a sago palm. Shed the leaves, split the palm in half, scrape the inside a little and you’ll see the strands, as fine as guitar strings.

None of that recorded interview with Kulusia survives today, either at the studios of Radio Milne Bay, Alotau, or at those of the National Broadcasting Commission, Port Moresby. Modern technology has driven much of the old apparatus of tape recorders and tapes into the archives of negligence. No one cares about preserving these when the ear plugs and mobile phones have come upon us suddenly to control our musical lives. But thanks to Google and the blogger much of what Kulusia had said then and which is stored away in human memory can now be transcribed, however little, for the world to read about.

In the same year (1972) a string band competition was held at the Samarai Town Hall. Contestants from all over Milne Bay, including Central, participated. In the end, the winner of that competition turned out to be no one else other than “Sipoma”, meaning, yours truly, Kulusia. And the winning song was Mana eo bagodu.

Much needs to be written about Kulusia and Hetei Dickson. Also about what music and poetry have done to our lives during the last 40 or 50 years. As storyboard shared this thought with Hetei Dickson at that Murray Barracks gathering, poetry is “a lived educational experience.”

At the opening of this article storyboard mentioned Tracy Chapman – and deliberately so. Artists like Chapman revolutionized as much as preserved their folk heritage. We would like our young generations to do the same for Kulusia and Hetei, not just through music but also through poetry such as what the poet Kitaluwa from the Medical Faculty (UPNG) does and who came by to read her work at that gathering.  One of her poems is represented below.

                                         Easter Sunday Gale
Willy wags chirped jubilantly
As she whistled through the Rosewood trees
Grass bowed in obeisance
Their white heads in motion, like waves over the sea
Windows rattled, doors banged
And fly screens screeched in protest
As she meandered her way into every niche
Sweeping, lifting and turning
Dust of forgotten past twirled and ricocheted in shame
As she mercilessly lay bare hidden tales
Then… all was still.
Just as she came
 She was gone! 


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Return of PPP and Gideon's Bible

A sight to behold at the Waigani Campus: the famous steps leading heavenwards.

Once, a long time ago, storyboard was listening to his class mates perform a song at their school’s assembly hall. The song they sang told the story of an adventurous young man going abroad and then returning home in his latter and grumpy years to catch himself reading Gideon’s Bible in his own study. This reflective type of storytelling would later become known as magical realism which writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez found fashionable. But it’s a good way of remembering things – particularly those that we regard as memorable.

Storyboard mentions this because as he walked to work recently at the Waigani Campus a young man stopped him and gave him a free copy of Gideon’s Bible. He suddenly remembered the song of his class mates in his younger days. Then as he continued his walk towards the University Bookshop a cover of a Papua Pocket Poets (PPP) series from the 60s and 70s caught his eye. Two wonderful things happening once all over again, thought storyboard and strolled over to his office.

So what’s the big deal about PPP and Gideon’s Bible?

The big deal is that literature is taking on many new shapes and forms. When we consider PPP and the Gideon version of the Bible we are looking at the phenomenon of sustenance and continuity, particularly of those literatures that are meant to last forever. But they are also allowed to take as many forms and shapes as they can in a given age. Sometimes they can get repeated over and over, particularly through the internet, someone somewhere along the line is bound to say, “Hey, that’s illegal. You are not allowed to write that because it was my idea in the first place.” But, those are some of the disappointments for some writers at one time or another.

Those disappointments brushed aside, we consider the format of any form of literature nowadays as overall important. When we look at the size of the Gideon Bible storyboard was given, it is small enough to be carried in one’s breast pocket. The size of a PPP collection of poetry is just about the same, only a little larger. But the good thing about both types of publication is that no matter how much time causes us to forget either one of them they are there all the same and they are bound to pop up at one time or another.

Both are fundamentally important necessities in the life of anyone who cares to read.

The Gideon Bible shapes and moulds a young mind to grow up strong and steady while PPP encourages that same mind to prosper creatively. Somewhere along the line there may be some conflict of interest developing. But what matter. They are both literature anyway. And it is nice to preserve them in the format that both assume.

Talking of preservation, and the phenomena of sustenance and continuity, Ulli Beier had handled this handsomely in the early 60s and 70s. He started a creative writing program that sought to preserve as much as encourage, sustain as much as become of itself a useful commodity if not utility in the classroom environment. The Gideon’s copy felt in the pockets would be as useful as the PPP scrap book brought into the classroom.

On the subject of sustenance and continuity there is a new kind of “face lift’ being done to the PPP series by the University Bookshop. The series will be revived with reprints of the old pocket books as much as new titles added to it. Of new titles, storyboard is aware of some good ones now being written with fresh experimentation in the areas of literary techniques and devices. Here storyboard has in mind poetries in the spirit of those being written by Lapieh Landu of Divine Word University; aside from looking at The Crocodile Prize, their authors could also consider the PPP series as handy material made available for the literature student.

Of the literary significance of the PPP series, what could be more tantalising than what Ulli Beier himself says as the founding father of this publication.

“When I accepted an appointment to the new University of Papua and New Guinea to teach literature, I vowed that I would not impose Eng-Lit on the students! My research showed that there was nothing available – especially in poetry. I found a collection of Malay folk-poetry, and a selection of verse from the Pacific area – both in German. I translated them into English, and these PANTUN and TAAROA became the first titles in the proposed series.

