Saturday, December 19, 2009

Colours of Christmas

Golden Shower (above)
Royal Poinciana or Flamboyant tree (below)

First published in Steven's Window. The National newspaper. Friday 18th December 2009.

At this time of the year we celebrate Christmas in different ways to mark the important Christian period of the calendar. It is also a time for Christians everywhere to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. In the Northern Hemisphere it is winter. White snow, green Christmas trees, and colourful lights characterize this period in most places. During the winter period most trees without leaves and flowers appear lifeless. In North America people go crazy decorating trees outside their houses with high voltage lights to lit up the nights. In the Southern Hemisphere it is summer. Rainy days, Christmas trees, summer activities, and colourful lights are switched on everywhere. This is also the time for personal budget blow-outs.

I appreciate the Christmas period in a special way that I would like share with everyone. In our part of the world many plants bloom at this time. Many people appreciate them, but do not know the names of these beautiful plants that give our Christmas special colours to lighten our spirits. We see them around us and admire them for reminding us of the beautiful things in life and for a great country, rich in biodiversity and exotic tropical plants. We are blessed with these wonderful tropical plants with their natural coloured flowers, showering everyday during the Christmas period.

Yet, if someone visiting our country asks about the names of the plants we would without doubt reply that we have no idea about the names of the plants that grow in out city. Once a visiting American writer and inspiration for the film Dead Poets Society, Sam Pickering, remarked that we have some of the wonderful flowering trees in Port Moresby, but no one seems to know the names of these trees. The remark sank like dry wine into the gullet of my soul. Sam is the author of the book Trespassing and was my guest at that time.

At this time of the year a number of plants show-off their flowers with splendid colours. The Golden showers and the Yellow oleanders display their yellow splendour. The Golden showers are also known as the monkey tree or the Indian Laburnum. Casia fistula is the Latin equivalent. The Laburnum is more than just a flowering tree. It is an important medicinal plant in Ayurvedic medicine of India, featured in the ancient religious rituals of cleansing against unbalanced mind and body.

Most of us have the Yellow oleander growing around our houses. The Latin name for this plant is Casabella thevetia, with yellow trumpet shaped flowers and long narrow simple leaves. In a silly way people name this plant as the yellow bell, though the genus name appears to have come from the Spanish casabella, which means small bell, referring to the shape of the flower. The Yellow oleander is a marvel to see.

Chief among the plants with red flowers in full bloom at this time of the year is the Royal Poinciana or the Flamboyant tree, known in Latin as Delonix regia. The Royal Poinciana is often associated with Christmas period, but never carries the name Christmas tree as most people like to refer to it. This tree is an ornamental growing all over the tropical environments. This plant is originally from Madagascar, but introduced to many parts of the world as an ornamental, together with the Golden trumpet (Allamanda cathartica), Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spectabilis), Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), Multicoloured lantana (Lantana camara), and Common Oleander (Nerium Oleander).

The perennials such as the hibiscus, the frangipani, the bougainvillea, the flame-of-the wood (Ixora casei), and the rosewood continue to display their spectacular flowers. The most popular is the frangipani plant, sometimes known as the Mexican plumeria, also known as Plumeria rubra in Latin. The red and yellow Mexican plumeria, bloom in concert with their cousin, the Singapore plumeria or the plumeria obtusa. These frangipanis have soft colours, texture, and nice smooth scent.

Other perennials with spectacular flowers are the Heliconia, also known in Latin as Heliconia psittacorum, the Jasmine, the Morning glory, and the St. Thomas Orchid Tree, also known as Bauhinia monandra in Latin. The red, white, and orange lilies add spectacle to the ground. There are many more plants that bloom at this time of the year in our yards, streets, and suburbs.

Imagine living in the Northern Hemisphere at this time with white snow, cold weather, and leafless trees to stare at and you stare back at them, wishing all the time that you were home to take in the beautiful sights and smells of flowering plants. I have been in this situation before, living through several winters of Midwest America, and know that the tropical flowering and leafy plants make my country a special home.

Many other plants are also in bloom around the country at this time. Whatever we do in the city during the Christmas period, let us pause for a moment to admire the blessings of the Creator. Our country is blessed with natural plants that make our Christmas more colourful than the cheap Christmas trees and lights we rush to buy for our homes every Christmas. We should be thankful to God.

Those of us living in the great city of Port Moresby want to see all our frangipanis, palms, and St. Thomas Orchid Trees remain untouched by careless individuals, drunks, and ignorant people during the Christmas period. Please, for once, leave the beautiful plants planted for our pleasure and peace of mind left alone. There is no peace in running through or onto the plants the Happy Gardener and the NCDC have planted along the roads for our enjoyment. No forgiveness for those who trespass against plants this Christmas.

To all loyal followers of this column I wish you a safe, peaceful, and Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Look after our flowering trees for our people, our children, our visitors, our friends, and non-resident Papua New Guineans to come home this Christmas to enjoy.

Tough Journey for PNG Writers

The second missing piece is now also restored on this blog. Tough journey for PNG writers
Source: Steven Window, The National newspaper. Friday 02nd October 2009. Publishing works of fiction, poetry, and drama is still trapped in a time capsule, writes Dr STEVEN WINDUO

The period between 1978 and 1990 creative writers and publishers moved away from each other. Publishers associated with the churches concentrated on religious publications. This period saw the proliferation of religious literature. Private publishers concentrated on non Papua New Guinean authors writing about Papua New Guinea.

The Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies (IPNGS) shouldered some of the burden in the 1980s. The IPNGS published several series on oral history, short stories and poetry. The writers with their works in print during the 1980s were part of the Bikmaus tradition. Special issues of the Bikmaus journal featured Mark Hau’ofa’s The Bride Price of Hura and A Sequel to the Bride Price, William Tagis’s Weekend Melodrama and Michael Tsim, Abrosyius Waiyim’s The Flooded Sipi and John Kilburn’s King of Marbles. Single titles were Toby Kagl Waim’s Kallan, Michael Yake Mell’s Kumdi Bagre and The Call of Land and Joseph Aguang’s The Sorcerer, published either by IPNGS or National Research Institute. Others writers of this tradition include Rex Okona, Gideon Kinkawa, Bernard Kaspou, Adam Vai Delaney, Jack Lahui and myself.

Books published in the 1980s include Paulias Matane (Aimbe series), Russell Soaba’s Wanpis (1978), Ignatius Kilage’s My Mother Calls Me Yaltep (1980) and all of John Kolia’s publication. Kolia used the publishing funds of IPNGS to publish his own books, arguing that all attempts at writing the great PNG novel had failed in his time.

In general writers were left in a limbo, to stand up on their own feet. The Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane worked closely with UBSPD and CBS, an Indian publishing company, had many of his non-fiction books published with this company. The same company published books written by Arnold Mundua, Francis Nii, Lahui Ako, and several others.

A number of us, including Regis Stella and myself, had our books published outside of PNG. Russell Soaba saw his second novel Maiba (1985), published by Three Continents Press in Washington, USA. Dellasta Pacific in Australia published Yauka Liria’s novel Bougainville Diary. Nora Vagi Brash published, Which Way Big Man-her collection of plays with Oxford University Press.

Oxford University Press published several children’s books for lower primary school children. Several anthologies were also published at this time. Macmillan published Through Melanesian Eyes, compiled by Ganga Powell. Oxford University Press published Moments in Melanesia, a compilation of short stories by Melanesian writers, edited by Regis Stella. Stuart Watson edited an anthology of prose and poems by Goroka University students, entitled Lost in Jungle Ways, published by Dellasta Pacific. Adeola James edited a collection of writings by Papua New Guinean women in PNG Women Writers, published by Longman, Addison, and Wiley. Two anthologies: Lali (1980) and Nuanua (1996) edited by Albert Wendt featured a section on PNG writers.

It seems Papua New Guineans are caught up on a pendulum of publishing supported (or not) by national and international publishing houses. UPNG Press published Tsomi by Matabuna Tahun, A Medal Without Honour by Nash Sorariba, and The Blue Logic by Wiri Yakaipoko. The Blue Logic was later published as The Dark Side of Port Moresby. The literary works published by UPNG Press were either funded by the authors or were funded by cooperate sponsorship.

