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.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The nature of our business

Illustration as adapted by the National Weekender.
While storyboard’s followers are regarding the phrase “storyboard as a business enterprise” with amusement, quite a number of our well read and respected citizens are thinking otherwise.

An explanation of what storyboard means by the phrase “business enterprise” seems in order.

But first, let us refresh our minds with storyboard’s initial idea in proposing to run “Soaba’s Storyboard” as a column in the Weekender pages of the National newspaper.

It is to offer book reviews for mass consumption, particularly within the academia and the student populations at various tertiary and generally educational institutions throughout the country. It is to share views and opinions on PNG literature with those who are interested in literature and in books in general. Above all, it is to provide entertainment through the avenue of print media from out of a world, namely, the arts and belles lettres, which not many may be keen in visiting. But the emphasis of all this lies on the pleasure one derives from reading the storyboard. That, of course, calls for a specialized skill in writing.

Now to the phrase “business enterprise” and storyboard’s purpose in using that terminology.

To regard storyboard as a “business enterprise” means precisely that its current main contributor is not the sole owner. Here, both the teacher and student of literature will agree. Soaba’s Storyboard belongs to every Papua New Guinean not necessarily as a business enterprise in the true sense of the term, but as a forum of discussion and exchange of views and opinions on literature. Our purpose in using the term “business enterprise” is to enable this crowd of Papua New Guineans to claim ownership of the storyboard. They are thus free to exercise that sense of ownership by contributing to “the board” as guest writers, not on“cash up front” but on “a penny for your thought” basis. That program we believe would benefit the aspiring writer or student of literature in a lot of ways and without much cost from potential sponsors and stakeholders.
Subsequently, the phrase “business enterprise” becomes an advertisement, but more precisely an expression of invitation to those writers anxious to get their thoughts down on paper. These budding writers must be given easier access somehow to expressing their views than they are now. The phrase “business enterprise” in this sense appears merely as an academic rendering of “linguistic acrobatics” – nothing more nothing less. It must not be mistaken as a clause or parts thereof extracted from a Memorandum of Association/Agreement, Articles of Association or any such legal document associated with any existing business enterprise in PNG.

The phrase further alludes as a literary device to that select and special PNG crowd known as writers, artists, musicians, academics, students and the like. The term merely becomes their “badge of honour”, an expression as noted earlier inviting their active participation through the storyboard column. None of these entities wilfully thinks and operates in monetary or financial terms about how the world around them revolves. They choose to view the world from that perspective and the chances are that the whole country goes into ruin.

Writers are creative innovators interpreting the mysteries of the mind, not doers leading all and sundry into disarray.

To illustrate this particular point: Nora Brash in the early 80s solicited the services of Post Courier with a front page photograph of students dressed up as police officers doing a mock-up of, as the caption ran, “police brutality on campus”. Outraged, the executive police personnel visited the campus demanding an explanation. Nora explained that she was producing the play “Black Market Buai” (or was it “The High Cost of Living Differently”?) and perhaps a little publicity would not hurt in drawing in a good crowd of theatre goers so that she could pay her performers at the end of the day.

In essence, writers are poor. They are not meant to exercise any element of industrial power over others. They merely deserve an audience, that’s all.

A similar illustration* reveals to us that in the late 1920s* a group of thugs jumped on a plane in Chicago to travel all the way to the west coast (California) to demand an explanation from a certain film director at Hollywood why he had titled his film “Scarface”. Al Capone won’t like this, they’d advised. Thereupon the film director embarked in all humility one imagines on explaining to his visitors that all this was art and that “it reflects the times that we live in.”  “Good,” came the quick nods of approval. “We’ll tell boss that,” and back they went to Chicago.

But whatever method that a writer chooses to express an idea in, that method must never deviate from the mainstream of what we regard as logic. He is consciously testing out new ideas and ideals, doing the best he can to ensure that those ideas and ideals work for the benefit of his readers and followers. In the end it is the art of all his intentions that matters. And that art must seriously be good in the truest meaning of the word.