In 1967 I spoke to the University's preliminary year students who had expressed interest in studying literature as undergraduates. I issued them with a tape-recorder and instructed them to record, during their vacations, traditional poems and songs in their own languages,

As a result of this exercise, and translations into English, texts evolved as the basis for the first publications of Papua new Guinean poetry. These became part of the Papua Pocket Poets published from 1967. From the series' over fifty titles, we have selected a representative list including poetry from Indonesia, India, Nigeria, Aboriginal Australia, the Pacific as well as Papua New Guinea.”

That commentary will be included as an introduction to every volume of the PPP series reprinted. There are just about 40 titles that are to be reprinted, among them Kasaipwalova’s “Reluctant Flame” and “Hanuada” and the most colorful of folk poetry collections like "Aia" by Allan Natachee and "Warbat: Tolai Love Songs" by Apisai Enos. The new titles will carry similar commentaries depending on who does the compiling and editing.

But, delicate reader, you can probably see storyboard’s point here. Let’s go for that pocket-sized book. It matches perfectly with the bank card in the bilums that we dive for every fortnight.  


Sunday, 10 October 2010

Unravelling the makuri of fiction

Finally, the waif returns to the fold.

Finally, the makuri is no longer that lonely little boy running scared in the wilderness of abandon and neglect, but an important missing piece fitting back perfectly into the family jigsaw puzzle.

Now as far as new challenges in creative writing go, we have a story here in which virtually everyone is being asked to participate in the craft of fiction: the writer, the reader, the critic and, if one wills, the educator.

Brian Tieba’s first book, The Two Mountains, proposes to do that.

It is a story about twins, a boy and a girl. The girl is delivered successfully at birth, but the boy has to be, a few hours later, delivered through an operation. It is that operation that causes all the confusion. The girl is re-united with her biological parents soon after her mother’s recovery. As for the boy no one knows of his existence, least of all his survival, except the “Samarai nurse” at the hospital and her teacher husband whom the boy grows up to regard as his parents. The Samarai nurse and mother dies, the teacher father re-marries and what follows is an ordeal of a waif who will take years to search for and find his biological connections, not without a child’s traumatic experiences of foster care, child abuse and corporal punishment. His only remedy in life is the salvation he experiences at a boarding Anglican school, Martyrs’ Memorial where, at thirteen or so, he learns to become a man, self-reliant and strong enough to go out and challenge the world outside as a learned individual. Of course, he successfully completes his high school and passes the entrance examinations to a tertiary institution. By the end of the story he meets all of his family, except the mother whose “stomach was cut open to bring [him] out.”

In effect, The Two Mountains is really about the problems of orphans, adoption, child abuse and an examination of the existing laws governing the welfare of such children. The book also examines the educational opportunities offered by the relevant government authorities in association with, if any, various NGO and United Nations agencies whose job it is to care for such children.

A proper review may be offered by the relevant authorities on the subject matter that the writer proposes to deal with in The Two Mountains. Storyboard assumes that these authorities are those in the curriculum division of the Education Department, the Welfare Department and perhaps various peer education affiliates of tertiary institutions, including the UPNG open campuses throughout the country. However, before it reaches these people and institutions it is imperative and for the author’s benefit that this book be critiqued from the point of view of its proposed context – and that is that The Two Mountains is, strictly, a work of fiction.

So then, looking at the book from a creative writer’s point of view, it would need a fair amount of editing, not re-writing which is what the author is asking us to do. Each sentence must be carefully structured, no matter how simple it is, to allow for an easier flow in reading. This is a delicate story. It deserves such a treatment. Also, consider the grammatical problems of saying the same thing twice in a sentence. This is a problem encountered not solely by the new writer but by every one of the so-called well respected and established writers as well. Storyboard is not exempted from this dilemma.

From the reader’s point of view, we would like to ask the author to do away with those activity questions at end of each chapter? Again, this is a good story; let us enjoy it without distractions.
But then again, the author explains that this is a children’s book, in which case he may consider publishing the activity questions separately, usually at the end of the book or as an appendix covering all the chapters.

From a literary critic’s point of view: oh, dear, yes – a novel; a novel, did we say? No, Brian Tieba’s book is not a novel. We can properly describe it as a novella. And it has virtually all the properties that can help us define it as a work of fiction, if not a novel or novella.

Aside from the above, storyboard is fascinated by the thought content of The Two Mountains. A story is a good story if it contains in it the sort of moral lessons that concern us all as members of humanity. How good are we at handling our youth, at giving each the opportunity to become future leaders of our country? If the author gets those visions well in sight, then the future certainly looks bright for the nation as a whole. Time again storyboard hears his colleagues, such as Steven’s Window, referring to the constitution that we have and what visions that document holds in store for us, for our youth, and for our future. How many of our writers pay attention to such documents? The Two Mountains reveals to us that its author was paying particular attention to similar documents available in our society.

Some historical details in The Two Mountains are worth noting. Activities at the Martyrs’ Memorial School as explained by the author are well represented: the names of school buildings and dormitories sound all too familiar; the garden house where Prince Charles slept as a visitor from Geelong Grammar, the Endehi creek where he bathed and the diet of wan mun which he enjoyed with the boys of that school. One little detail needs correcting: the garden house where his royal highness stayed was the Sefoa garden house, not Maisin; the photo of the garden house which appeared on the front cover of Post Courier (South Pacific Post) at that time was the garden house storyboard built with the other Martyrs’ School boys from Tarakwaruru.

Finally, what is good writing? The rhetoric is straightforward: what is good writing, at all, if that writing shows little signs of its author’s ability to dream, to build – but above all, to just tell a good story. We all love stories. And we must be adamant about the idea that if our new author, Brian Tieba, falls into that habit of being a teacher rather than a modest craftsman as a story-teller then we will have problems in finding a replacement to tell us a good story about Makuri?