With the demise of UPNG Press, the Melanesian and Pacific Studies (MAPS) of UPNG began publishing several books and journals, among them Melissa Aigilo’s Falling Foliage, Regis Stella and Linda Maeaniani’s Melanesian Passages, and Zia Writers of Waria.

As recent as 2008 a local printing company, Birdwing Printers began publishing several books targeted for primary school children. Local indigenous authors and foreign writers on Papua New Guinea still compete for the same attention with this publisher.

Oxford and Dellasta Pasific (later Longman, Addison and Wiley) became the major outside publishers. According to Oxford University Press publishing PNG novels, poetry, or plays is a non-profitable venture. Oxford’s strategy is to publish educational resource books promoting the outcome based education, most of these written by non Papua New Guineans. Oxford has no intention of publishing original works of creative fiction by Papua New Guineans. Instead it leeches on works published in journals, anthologies, and other publications.

How can international publishing companies promote a literary culture in Papua New Guinea when they do little to recognize the struggles of writers in this country? It is akin to the experiences of African writers in the 1950s and 1960s when major European publishing houses were more interested in maintaining a hegemonic status quo, visa-vise economic exploitation, rather than bridging the divide between European literary culture and postcolonial creative literary productions.

Papua New Guinean writers need financial support to have their works published. In the last five years I observed that a number of Papua New Guineans have begun self-publishing their own books. Without the help of the government or international publishing houses a number of local writers have gone down this road. At face value, it appears to encourage local authors, but the ambitious journey for a self-published author in PNG is unpredictable and treacherous, if left alone.

Russell Soaba self-published Kwamra: A Season of Harvest under Anuki Country Press; Yauka Liria and Stanley Liria published their books under Crossroads Publications, and Fegsley Risapi under his own company Bradwin. I self-published my third collection of poetry: A Rower’s Song, under my own publishing company known as Manui Publishers. I used my own money to have my books printed with a local printer. I have to make a lot of personal sacrifices to come up with enough money to have one book published. Life down this road is painful, yet fulfilling.

Books and publishing are inseparable in a literary culture. If there are no publishing activities then no writing appears in print. Writers depend on publishing companies to see their writings in print and read by many people. Publishing works of fiction, poetry, and drama is still trapped in a time capsule. From time to time we see bubbles of this great energy escape the bottom to fill up the top of the jar.

Listen My Country

The missing pieces are now found and restored in this blog. The first one is Listen my country
Source: Steven’s Window, The National newspaper. Friday 18th, September 2009. It is time, we, the country, listen to the voices of women, writes Dr STEVEN WINDUO

PAPUA New Guinean women were in parliament since 1961. A simple Papua New Guinean village woman made history that even some of the history books, except for Eric Jones’s book on Dame Alice Wedega have no records of, let alone celebrate the feat accomplished by a pioneer woman in our midst.PNG women have been asking their country to listen to what they have to say about themselves. We have not been listening. We have been assuming their voices all along. In so doing we have denied women to speak for themselves.

In her autobiography, Listen My Country, Dame Alice Wedega answers one of the moral question of our time asked by Gayatri Spivak, an Indian-born post-colonial literary critic based in USA: Can the Subaltern Speak? Can PNG women speak for themselves? In her life and in her book, Dame Alice, pleaded with her country to hear the voices of women. The book was published in 1981, a first by a Papua New Guinean woman.

Dame Alice was born in 1905 to Wedega Gamahari and Ema of Alo Alo village in Milne Bay province. She went to school at Kwato mission school led by Cecil Abel of the London Missionary Society fame.In a book on colonial impact between 1884 and 1984 Dr Anne Dickson Waiko and Prof Tony Deklen made scanty references to Dame Alice’s part in the 1961 Legislative Council.

Dame Alice did so much in her lifetime by speaking for our women in international gatherings in New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka and in Europe. A pioneer member of the Legislative Council between 1961 and 1964, she was one of the nine native representatives during the Australian colonial administration.Dame Alice’s life story is exemplary of a colonised Papua New Guinean woman’s ability to rise above the ordinary to transcend all expectations by participating in a political process dominated by white Australian males. She worked with Sir Cecil to bring Christianity to Abau and parts of Central province in 1935. She founded the Ahioma Training Centre in the early 1960s to train women welfare assistants in Papua New Guinea. In 1952 she represented women’s rights at the Pan Pacific Women’s conference in Christchurch, New Zealand. Later in 1952 she led the Moral Re-armament group to India and Sri Lanka.Her story is brought up again in Deklin’s discussion on the constitutional development, especially for a home-grown constitution, in PNG between 1962 and 1975. Following World War II Papua New Guineans played no part in decision-making in terms of constitutional changes until 1964. During this time the Legislative Council, created by the Papua New Guinea Act 1949, was the body advising the Administrator on the running of the Territory Administration. This Act was the basic colonial Constitution until it was repealed in 1975.
Only three Papua New Guineans were nominated on the Legislative Council of 29 members since 1951. The Legislative Council Ordinance 1951, however, prohibited them from voting or being elected on the grounds that they were “natives.”

This remained until 1960 when nine additional members were added in the new Legislative Council. The significant constitutional change in 1960, according to Deklin, was “the principle of indirect election of native members of the Legislative Council authorised by the Legislative Council Ordinance 1960.”The climate in the early 1960s was such that the Australian government wanted the indigenous representatives to vote with them on any major legislative changes because the administration chose them for such purposes. Of course, we now know, that Dame Alice did vote if she felt it was right. She voted against the administration if her conscience wins, as was the case against the Bill on Liquor Licensing in 1962.

In the Legislative Council of 1961 there was the sense of feeling that Papua New Guineans must take control of the future development of the Constitution. As a member to the Legislative Council, Dame Alice had the opportunity to vote for any legislative changes that would have a dramatic impact in the lives of Papua New Guineans. One such important vote was on the formation of the Select Committee on Political Development on Mar 9, 1962. Of course, later in the political development of PNG, in the 1964 and 1968 House of Assembly new Constitutional Development Committees were formed, headed by Sir John Guise and Paulus Arek, respectively. The last, but most important committee, known as the Constitutional Planning Committee of 1972 was chaired by Michael Somare and later by John Momis.By this time, Dame Alice was out of the political scene. She resigned from the Department of Welfare Services and went back to missionary work in 1972. She was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) that same year. Be it national politics, public service, or missionary work, Dame Alice had been a stout ambassador for women’s voices in PNG for many years.

Her history reminds me of the present political and social climate. The efforts to have three women members nominated to Parliament have come under a lot of scrutiny from the public, politicians, women’s groups, and NGOs. The decision to have women nominated to Parliament or voted in remains a political hopscotch.
At this time of Independence we have to remind ourselves that women, through the likes of Dame Alice Wedega, Dame Josephine Abaijah, Nahau Rooney, Matilda Pilacapio, Annie Moaitz, and Lady Carol Kidu have been wrestling with the bulls of PNG politics since 1961.

I do not profess to know constitutional law or legislative processes, but my conscience tells me that women must speak for themselves with their own voices and conscience in the National Parliament.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scientific Research and Development

First published in Steven's Window, The National newspaper 11 December 2009.

It is always refreshing to see some of our best minds at work in finding solutions to our problems. I had the rare opportunity of participating in the UPNG 2009 Science conference at the Holiday Inn between the 12th and 13th of November 2009.

The conference began with a little story of how the PNG Medical Society began to the story of how the Sir Buri Kidu Heart Foundation began. Captivating and challenging, when told by one of PNG’s top heart surgeons, Professor Sir Isi Kevau on the first day. The stage was set as scientists and medical health specialists got down to addressing the national and global issues through scientific research and development. The conference is the second organized by UPNG’s School of Natural and Physical Sciences and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Throughout the two days scientists presented papers on their researches on natural product research and development, biodiversity conservation and climate change, alternative energy to science education.

Exciting discussions on scientific collaborations, specific research on medicinal and nutrition value of plants, climate change, antibacterial screening of medicinal plants, phytochemical diversity from the rich biological diversity of PNG, to isolation and characterization of chemical constituents in native beans were generated. The dynamism of the first day of presentation was maintained on the second day of the conference. This is the second year of the UPNG Science conference.