Several weeks ago a group of literature students dropped by at storyboard’s office to announce that they were interested in becoming guest writers to his column. It was a new sort of idea in the realms of newspaper columns and Weekender feature articles but one that storyboard himself kept mulling over for quite some time. Why not was the initial reaction then, since after all storyboard itself is quite an “enterprising” idea. So a discussion ensued. It was then that Nicko Tundem, a third year literature major at the University of Papua New Guinea, first coined the phrase “storyboard as a business enterprise”. Said Nicko to storyboard: “You are our father. We study how you live. We will live like you right through to the end.” What Nicko meant then was that Soaba’s Storyboard had suddenly become an established entity unto itself and its author did not have to be Russell Soaba all the time.
*Storyboard cannot now remember the name of the biographer of Mr. Capone that he read many years ago nor the date of that incident. That is one humorous part of the work he remembers to this day.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

It is you who will carry on

Storyboard as a business enterprise

Storyboard has indeed become a big business enterprise in Papua New Guinea. Its guest writers are responding favourably we notice.
 Assuming the duties and responsibilities of a guest writer this week is Ted Wika Kaleo, also a second year literature major along with our previous guest writer, Charmaine Sialis, with his impressions on the course, Literature and Politics.
It is you who will carry on
by Ted Wika Kaleo

“Is it true that literature was the main driving force in Papua New Guinea’s fight for political independence?”
Mr. Soaba asked repeatedly in our first Literature and Politics class. He looked around expecting someone to give a bright explanation. Silence developed. Everyone just frowned at the question as if they knew nothing. The afternoon seemed hot. Very hot indeed.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, all right.”
It was a Thursday afternoon a few minutes earlier when I walked out of the library and walked towards the Arts Lecture Theatre. The campus was busy. Students moved in every direction, going to and coming from lectures and tutorials with books tightly held to their sides. Watching them from the footpath, they looked like restless ants at work in the shimmering heat. Some stopped to wipe out sweat from their faces while others chatted as they moved. As I walked past the Kuri Dom Building, I glanced into each lecture room. There were students listening and taking notes. In one hall, some excited students bounced in the corner while others passed time chatting up in small groups.
“These students seem to waste so much of their time,” I thought as if I was one of those time-conscious individuals who do things on time. Still walking, my thoughts flashed back to the old school. I recalled those famous quotes on the wall of our literature classroom. One of them read: “Someone who tells his brother to remove a speck from his eye without first having to take it off from his own eye is a fool.” These words were unforgettable. A moment later I felt that I was wrong in judging these innocent students. A sudden feeling of guilt struck me.
“Oh, God, I know I’m wrong. Please forgive me,” I whispered repeatedly as if I was speaking to a friend walking close by. A moment of silence developed in me. I closed my eyes and felt the afternoon breeze sweep through my face...
“Shit! Five minutes late,” I said as I rushed for the lecture. I could not waste time anymore. I walked straight into the lecture hall and found him. He had already begun his lectures. His lectures were so powerful that it gained much of our attention. Many students took down notes while some of us listened attentively, never to miss out any word that came out his mouth.

“I think I know this old guy,” I thought as I frowned at him. His photograph and writing appear frequently in the National. His literary works also appear in many of our literature and history books. Some of them were about our country’s political independence.

“Yes, yes of course, I know him. He is Mr. Storyboard,” I whispered while I studied his face carefully. His narrowed eyes were fringed with white eyebrows. His forehead wrinkled as he gave short frequent smiles. Although he looked old, he was more active. His actions and words were like that of an eighteen year old. He spoke plainly and his lectures were often challenging. At any point, I listened carefully trying to absorb every bit of information he was giving.

“The politics of Papua New Guinea could not have come this far without the work of literature,” he begun. “Our early writers recognized the importance of literature and made considerable use of it in the political development of this country. You see, Papua New Guinea was so fortunate in a sense that it gained its independence without any bloodshed. Countries like South Africa and Vietnam did not see the importance of literature in their struggle for political independence. Hence, they plunged into public riots and unrest that resulted in heated battles with their colonial powers.”