Some of our leading scientists like Professor Teatulohi Matainaho, Professor Topul Rali, Dr. Augustine Mungkaje, Professor Chalapan Kaluwin were leading research programs in the sciences, together with students and international colleagues such as Dr. Prem Rai, Professor Bret Neilan, Professor Louis Brown, Professor Hugh Davies, Dr. Basil Marasinghe and Dr. Philip Kigodi. The wonderful thing witnessed in this conference is the involvement of students in the scientific researches done in Papua New Guinea. Their contributions are some of the most rigorous and innovative in their research methodologies. Original researches from students are often invigorating and exciting.

As titillating as Professor Topul Rali’s discussion of downstream processing of plant derived compounds and market opportunities from PNG plants is the student researcher, Clan Alok’s discussion on the measurements of above and below ground bio-mass carbon of a forest reserve area in the Bogia District of the Madang Province. Mr. Asi Anas of the Department of Fisheries in the PNG University of Natural Resources and Environment collaborating with Dr. Augustine Mungkaje of UPNG and others gave his findings on the biology of the fish species Hairback Herring (Nematalosa come) in the Bwemapou Lagoon in the Trobriand Islands. In a research carried out in the East New Britain Province, Peter Mwayawa reports on the pesticidal effect of six Tolai traditional medicinal plant herbs on Head Cabbage (Brassica oleraceae var. capitata) pests and diseases.

Discussions on the 1888 Ritter Island collapse Tsunami based on new data from sediment and oral histories, mapping mangrove cover change of the Bootless Bay in the Central Province between 1974 and 2000 using GIS and remote sensing techniques, and land use change and population growth in the National Capital District between 1990 and 2000 brought home the issue that important researches that can help national planners were possible because of sufficient funding. Without funding for such researches by the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Higher Education, we would not have known the present sea level trends in the Manus area or the cause of infectious disease outbreaks in Papua New Guinea.

The issue that remains central to me when it comes to research at the university level is that collaborative work across various disciplines and schools of thought is the key to conclusive results. Most times we tend to narrow down our researches to the walls of our disciplines. In doing so, we exclude other elements important in our researches such as the cultural factors and the human societies with their forms of knowledge systems. Our scholarships and research works must find currency and relevance in our communities. We must ask: who are the benefactors of our researches and discoveries?

Listening to the research on fish species Hairback Herring in the Trobriand Islands I remembered listening to an ordinary villager profess his knowledge of fish and fish stock in the Waria River of Morobe province. The man knows more about fish than anyone I have known. We have not documented the knowledge of our indigenous fishermen and fisherwomen. There is more we need to do in the area of traditional knowledge systems.

More collaborative researches between scientists, social scientists and humanists are needed. In the session I was in, a young scientist, Gelenta Salopuka gave her paper on the pharmacognostic characteristics of Alstonia scholaris or the Milky Pine plant. Her scientific work on the plant interested me because of my own interest in the plant as an important medicinal plant in my own Nagum Boiken society in the East Sepik Province. I have documented the uses of the Milky Pine as an important medicinal plant used in traditional medicinal practices, but also considered a sacred plant in many societies. Medicinal plants classified as sacred plants have intellectual property rights attached to them. In my society this plant is linked to a mythical storyteller who recited stories about creation, about men and women, and about life and death the whole night until the sun rose. He walked up and down each branch as he recited the stories and genealogies of the tribe. His name is kept in secret by those who tell the story of this man.

As researchers we should be mindful of the possible cultural exploitations we open the gates to. Working together can protect the intellectual property rights of our people and country. The ethnobotanist, Mark J. Plotkin’s says in his book Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice (1993) that the humble pink-flowered rosy periwinkle, native to southeastern Madagascar, fetches annual sales exceeding $100 million, yet not a penny goes back to Madagascar, the country of origin for the rosy periwinkle and one of the poorest country in the world.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Saving Our Languages

The article was published in Steven's Window, The National newspaper Friday 4th December 2009. Photo of young Gadsup speaker with mother. Photo credit: Keisiva Darius.

The Atlas of World Languages, revised edition, says that the future of the Melanesian languages and their survival is uncertain. The use of English in education and of varieties of Melanesian Pidgin as national languages means that many children are failing to acquire their parents’ traditional tongues. Many of these languages have fewer than 500 speakers. Many of these languages are disappearing everyday. The prognosis of many of the languages with less than 50 speakers is gloomy. The case of Papua New Guinean languages undergoing this linguistic death is more severe than perceived.

In the second week of November 2009 UPNG students of linguistics, professional linguists, and others concerned about the languages of Papua New Guinea gathered in a workshop to discuss language surveys in Papua New Guinea. The workshop is the first of several collaborations between linguists Professor Genevieve Escure of the University of Minnesota and UPNG colleagues Professor Kenneth Sumbuk, Mr. Sakarepe Kamene, Mr. Nick Garnier, Professor Betty Lovai and this writer. The concern with language death, unreliable data, inconsistent reporting, and the status of languages with less than ten speakers brought us together with students to work on a survey of languages in Papua New Guinea.

Languages in Papua New Guinea are under considerable pressure as the nation progresses from the stone-age society to the gas-age culture. “As communication, education, and modernization proceed, there is considerable pressure on many of the smaller languages of Melanesia,” reports The Atlas of World Languages. A small language like Susuami, spoken in the resettlement village of Manki in the Upper Watut Valley of Morobe Province has shrunk from 50 speakers in 1980 to about a dozen in 1990. We have no way of knowing if this language is still spoken today. Many more languages have been pushed off the linguistic map of Papua New Guinea without anyone knowing.

Early in this decade I raised the alarm on some of these languages. From the data made available from the SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) and other sources like the Ethnologue of world languages we know that at least more than 10 languages are death and another 12 or more were tagged as nearly extinct. The likelihood of this statistics achieving an increase in the number of moribund languages is a reality. Without concentrated efforts to research and map out local language use in Papua New Guinea this country stand to lose a lot of its languages.

We have no accurate data regarding the languages of Papua New Guinea. The data available from the National Population Census and the Election Census is often very inconsistent, insufficient, and inaccurate as a measure of the survival or disappearance of a language in PNG. No government initiative or programs are in place to deal with this linguistic disaster. The government has turned a blind eye on this national tragedy of languages, cultures, and people. The boastful ultra-national sentiments on the linguistic and cultural diversity are only a window dressing of the darker side of national ignorance when it comes to language survival and death.

An immediate intervention is needed to slow down the rate at which our languages are disappearing. A strategic rethinking and re-evaluation of the path we have taken to avoid the issue of language survival has to eventuate soon. Without doing so we stand to lament the disappearance of unique groups of people with their languages in our midst. Our children too would follow us down this road without making sense of heads or tails of their identities. Consider this, with the global change, a small Papuan language like Rotokas of Bougainville Autonomous region is on the way out. Rotokas has achieved fame in The Guinness Book of Record as the language with the world’s smallest number of phonemes. It has 11, compared, for example, with the 44 in English. Do we know for sure if this language has remained unchanged? We talk about big things, but when it comes down to smaller things we turn away from it.

Let me put it another way. Those of us in the forefront of research and teaching of language know that our children are growing up speaking English and Tokpisin. It is easy to argue that educated Papua New Guineans should be the first ones to teach their mother tongue at home with their children. It is, however, difficult to make that work, especially with intermarriage families, and at urban centres where our children interact with other children in Tokpisin and English. A certain social stigma is also at play with language use among children in many parts of urban Papua New Guinea. Children speaking their mother tongue are often excluded from the games initiated and dominated by speakers of Tokpisin and English.

The issue here is that we consider language as a natural human skill and behavior, but we never consider language bias as a factor driving our Papua New Guinean languages to extinction. Why are dominant languages more than likely to force small languages to extinction? During the workshop on language survey in Papua New Guinea one of the students explained that in his native Kainantu area, he observed that some of the smaller languages were forced out of use by the dominant Kafe language. Why? We need to document the reasons for this language pattern and biases that are forcing some of our smaller languages out of existence. Setting up a well funded national language institute or program might be a start for the government if it cares about national languages of Papua New Guinea.

As I write this article I am as more hypocritical as anyone I know who is conscious of the language use at home with our families that our Tokples is left out of the equation of modern urbanites. We must accept the blame as well for not taking action to speak our Tokples to our children. In the ideal world, unlike ours, it would make sense for everyone to keep their languages alive at home.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Native Films as a National Mirror

The article first appeared in Steven's Window column The National newspaper. Friday 27 November 2009.

After the first audition for Jungle Child, film adaptation of a children’s book based on the personal diary of a German girl, Nadine’s childhood in New Guinea, my children were recalled for the second casting. My daughter aged 13 and son aged 10 had me drive them to Gateway Hotel on two Saturdays in October for the second audition.

Several people in Port Moresby that I know turned up with their children or for themselves as potential actors in the movie. Seeing the interests in acting in feature films I kept thinking about what Houston Wood, an American scholar of Indigenous films said about feature films.
“Traditional oral storytelling is unlike a cinematic narrative, they fear…Similar fears were once voiced about how movies represent Shakespeare, the Bible, and other classic western styled texts. The point here is that it has become a norm now that “it is generally accepted that film adaptation can reinvigorate older European traditions for a new generation. We need to seriously consider how it is that we ignored one of the powerful medium of communication: the film…. there seems no a priori reason why feature films cannot similarly translate Indigenous stories into new forms that help keep traditional Indigenous cultures alive.” How true could this be?

My friend and colleague, Vilsoni Hereniko of Rotuma, now the Director of the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawaii made his first feature film, The Land Has Eyes based on his personal upbringing on Rotuma. His film makes uses of a Rotuman mythology of a warrior woman, Sina, as the cultural framework for the film. The actors were all Rotuman villagers, school kids, and teachers, except for two characters. During the first showing on the island the entire islanders turned up to watch the movie and wanted more.

Then there was Witi Ihimaera, the Maori writer’s film The Whale Rider, based on his novel inspired by the Maori mythology of a clan with a lineage to whales in mythological time and homeland. I first saw the film in Hawaii, during a writers’ festival I was part of in 2004. The Whale Rider remains one of the popular Indigenous films ever made.
Other Indigenous films one can easily find in any video shops are the Samoan Wedding and the Aboriginal film Ten Canoes. Each of these films has a unique and wonderful story to tell to the world. Watching these films with my children had a powerful and transformative effect on us.
What am I getting at here? Feature film making in Papua New Guinea needs to be encouraged. The last international successful major feature film was Albert Toro and Chris Owen’s Tukana: Husait I Asua? I attended the closing of a workshop of TV production in Port Moresby in the last week of October 2009. The workshop was attended by members of National Broadcasting Commission, National Film Institute, Department of Information and Communication and Albert Toro himself. I had the opportunity to meet Albert Toro and Joe Eladona at that time. I shared with the workshop participants a moment of reflection of the issue of feature films and documentary film making in PNG. It was also good to note that Kundu 2 TV would now have radio drama Kunai Street converted into a soap opera for TV.

I mentioned to Albert Toro that I had read his paper on “Film and National Identity in PNG”, presented at the International Film Festival Symposium in Hawaii in November 1983. The observation he made in the 1980s remains evident today. Here are some of the issues Toro raised at that time:

“The mirrors which the nation uses to see its internal and exported image are found generally in the more public media such as radio, film and the recently introduced home video system. Of the three formats, film is by far the most accessible nearly everywhere because of its easy transferability to television which is immediate and seen world-wide. In the case of Papua New Guinea, however, there has not been any meaningful government support of the commercialization of indigenous film products or of the country (90% of the population is in the rural areas). This can be attributed to several factors: film exhibition and distribution, completely in the hands of expatriates; the government does not have any priorities on the cultural or commercial aspects of indigenous film production, exhibition and distribution, foreign film-makers are allowed into the country to interpret the lifestyle (s) of the people with no intimate knowledge of the intricate factors which go into the process of bush life, hence turning out at best sensational film products made for a prurient western-oriented audience; no policy on-hand, to describe the direction which the Papua New Guinea people themselves want to travel in to control their image.”

Such views from our pioneer feature film maker remind us that the Papua New Guinea government need to step up to the challenge to support the development of local feature film and documentary making. I doubt if Albert Toro’s views have changed much with the introduction of the government owned Kundu 2 TV station under the wings of the National Broadcasting Cooperation. The National Film Institute and the Department of Information and Communication may want to listen to this veteran’s views as he has more wisdom to offer at this time.
The challenge for film makers and TV production in Papua New Guinea is to encourage more local film makers and documentary film makers. The change such an approach would make is that Papua New Guineans can identify with the film and the film maker’s points of view. The opportunity to work on a film with local content led by a local film maker begins a process of skills development in the film and TV industry for Papua New Guineans. At the moment it is rare to find local feature film makers and documentary film makers. We need to cultivate our talents in this area of development in Papua New Guinea.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Buimo Prison Writers

The article appeared first in Steven's Window column in The National newspaper. Friday 20th November 2009.

The inspiration could have been my stories about the prison writings of PNG’s John Kasaipwalova, Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiongo, or the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks that got the Buimo prisoners and warders to write their stories during a writers’ workshop between October 26th and November 6th, 2009. Doris Omaken and Jill Pijui of the PNG Bible Society coordinated the writers’ workshop. UPNG colleague Sakarepe Kamene and I facilitated the workshop as part of our community outreach obligation.

From the experiences gained in working with village people to get them to write their stories down on paper that was published as the Zia Writers of Waria we agreed to work with the PNG Bible Society in running a writers’ workshop at the Buimo Prison in Lae, Morobe Province. The writers’ workshop in Waria was three days long, but very successful and empowering to the village people used to gardening, fishing, hunting, and feasting.

The Buimo Prison writers’ workshop took ten days. With more time at our hand we introduced other aspects of a writers’ workshop. Enough time meant more time for writing, more flexibility, and space for quality interactions with participants. In the end we developed new friendships through the writers’ workshop.

We approached the workshop with two considerations: First, we believed, that everyone had the skills and interesting experiences to tell stories. The Buimo Prison writers’ workshop began with storytelling. We guided the participants to write these stories down on paper. Second, we decided against using papers, fixed structures, and programs. Our view was that using the techniques used in formal university classrooms was intimidating to learners at the village level or in prisons. Our approach was simple, flexible, and allowed a lot of verbal interactions.

Participants grasped what we wanted them to know without developing learning anxieties. As much as possible we insisted on the writing process to begin and develop without any form of barriers, be they psychological, linguistic, physical or mechanical. Participants were encouraged to express themselves in a free and open spirit. The approach worked for every participant, including prisoners, CIS officers, and prison ministers. Two CIS officers from Beon Prison in Madang attended the workshop as well.

The Buimo prison writers’ workshop is the first we conducted within the prison walls in Papua New Guinea. Buimo prison has the only classroom set up by the School of Hope, a church run facility in Lae.

We introduced the fundamentals of writing and different techniques of writing short stories and essays in the first week of the workshop. We also introduced elements of style and different writing problems. We guided the participants, in the second week, to write their life narratives, imaginative stories, and collective reactions to common issues using a non-fiction genre. The participants impressed us with their understanding of the writing process with group presentations of short stories, essays, and personal stories in the second week. The stories had us laughing and near tears hearing the personal side of the prisoners.
What takes a semester of 14 weeks to teach at the University of Papua New Guinea was condensed to two weeks in the Buimo prison writers’ workshop. Anyone can write with the right kind of encouragement, approach, techniques, and tools of writing. Our approach worked in a village environment and now at a prison setting. The time it took to get someone who has never written a short story or essay before to write again is the best experience to witness.

The prisoners have a lot of time for devotion and reflection on life. Introducing them to writing techniques and having them write down their experiences can serve as a therapeutic exercise and as process of self-expression. The writings produced in the workshop had one strong impression. The prisoners are now equipped with the knowledge and techniques of writing their life stories in short prose or if need be, as a book. Some of the participants indicated that the workshop has given them a new ray of hope in life’s difficult journeys. Sharing their personal experiences with us through writing gave us a glimpse into their lives outside and inside of the prison walls. As it turned out three inmates were friends I have known before, but had no idea they were in prison for being on the wrong side of law. Nonetheless, I was happy to share the moments with them as a friend visiting them in prison.

The writers’ workshop gave us also the opportunity to learn, develop, and sharpen our methodologies in conducting such workshops. We learnt that using papers and adhering to traditional rules and structures of writing is less helpful to participants. Conducting workshop in Tokpisn and code-switching to English and back to Tokpisin helped a lot in making sense of what we wanted the participants to know. Working with prisoners we maintained a none-judgmental, none-emotive, and bias free discourse. Keeping the eye on the ball, we dribbled through the many challenges out there in working in such a situation with such a special group of learners.