I listened in silence, trying to grasp what he was attempting to say. I did not care whether I took notes or not. All I wanted to know was the history of our country – to know how the use of literature paved the way in our country’s political independence. This is because facts were absolutely new to me. I had never learnt that in my old school. I only knew little from my history class that Papua New Guinea got its independence quickly because of the native attitude in helping war victims.

“We were fortunate to have writers like Albert Maori Kiki, Leo Hannett, Nora Vagi Brash, and so many others who have seen the importance of literature in this country,” he continued.  “They have used their writing to criticize, fight political oppression, mobilize the masses and advance political agenda in the face of colonial administrators to liberate our people. Now we are lucky to do things on our own. We don’t see the colonizer telling us ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ anymore. Indeed literature has freed us. Thanks to our early writers.”  

“It’s quite interesting. Really interesting to learn some new facts about our country’s independence,” I whispered to a friend who was scribbling away on his pad. The student did not say anything. He just kept nodding his head. I withdrew and faced Mr. Soaba again.

“So you mean literature is the main driving force in the fight for political independence of our country?” the student asked after he had scribbled down all his notes. I guessed he had the same feeling as me. He had been very quiet in taking down every word that came out of Mr. Soaba since the lecture began.

“Yes, yes. That’s precisely what I’m saying here, my friends. Literature was that political tool for the native writer. They used every aspect of our literature to challenge the colonial administration in order to bring about independence for our country,” (replied Mr. Soaba to our silent questionings) as he stepped forward to face us. “And now, listen, everyone,” he continued. “Political independence was the final result of the efforts of our early writers. They achieved what they had been fighting for. Because of their critical works, we got independence and lived up to that to this day. But what about our literary journey in the future politics of this country? Who will carry on what had already begun?” He paused, took a deep breath and looked around as if he had told us everything that we wanted to know. Suspense developed. Everyone stared; open mouthed, and waiting to hear what he would say next.

“It is you who will carry on, “he spoke out at last. And this time he let out that unconditional smile that he had never ever given throughout his lectures. We clapped and whistled as if we were partying at a concert. The noise died down at once – silence returned.

Suddenly, we heard murmurs coming from the doorway.  We turned around. It was a group of students – the other class. They were about to come in for their lecture. Mr. Soaba glanced at his watch and at the students standing at the door – then again at his watch.

“It’s time. Eurest beckons.”

We left.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Know your country

by guest writer Charmaine Sialis
I was stunned. I felt like pinching myself and probably I would wake up. Am I dreaming? But I was not dreaming. It was Friday morning of week 12. And this was really the last class of Literature and Politics. How did time fly so fast? I wondered. Mr Soaba had just wished us all the best in our studies for our exam in two weeks time.

He then looks at us and smiles. ‘The content of the exam will basically be testing how well you know your country. Do you know your country?’

“’Do you know your country?’” Did we? Was the question my course mates and I were pondering that day. As David, Clyde and I headed back to the library after class we could not help but question each other: ‘What did he mean?’

David spoke what we all were thinking. ‘I think he means we must know how literature has influenced political development – from the colonial period to Independence.’

Clyde adds, ‘Also if we know who was the first Papua New Guinean to write a book or something like that.’

‘That makes sense,’ I replied.

And it did. Suddenly it was as if someone had switched on a light bulb in my head just at that moment.

It was a bright beautiful Tuesday morning when I had entered ALT for the first class of Literature and Politics at the beginning of this first semester of 2011. While making my way to ALT, it had been obvious that the students were excited to ‘kick off’, as many would put it, with school. I too was excited but also anxious. Excited because I could not wait to see what this course was about. But I also was not sure whether I would be capable of handling this course in addition to my other three courses. So I thought I had all the right reasons to be anxious, why not? Little did I know that I would learn so much and yet so little from this course.