Our goal to get completed short stories and essays written during the workshop was accomplished. An anthology of writings from Buimo Prison is expected to be published in the coming year. The prison writers have given us something to think about for a long time to come. The experience also gave us the opportunity to interact with correction officers. Those who participated in the workshop expressed gratitude and appreciation to us for giving an opportunity for them to up-skill themselves to deal with the complex challenges of rehabilitation, especially where additional knowledge is needed.

The success of the Buimo writers’ workshop remains a benchmark in literacy work for the PNG Bible Society and the Correction Services in the country. I hope similar writers’ workshops are possible throughout the country.

The PNG Bible Society can now call itself as the leader of prison literacy and writing projects. The experience gained in the Buimo writers’ workshop can now guide future prison writers’ workshop.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Buka Dialogues

The Buka Dialogues is an experiment video production.

Building Bridges in Communities

The first appearance of this article in Steven's Window, The National newspaper is hereby acknowledged. Friday 13th November 2009.

About 10 years ago my colleague, Dr. Regis Stella of Bougainville, launched his first novel Gutsini Posa or Rough Seas at the University of South Pacific in Fiji. I was also there to witness the launching. The novel is centred around the Bougainville crisis and the experiences of that conflict. Many educated Bougainvilleans live outside of Bougainville.

I kept thinking about the Bougainvillean characters in Gutsini Posa. If it wasn’t for the Bougainville conflict the characters would continue to move from place to place outside of Bougainville. Jamila, the female character and Penagi, the male protagonists return to Bougainville to help out their people. Jamila was the first to leave Port Moresby to Bougainville without telling Penagi, her boyfriend. Penagi followed later. Their return home was significant in that as educated members of their communities they have to return to their people to find a way out of the crisis. Now that the crisis is over, the rehabilitation, rebuilding, and reconstruction phase has set in.

I had an opportunity travel to the Buka University Centre of UPNG early this year. On arrival in Buka I was met by the director of the UPNG Buka Open College Centre, Mr. Albert Nukuitu. I have known Albert as a friend and colleague for a long time. I thought Albert would never return to Buin, his home district, or to Buka for that matter. Somehow the lure and glamour of Port Moresby had us all locked into its chasms. Albert Nukuitu, Regis Stella, and my other Bougainvillean friends of UPNG student days lived a phase of their lives in self-imposed internal exiles because of the crisis that ruined their homes.

Peaceful years and strong reform years came by to see the emergence of the Autonomous Bougainville Government. Life picked up again with restoration of services in Bougainville, more so especially in Buka. It was then that Albert Nukuitu, returned to Buka to take up his job as the director of the Buka Open College Centre. That was a surprise to all of us who know Albert, who worked at the UPNG Human Resource Management Division and later as the Executive Officer in the School of Business Studies. He has his reasons. It was none of our business to know.

As we drove from the airport to the UPNG Open College centre Albert showed me a spot where a scene from the film Tukana was shot. The film Tukana: Husait I Asua? and Stella’s novel Gutsini Posa gave us two important windows of viewing Bougainvillean society. The novel gave me a sense of what it means growing up in Bougainville and having to deal with the crisis that completely devasted a people. Albert Toro’s Tukana, a film about young Bougainvilleans and the changing lifestyles in Bougainville before the crisis provided the image I have of Bougainville. The film raises the troubling question: Husait I Asua? A question that continues to haunt us right through our lives, even today.

It is said before you visit a place you must read a book about the place. Little I know from reading Stella’s Gutsini Posa and seeing Albert Toro’s filmTukana prepared me as I visited Buka. So much had happened in Bougainville over the years that nothing I see would reveal the history of the place.

Albert Nukuitu’s local knowledge and sensitivities helped me find Buka as a wonderful place. It was the stories that Albert told me during my time there that I began to appreciate and value the challenges and difficulties people have endured to be what they are today. I began to understand Albert’s reason for going home. The job of director of UPNG Buka centre was a good choice for Albert to return home to help his people. He has transformed the centre and has plans to expand the UPNG operation in Bougainville. As we sat in his office he had two calls from Buin. He explained to me that he was helping his Buin community to rebuild and restore his beloved Buin Secondary School. He showed me a picture of the Buin Secondary School library to get my reaction. It did not look like a library at all, was my reaction. A major rehabilitation is needed. Albert’s community is working together to restore the pride of Buin High School.

Albert is the Board Chairman for the Buin Secondary School. Under his chairmanship they are seeking funding to help rebuilt and rehabilitate the Buin Secondary School. The Buin High school was established in 1968 with its first grade 7 intake in the same year. It had its first grade 10 graduates in 1971. Over the past years Buin high school developed in many ways, especially in terms of its physical facilities and expansion in terms of the area it now covers. Its students output hold important offices in the private and the public sectors.

The buildings were built with funding from the then Australian Colonial Administration during the pre independence period. Since the buildings were put up, they have never being maintained for the last four decades. The condition of the facilities had deteriorated more over the last two decades of the civil uprising due to lack of maintenance. In the last two years there has been very little funding on very minimal maintenance work from the Autonomous Bougainville Government.

In 2006 Buin high school was upgraded to a Secondary level school. It enrolled its first grade 11 students in 2006. Its pioneer grade 12 graduation took place in October 2007. At the moment it is one of the only three top up Secondary Schools on Bougainville and despite its unpreparedness due to lack of facilities to be upgraded to a Secondary School. It is the only school that covers South and Central Bougainville which has a population of 140,000 plus people. Buin Secondary School needs a lot of funding to rehabilitate, rebuild, and restore their pride and purpose.

Albert Nukuitu and many others are showing us the importance of building bridges in our communities.

A Writing Project

The article appeared first in Steven' Window, The National newspaper. Friday 6th November 2009. Image courtesy of Bill Gammage, The Sky Travellers: Journeys into New Guinea 1938-1939: 92. Orengia or Holonia in front, facing camera.

I read Ignatius Kilage’s semi-autobiographical novel, My Mother Calls Me Yaltep (1980) many times since its publiction. The book was first published by the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies in 1980, and later republished by the Oxford University Press. It remains a classic PNG semi-autobiography.

I read the book as a grade 12 student without knowing that I would end up writing a chapter of my Masters thesis on this book nine years later. The story of Yaltep inspired me to think about writing historical fiction. Kilage wrote the book based on the perspective of a Kuman language speaker in the Simbu province. The book centres on the historical events of 1930s and onward to 1975. Through Kilage’s novel I came to appreciate the importance of writing our people’s experiences and from within our own perspectives.

The Australian government officials and American prospectors, and missionaries such as Jim Taylor, Dan and Mick Leahy, Walliam Ward, John Black, Pat Walsh, and Father William Ross had their account of the early contact already documented in many books.

We have read books and seen films about their experiences, but have not seen any books on or by Papua New Guineans on the first contact experience. A number of writers from the highlands such as Benjamin Umba, Peter Kama Kerpi, Ignatius Kilage, Toby Kagl Waim, Michael Yake Mell, Arnold Muna, Fancis Nii, have written about their societies, but their writings are little known to many people.

Inspired by Kilage’s My Mother Calls Me Yaltep I began a writing project of my own. I interviewed my grandfather in the 1980s when he was still alive. He told me his side of the story as a mission boy stationed in Migende Catholic Station between 1933 and 1935. That was the only account of his early life with the Catholic mission based in Alexishafen, from where they walked up through the Bundi pass to set up their station at Migende.

I ploughed through official mission histories and books about that period only to disappoint my curiosity. All the mission boys and helpers were nameless characters assisting the missionaries in their work. I told myself that I would write a book about my grandfather and give a name to these nameless mission boys and helpers.

My grandfather’s name is Horinya Jilaka, a man I came to admire for being a pioneer family member accompanying the missionaries into the highlands between 1933 and 1935. It took me some years to write my grandfather’s story down. I had this story published in 2007 as “Into the Frontier”, in the American Journal of Indigenous Literatures, Art, and Thought, put out by the Southwest Minnesota State University.