Our lecturer had already entered the ALT. After greeting us, he took down our names and said that he just needed our names, so we could leave and come back on Thursday. Sandra and I left the classroom together. I knew her as my brother’s girlfriend and was surprised but pleased that she would be my course mate too, even if it would only be for this one course. As we were walking out we tried to figure out what we would be learning from this course because our lecturer had not really gone into detail in the introductory lecture. But we wanted to know what was in store for us so we parted knowing that we would meet up again on Thursday and attend the Literature and Politics class.

Thursday afternoon saw my course mates and me sitting anxiously. Sandra and I were murmuring as quietly as possible to each other in the second row of the ALT. The rest of our course mates were scattered around ALT also talking quietly with each other. We all were awaiting the arrival of our lecturer, Mr Russell Soaba. I must say, when he entered and started his lecture and gave us a course outline, as he puts it, I really did not understand what to expect from this course just yet.

I looked at the course outline and noticed he had stated that the course would attempt to examine how much literature has influenced the political developments from the colonial period to Independence and right up to the present.

How will we be examining literature’s influence? How does literature influence the political development of PNG? These questions were just swarming through my head at that moment.

‘Do you know what the course is about?’ Mr Soaba is asking.

I jerk myself out of my dilemma, hoping no one noticed that I was doing 60 kilometres per minute in my mind. We all looked at him expectantly. Surely he would tell us. He would not leave us confused.

But he does not.

He merely chuckles and says, ‘I do not know too.’

‘Great!’ I exclaimed to Sandra. ‘So how are we supposed to know?’

There were some prescribed texts listed on this handout. Mr Soaba went through the handout with us.
‘After reading these prescribed texts and the recommended texts, you should know what this course is about.’

So that’s it, these books have the answer. I understood. I knew I had to read them if I wanted to learn something from this course. So I set out to read these books, thinking that it would be that simple. I would read and boom! Lights would flash and I would know how literature influenced politics. After reading through these books, however, I know now how wrong I had been to think like that. I see now that it is how I analyse these books that will count in the end because that is only how I began to understand how literature influenced politics. In the process, I learnt about Papua New Guinea.

I did not understand at first how the stories and articles which Mr Soaba issued to us to read and analyse would help us in this course. Also why every time we asked him about the next assignment, he would chuckle and say, ‘It will come, it will come.’

But I do understand now. In a way, he had started us on an extraordinary adventure through literature and then let us loose so that we could discover for ourselves its beauty and uniqueness.

Today, as the sun is shining through the curtains of the New Guinea Collection Section (of the library) I cannot help but smile. As the sun is lighting up this room, my mind is also being enlightened.

‘He knew what he was doing all the time.’ I chuckle to myself.

When he instructed us to read all the prescribed and recommended texts, Mr Soaba was equipping us with the tools that will help us to know our country. Through these books and through the seminar presentations that our class had throughout these past weeks I’ve learnt that literature moved my country to fight for its (political) independence and continues to guide her to becoming a better country. But is that enough? I cannot help but wonder. I realize I have learnt so much about my country yet so little to actually know my country.
A third year literature major at UPNG, Nick Tundem, who comes from the Wau Bulolo area, pointed out not long ago, and correctly so, that since Soaba’s Storyboard is a forum of opinions and views on PNG Literature, ownership by way of contributions should therefore go to every other Papua New Guinean writer as well. Subsequently, Nicko was invited to provide an article on Then Thousand Years in a Lifetime, but since that is taking a while to arrive we have invited this week a fellow student of his, Charmaine Sialis, a second year literature major, to take up the services of a guest contributor (as noted above).