In the process of writing my grandfather’s story I began to uncover interesting developments in his life. In 1936, he (going by the name Orienga) joined the police force and trained in Rabaul under Sargeant Ludwig Somare and another Sargeant from Buka. Jim Taylor hand picked my grandfather’s cohort to accompany him, John Black and Pat Walsh on the now famous Hagen Sepik Patrol of 1938-1939.

From a one page manuscript transcribed from my grandfather’s oral account, I began the process of reading written documents and books to get a picture of his place in history.

My writing project has taken me so many years to write. I had help from Australian colleagues like Chris Ballard of ANU and writer Drusilla Modjeska. Chris sent me materials on Wiliam Ward, the American gold prospector whose plane was used for cargo and supplies drop off in various camps, and also about Jim Taylor and John Black. Drusilla brought a copy of Bill Gammage’s book The Sky Travellers. I began reading this book, devouring every detail as I went through the pages quickly.

What I read enlightened me, but also shocked me to know what my grandfather was like as a policeman. Jim Taylor and John Black approached the New Guinea experience in different ways, but policemen were at most times power unto themselves. The policemen did what they did to protect the Kiaps, even if today we judge them to be violent and reckless. In My Gun, My Brother, August Kituai’s study of policemen during this period, we know that the gun was a policemen’s brother and trusting other policemen, kiaps, carriers, and new tribes was a hard thing to go by.

In The Sky Travellers I came across a black and white photograph of my grandfather Horinya (Orienga). The photograph was the only image any members of my family have of Horinya. I noted also that many other photographs of my grandfather are kept in John Black’s private paper collections. My grandfather accompanied John Black after Taylor split from them to travel through Hagen and Enga to get to Telefomin. John Black’s patrol went into the Tari, reaching Strickland, and working their way up to Oksapmin and later Telefomin. Their team reached their destiny before Taylor arrived with his party. John Black’s team built the Telefomin airstrip, a cruelling experience itself, until Townsend from Wewak sent a plane into relieve and rejuvenate them. The airstrip was later to serve as a strategic military airstrip for the Allied Forces during the Second World War. John Black’s patrol left Telefomin soon after the arrival of Taylor’s patrol, making their way down to the Sepik, and later sneaking into Enga to get over to Hagen.

My grandfather’s story continues where the history books ended. He joined the coastwatchers soon after they left the highlands. This phase of his life seems lost in history books again.

The important issue to me is that as a descendent of a pioneer Papua New Guinean I feel compelled to write about my grandfather and others who gave their life and loyalty to the colonial government. I want to give a name, a voice, and history to people like my grandfather who remain nameless and unworthy of mention in history books. We must write from within our perspectives in order to reclaim our erased identities.

Lessons from Successful Writers

The article first appeared in Steven's Window in The National newspaper. Friday 30th October 2009.

One of the books I have in front of my desk all the time is Jack Canfield, a motivational speaker of grand stature. The book is The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be. I have read this book so many times, made notes, and have all kinds of book mark placed in different pages of the book. I have benefited a lot from reading Canfield’s book to remain inspired even though the world around me is full of people who make life difficult at times. One of memorable quotes in Canfield’s book is from W. Clement Stone, former publisher of Success Magazine. The quote is: “When life hands you a lemon, squeeze it and make lemonade.” To me this quote stuck with me for a long time. Opportunities in life are like a lemon that we have to squeeze in order for us to make lemonade for us to enjoy. Opportunities in our lives arrive in unexpected ways. As many would do, seize the opportunity and make use of it.

I first shared this quote with a group of young leaders, teachers, NGOs, and students in Oceania and Japan. The occasion was a forum called Oceania Future Forum organized by the Japan Foundation and the Waseda Hoshien Christian University in Tokyo. I was invited to Japan to coordinate the forum with a Japanese professor. I could not think of a better way of expressing the feeling that as young leaders of Oceania we must take advantage and make use of every opportunity life presents to us. Without doing so we risk the taking the train to our destiny.

The moral fiber of sharing this is that many people are resigned into their depressing world without taking action to improve their conditions and life. Opportunities are always present. Sometimes in an obvious natural way and other times opportunities are revealed through indirect means and ways. It is up to us to take heed of such moral intelligence if we care to make a difference in our lives through our own positive actions. Those of us who write books know that the journey is difficult but the arrival can be rewarding if one persist to hold on to that dream.

Two Papua New Guinean writers in my view who took advantage of the opportunity to write and have their books published are fine examples of individuals with such moral intelligence. Lahui Ako, from Hanuabada Village wrote and published two books: Upstream Through Endless Sands of Blessings (2007)—a life story about himself, his family, and his beloved Motuan people of Hanuabada. The second book published by Lahui Ako is a colourful coffee table picture book about his life as a diplomat in Beijin, China, entitled A Logohu in China (2007). Lahui was generous enough to present both books to me one day.

The second writer is Fegsley Risapi, a former school teacher, who now works with the Curriculum Development and Assessment Division of the Department of Education. I first met Fegsley when he registered for my course on writing, editing, and publishing, offered during a Lahara session at UPNG. Fegsley had started writing a book before enrolling in my course. This year Fegsley had his first book Innocent But Responsible (2008) published. He was bubbling with excitement as he signed and presented me a complimentary copy of his book. Now he tells me his second book is out soon.

Both writers did not have to wait for someone to help fund their publications. They managed to find some money somewhere to have their books published. The admirable quality of Lahui and Fegsley is that they believed in what they did to get what they wanted in life. Nothing could stop them publishing the books they wrote.

They had no institutional support or funding from the government to have their books published. In Lahui’s case, he had approached me early on, in my days as the director of UPNG’s Melanesian and Pacific Studies (MAPS), to have his book published, but with no funds I could not assist him get his book published.

In Fegsley’s case, he almost gave up waiting for the editor of one of the international publishing company to help him publish his book. Gathering enough courage and belief in himself he self-published his own book.

These authors have proven that the spirit of creativity and the opportunities in life are always around us. All we need to do is take advantage of these opportunities by using them to produce the kind of product we want.

So often people express the self-defeating remark that they don’t have the time to write a book. Others with books written are looking out for a publisher or someone to help them publish their books. The simple formula successful writers use is to write a small number of pages a days, say between 1 and 10 pages. Most of us would write 1 to 2 pages a day. In a month of 30 days if I write 2 pages a day I would have completed 60 pages. And in 3 months I would have completed 180 pages altogether. I can then rework my book to reach the 200 to 250 pages mark for a typical book for publication.

We can learn a thing or two from successful writers as in the experience of Stephen King, the acclaimed science fiction writer: “I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three month span, a goodish length for a book—something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh. On some days those ten pages come easily… Sometimes when the words come hard, I’m still fiddling around at teatime. Either way is fine with me, but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.”

Strong Connections

The article first appeared in Steven's Window column in The National newspaper. Friday 23rd October 2009.

There are strong connections between all of us. We share the same human experiences and perhaps socio-cultural experiences. If we look carefully at the emotions of joy, sadness, or anger we are bound to recognize similarities.

The video Strong Connections written and directed by Martin Maden made for the Technical Vocational Education has this message: “We Papua New Guineans are rural people at heart. Even as our future and our resources flow into the voids of urban moulds, this one thread continues uniting us across eventuating ethnic and regional disparities, Our understanding and affinity with our land grants us our common dignity and connects all of us together.”

The video showcases some of our talented actors such as Olivia Wilson, Hitch Loape, and France Maden. The primary message in the video is about vocational and technical education in Papua New Guinea. It does not matter what age, gender, or ethnicity one is, vocational education is an important way of learning new trade skills to develop oneself and one’s society. Other than that the video was shot in the New Guinea Islands and the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The video also featured traditional mourning ceremonies and post-mortuary rites in the Mt Hagen area. It also contrasted the highlands culture with the coastal culture.

Strong Connections is an excellent video. I had no hesitation in using it as a model media tool in the media literacy workshop in Kainantu. The workshop participants had never seen the video before. I had no idea what their responses were to be. The responses and reactions to the video were very engaging. The participants felt that visual representations of their social cultural values were recognizable. There are parts in the video with very strong emotive pull that had some of the participants shed a tear or two. Some felt that the video had left out other cultural experiences of the highlanders. To some the video lacked authenticity and cultural sensitivity. Many issues were brought up during discussions on this video.

I think the strong reactions the media literacy participants had on the video suggest one undeniable factor. The film was written, directed, and acted by Papua New Guineans. Papua New Guineans identified themselves with the characters, the setting, and events in the film. As a visual medium of media communication the video captured the interests of the viewers. The images from the video remained in their memory for a long time as indicated by the fresh discussions of the video two days after I had shown it to them.

I asked myself what would have been the response if I had shown them the video documentary Advertising Missionaries, which I had originally planned to use in the media literacy workshop. Advertising Missionaries is a classic postmodern narrative about selling modern Western products and ideologies to the rural populations who may be semi literate or completely illiterate. To sell their products a major wholesale and retail company hired a group of theatre enthusiasts to become its envoy in marketing their products. The group used theatre and short plays to highlight the products the company is selling. They also used the opportunity to educate rural folks about social cultural issues such as population control and HIV/AIDS. The group regarded themselves as the postmodern missionaries replicating what the missionaries had done in the early 1930s to establish Christianity in the highlands societies.

The Advertising Missionaries was made by non-Papua New Guineans, but the strong presence of John Horiawi Himugu, the script writer for the PNG feature film Marabe, is there in the film credits. The film was supported also by the National Cultural Commission and the National Film Institute in Goroka. Many film documentaries have been made thanks to Chris Owen and others committed to this genre.

In book on Native Features: Indigenous Films from Around the World, Houston Wood makes the point that indigenous films “provide powerful evidence of cultural diversity that indigenous people offer to the contemporary world”. Houston Wood went on to point out that Tukana Husait I Asua? by Albert Toro was the first feature film made by a Papua New Guinean and has set the benchmark for others to follow suit.

Tukana remains one of the first among Indigenous films. We must be proud of feature films like Tukana and Marabe. The question, however, is so where is Albert Toro and the film industry in PNG or elsewhere in the world? The productions of feature films are expansive, but with sufficient financial support and resources the industry could develop further. More than the economics of the film industry Papua New Guineans can find themselves left behind if we continue to remain ignorant of what is going on about feature films and documentaries in the Pacific.

Papua New Guineans should be supported and encouraged to do their own feature films and video documentaries. Let Papua New Guineans write their own scripts, direct, and produce their own films and documentaries. Giving such an opportunity to some of our community based organizations and individuals to take up the calling would see a new trend emerge where Papua New Guineans will feel that using a visual media they can do more to help their people.

With the government’s Kundu 2 TV now in operation I hope that many Papua New Guineans are encouraged to use this media technology to promote their social and cultural experiences. I am confident that the National Film Institute and the National Broadcasting Commission are working on plans to take us beyond where we are now.

There’s a lot of talents in our communities, stories to convert into short films, or narratives to make feature films. Give them a camera and teach them the techniques of filming and what do you get? You get the whole community turning up to see themselves in film or video.

Papua New Guineans must make their own feature films and video documentaries. Let us tell our stories to the world using our own eyes and voices.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cultural Re-education

First published in Steven's Window column, The National newspaper. Friday 16th October 2009. Photo credits: Keisiva Darius.

To reclaim our identities, histories, languages, and ways of knowing we need to return to our communities. The challenge to develop community learning centers or information centers are insurmountable to many community based organizations, NGOs, literacy workers, women’s groups, church groups, and youth groups. Some of these challenges are financial, others are ideological, and still many are necessitated by the inherent conflicts between introduced and indigenous cultures, between western and non western dilemmas, and between different generations. Such challenges remain entrenched in many Papua Guinean communities.

Working with many community based organizations, NGOs, and literacy workers I have come to appreciate the wonderful and resourceful individuals in many of our rural communities sweating their guts out just to give their people the opportunity to have equal access and partnership in national development. The support of the community and the network these individuals have with each other is perhaps the only strength many of the dedicated individuals have. The leaders in many of these community based organizations are passionate, dedicated, and open-minded individuals anyone would ever meet. They are people who inspire and lead their communities in various activities organized in their communities.

I was given the honour to officiate the opening of Gadsup Indigenous Knowledge and Communication Centre in the Aiyura valley of Kainantu. The centre is known as Ayugham Bhana or the hausman, built on the original village site on a hillside overlooking the Aiyura valley. The leader of this project is Labu Pungkano and is supported by his Ward councillor, Alex Paimako, Pastor Yana, and the whole community. About 3,000 people turned up for the official opening and celebration of the bhana or hausman with a lavished mumu feast.

The hausman concept is useful as a physical space to coordinate education and training of the young men in reclaiming their positive traditional values, histories, identities, and languages. Many of the young people are alienated by the modern system. Many are into drugs, alcohol, and have no respect for elders and traditions. Many school leavers in the village have no sense of direction. Crime and violence have arrived in the village communities through the complete break down of tradition and absence of traditional leadership. At the time of our visit many people in the Aiyura and Kainantu are were living in fear of the ongoing tribal fights and violence.

As a conceptual framework the hausman can be used to re-insert culture back into the lives of many of the young people. The elders of the hausman will use the bhana to provide leadership, training, cultural knowledge, and positive values to the younger members. The hausman becomes the site of knowledge production where important valuable information on life are produced and disseminated. The hausman serves as the institution of knowledge production and information communication in many PNG communities.

The Ayugham Bhana will become the cultural space for teaching of the local language to the younger generation. Many in the community felt that their languages are gradually fading out that many young people are no longer speaking their Tokples. The first rule of the Bhana is that no Tokpisin or English are allowed in the hausman. The language of business and learning in the Bhana is the Gadsup language.

The second specific need of the Ayugham Bhana is the cultural re-education of the youths in the Aiyura valley community. The hausman will have adult education programs, literacy programs, and media literacy programs led by the a committee made up of LLG Ward Council, youth leaders, women’s groups, church elders, and village elders. This committee will coordinate the development and sustainability of the hausman. The plan is also to build a hausmeri for the women of the valley. The hausman or the hausmeri will become the institutions of cultural re-education in the rural communities of Aiyura valley.

Given the honour to open the Ayugham Bhana in the Aiyura valley was a great humbling experience for me. Returning to the Aiyura valley brought home a lot of memories of my teen years as a student at the Aiyura National High School between 1982 and 1983. I felt honored to officiate the opening of the hausman as a token of my appreciation of Aiyura’s part in my life. To mark this important occasion Mr. Nimo Kama, one of their leading sons and I cut the ribbon across the door to the hausman. In the hausman I lit the fire at the fireplace named in my honour –a symbolic gesture suggesting the importance keeping the cultural re-education alive in this community.

Mr. Nimo Kama, Executive Director of the Media Council of PNG and Ms. Nancy Manukoro Tomwepa, a teacher at Aiyura National High School—two of the elite members from the Aiyura valley are helping their communities to reclaim their traditions, institutions, and processes of knowledge transfer and communication. They are serving as the bridge between tradition and modernity for their people. As educated members of their communities they are working in close consultations with their communities to find ways of cultural re-education founded on valuable traditional knowledge systems. I felt privileged to have been part of their journey as their former lecturer during their university years.

The community learning centers are only sustainable and effective with support from government agencies, relevant institutions, and organizations, and Papua New Guineans who care about the survival of indigenous knowledge and values that are important to our people. Without external support many of these centres can fall apart quickly.

All centers need funding to carry out their programs and activities. Without financial resources many of these centers will eventually fold up. Centers supported through various grants and institutional partnerships are more successful than those without any form of support.

In a basket of community learning centers we know that some are more successful than others. I think the best approach is to assist each community centre and organizations is to develop management and organizations programs, and work with them to reach achievable goals set by the center.

Media Literacy in PNG

First published in Steven's Window column in The National newspaper. Friday 9th October 2009.

I teamed up with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea, led by Mr. Nimo Kama, the Executive Director and two of his dedicated staff members: Mr. Anton Huafolo and Ms. Elizabeth Turagil. Leo Wafiwa, Head of the Journalism and Public Relations program at the University of Papua New Guinea and I provided the technical support to run its pilot media literacy workshop in PNG.

Why was it important that the Media Council organize a workshop on media literacy in Papua New Guinea? Media literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a variety of forms—from print to video to the internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society, as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.

Media is constructed by someone for a purpose. As receivers of any constructed information we as readers, viewers, and listeners must ask if it is meant for us. We must unravel the constructed messages in order to understand the embedded meanings.