Guest contributions are welcome at: ribuadakaipune@gmail.com.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Richard Kini, a realist

Kini's project covered by overgrown grass, weeds and moss...
The late Richard Kini of Riwalirubu village in the Balawaia area of the Rigo district was a realist, not a dreamer like most of us. But he would not stop dreaming big for his people and community. Whether those dreams were about his own Balawaia surroundings or those of his in-laws’ in the remote Anuki Country of the Milne Bay Province, he often did his dreaming much more realistically than even his closest of relatives could tell.
Visitors/relatives from the Anuki Country regarding the abandoned project.
One such dream was building a new primary school in place of the old one called Bina Primary School. Now Bina is located up the side of a hill just below Riwali village. It is so lopsided in appearance anyone can tell it needs a flat sort of landscape that can cater for school buildings, class rooms, teachers’ residences and sufficient space for sporting activities. Moreover, the school is located where much of the arable soil is for staple garden crops such as bananas and yams.
Where Richard wanted to build the new school was a mile down from there and upon the savannah plains, much of which consists of bog and marsh. The soil there would not do much for luxurious garden produce such as the prized yams or the longish looking bunches of Rigo besa and other crops both for subsistence consumption and market sales in town. It therefore needed only a good drainage system and some levelling at certain points to accommodate what would become a fitting location of a school, able to take in pupils from prep up to perhaps Grade 8.
After some negotiations with the landowners of the lower plains, it was agreed that the new school would be located there. A Japanese foreign aid program was invited to assist and within months three classrooms were successfully built. But then Richard became terribly ill and the project came to a halt.
The fact that no one offered to continue with the construction of class rooms and residential buildings after Richard’s death could imply that not everyone was in agreement with the prospects of the project itself. Several other factors come into play here. As it is with any other Papua New Guinea rural and semi-bucolic setting, our attitude to new ideas, new ventures into business or other, are not so much encouraging as positive. We tend to devalue ourselves with self-criticism more than look at ourselves from an optimistic perspective. To top all that we over-kill ourselves with so much of that self-pride. This is a terrible hangover affecting virtually all the southern regions of Papua New Guinea.
Bina Primary School at its present location. The house higher up is Mavis's, a cousin of storyboard and  widow of the late Richard Kini.
Thus, these could have been the causes why the project could not continue. But storyboard did ask around to find out more about why the project came to a standstill after the passing of Richard Kini. Wherewithal he would discover, and quite to his dismay, of course, that really the snag came from the biggies up at the top, meaning the elders of Riwalirubu most of whom are to be found in town, not at the village itself. The claim for ownership of Bina Primary School was noted to be strong up there. The elders did not want the school to be moved to a new location thereby denying them that sentiment of ownership. Of course, there is nothing wrong with such a sentiment. It is just that a school is a school, and it is meant for children, quite preferably children from all over the great Balawaia country itself. So it must be given a location which is spacious to cater for buildings and large playing fields. But too much bread and butter instead of the delicate diet of besa and bamboo-baked prawns can slow us a bit in our judgement of things, eh?
Today, what remains of the new site for Bina Primary School are state-of-the-art classroom buildings encroached slowly by overgrown grass, weeds and moss. The surrounding sparsely distributed gum trees offer no solace whatsoever, and the general atmosphere thereafter remains sombre as much as foreboding. For an outsider like storyboard and his Anuki party visiting Riwali at the time the atmosphere seemed like walking through a ruined kingdom. The ancient drum beats, the conch blasts were nowhere to be heard or seen and the building themselves offered more of an air of abandon than anything else.
Nonetheless storyboard’s party was there for a special purpose and that was to attend the guluma in honour of the late Richard Kini. The great Anuki Country felt and knew that the time had come when it would visit its partner clans, the Vetailubu, Golotauna, Gwalai and Burogolo, equal in rank to the ones in Milne Bay, in order to reclaim their daughter, sister, and mother after her years of service to those clans of Riwalirubu. But they did not do so without gratitude, especially with thoughts surrounding the fact that in honour of the woman once married to them a trade embargo was imposed upon their own community so that for many months no food crops would be transported to town for marketing until the guluma feast was observed and completed successfully.
What was saddening, however, was to come away from all that with thoughts that projects like those of Richard Kini’s might never be completed. But we trust that the elders of the hilltop clans will read this and with a change of heart complete the task that Mr. Kini had started. Bina Primary School does need a new and spacious homestead for the benefit of the children of the great Balawaia country.