Accepting media influences without understanding its impact in our lives is like being told to swim up a flooded river without considering the tide that would force us down river to the open sea.

The influence of media in our lives is like the flood forcing us into the ocean of modernity where we are forced to drown in confusion. Many of our folks live in a state of confusion from the onslaught of media overload or media manipulations. How do we get them out of this state into one that makes them become critical receivers of information? How do we get our folks to become active participants in the production and dissemination of information using media technologies? How do we get our people to be active participants in the development of their communities?

Such challenges presented themselves to the Media Council of PNG. Under the Media Development Initiative (MDI) and the Developmental Communication Initiative (DCI) funded and supported through AUSAID, the Media Council of PNG conducted a pilot workshop on Media Literacy Training at the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), Ukarumpa in Kainantu between September 10 and 12, 2009.

The Media Council of PNG approached the workshop as an opportunity to learn from community representatives about their responses, expectations, and reactions to media in Papua New Guinea. The Media Council in its efforts to remain a governing body knows that it is important to develop greater awareness among PNG communities about the process of information construction and dissemination. The workshop allowed the Media Council to link its development initiatives with the wider PNG communities.

The workshop was also supported by SIL Ukarumpa as a partner in the development of PNG. The participants were drawn from the MOMASE and Highlands region. The participants were primarily from community based organizations, NGOs, women’s groups, church groups, community learning centres, literacy programs, the law and justice sector, and agricultural extension services. Most of the participants attended the workshop to learn what they can about media literacy tools to take back to their communities in the provinces. The workshop introduced them to world of media communications and some of the tools used in media to make a change in their own communities.

Some of the media technologies have penetrated the diverse cultural and linguistic communities of Papua New Guinea. Media organizations continue the important role of information production, packaging, and dissemination. Other media vehicles such as theatre performances highlight HIV/AIDS, population growth and control, and law and order problems. In many cases media technologies are powerful tools of advertising products.

To get Papua New Guineans to be literate in media’s role in their lives or to use media tools in their environment the Media Council of PNG began supporting various community initiatives around the country.

The workshop format was derived from Five Key Questions That Can Change the World: Lesson Plans for Media Literacy, written by Jeff Share, Tessa Jolls and Elizabeth Thoman of the Centre for Media Literacy (CML) in Canada and Australia. The Five Key Questions are: Who created this message? What creative techniques are used to attract my attention? How might different people understand this message differently? What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message? Why is this message being sent? The five key concepts complementing these questions are: All messages are ‘constructed, media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules, different people experience the same media differently, media have embedded values and points of view and most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.

The Five Key Questions and Five Core Concepts evolved from traditional categories of rhetorical and literary analysis. Over the years, media literacy practitioners around the world have adapted and applied this analytical construct to today’s mediated ‘texts’—from television and movies to billboards, magazines, even bumper stickers, and T-shirts.

The effective use of media technologies has seen information transmitted across a broad spectrum of PNG society. Using these media technologies people have constructed information targeted especially for those receiving the messages. Some of these messages are useful and others are not, but one thing is clear. There is a need for media literacy in Papua New Guinea. The vision of the Media Council of Papua New Guinea is for a free, pluralistic and vibrant media that profits from promoting democratic governance and human development in Papua New Guinea by 2020.

The media literacy training workshop in Kainantu is an eye opener. The Media Council of PNG affirmed its critical role in the relationship between the media and Papua New Guinean communities.

I salute the Media Council of PNG for taking this bold approach in making our people literate in the kinds of media influences in their lives, but also in working with communities to use appropriate media technologies to communicate with each other or with others in the country.

Folktales are National Treasures

First published in Steven's Window column in The National, newspaper as "Folktales Are National Treasures". Photo credits: Keisiva Darius

So much happened in the early 1970s in the period leading up to Papua New Guinea’s Independence in 1975. Institutions such as UPNG, UNITECH, Administrative College, and the Goroka campus of UPNG were hubs of cultural and political consciousness.

Students at the University of Technology in Lae contributed their folktales to the student yearbook called Nexus between 1970 and 1971. In 1978, Stokes published a representative of these stories as retold by Barbara Ker Wilson in The Turtle and the Island. The Oxford University Press published a later edition as Legends from Papua New Guinea: Book Two (1996).

These young writers heard these folktales as they grew up in their villages. The student wrote their stories from their memory. These stories give explanations, moral lessons, and descriptions of the natural beauty of landscapes, cultural values, explanations of the mysteries of nature of things, and about the intricate relationships humans have with the natural, physical, and spiritual environment.

These university students realized that cultural maintenance, self-explanations, and collective consciousness are defined by their different cultural and language backgrounds. If they are to live together as a society they need to teach each other their own cultures.

Cultural nationalism begins when those who consider it important enough to privilege it against the pervasive foreign cultures. These pioneer higher education students recognize the need to provide their own cultural explanations of the world and their social relationships with each other.

They used stories from their own societies to explain their cultural background and explanations of the world. They also learned from each other the importance of cultural diversity, cross-cultural fertilization, and multiple explanations of the world. They treasured the folktales from their societies.

One of the stories in Legends from Papua New Guinea captured my attention. “The Great Flood” written by Adam Amod, from Ali Island near Aitape, in the Sandaun Province explains how the Ali Islanders settled on the island and their relationships to Tumeleo and the mainlanders of Aitape.

The flood story had spread across the Sepik region, though the flood myth is also a universal one as documented in Allen Dunes book, The Flood Myth (1988). The Ali Island version begins with the villagers killing a talking eel who had warned the villagers to remove the fish poison (Walamil) used to kill fish for a mortuary feast in the village.

The eel was carved up and distributed among the villagers. The head part of the eel was given to a young boy. The head of the eel warned the boy not to eat it and instructed him to tell his parents what to do. The father planted the eel’s head near a tall coconut tree, dug a hole near the tree so that the boy and his mother can take shelter from the flood commanded by the eel.

The flood destroyed the entire village, except for a neighboring village tribe known as Yini Parey, on the way to the feast. The Yini Pareys were swept away by the flood on a breadfruit tree, ending up on a reef that became known as Ali Island.

The boy’s father had climbed the coconut tree as instructed by the eel. The boy and his mother remained sheltered in the pit near the tall coconut tree. The father, Kairap, ate coconuts to remain alive in the tree. To see if the flood had receded he threw three coconuts down from the tree. The first two coconuts sank into the water. The third coconut touched the hard surface of the earth. The smoke rising from the pit where the boy and his mother took shelter confirmed that the flood has subsided.

The flood myth is about the arrogance and foolishness of villagers in observing the link between humans, the natural world, the animal kingdom, and the spiritual worlds. Knowing and respecting this link is the key to a balance in nature and the world. Human carelessness and lack of respect of nature lead to ecological catastrophe in the world.

Another key element in this story is about the genealogy and migration of people across vast land, rivers, and sea. In the Ali Island version we learn how and why the Ali Islanders had moved from the mainland to settle on the Island. It also tells the story of how the survivors of the flood had come to form the basis on which generations of people from this ancestral place had come about.

The myth is told with the intent to instill in younger generations about cultural taboos, their cultural heritage, and the traditional principles and values younger generations have to follow. The eel symbolically represents the ancestral wisdom and spiritual forces that guide and direct people’s lives.

In my trained eye the flood myth explores the metaphor on human’s relationship with nature and through which the complex relationship of man against nature and nature against man occurs.

Papua New Guineans must write down the folktales and legends of our people and for the future generations. We must write books based on our traditions and culture. I do hope many educated Papua New Guineans find the time to at least record in print one folktale or legend.

We have thousands of folktales in our multilingual and culturally diverse societies. In our race with modernity we left behind the stories of our ancestors. The challenge is to link our traditional societies, our past, and our history with introduced modern cultures and traditions.

The question to now is: How serious are we in capturing our oral traditions in print or electronic forms? It would make sense for the government or other developmental partners to fund research, writing, publishing, and media broadcasting programs to preserve our national treasures.

Folktales will remain an important source of inspiration and medium of education if we care to acknowledge its place in our society. I appeal to authorities to fund research, writing workshops, and publications of our wonderful folklore and oral traditions instead of paying lip service in the guise of cultural promotions.