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.

Spheres of Knowledge

First published in the column: Steven's Window, The National newspaper, Friday 11th September, 2009. Photo: Keisiva Darius

The timeless lessons in life are learnt from our own traditions. We learn them by observing, listening, and imitating those who impart them. We learn about our people, about the land, about the social customs and traditions, and about our own believe systems. Now-a-days scholars describe these as indigenous knowledge systems.

Every time I think of the indigenous knowledge systems I am reminded about the notion of ‘Melanesians Way’, a term closely associated with its eminent proponent Bernard Narokobi. He explored the concept of ‘Melanesian Way’ in a series of newspaper articles published later as a book entitled: The Melanesian Way (1980).

In his preface, as if chiseled in stone, Narokobi says: “Some people say this nation of ours will be united through parliament, public service, roads, bridges, armed forces, and the like. I say, maybe, maybe not. The one thing that can unite us is ideology, or philosophy. Many people are frightened at the mention of the word philosophy. I do not pretend to be a philosopher. But it is my soul’s dream to probe the spheres of knowledge in Melanesia.”

The spheres of knowledge in Melanesia provide some of our finer ideas and values. One of the valuable models of knowledge transfer is captured in Narokobi’s short novel Two Seasons (2002), published by the Divine Word University Press. The book was written during his days as a law student at the Sydney University in the early 1970s and published 30 years later.

The book gives the account of, Kandy, a boy’s coming-of-age story. Learning the traditional knowledge systems through stories, songs, customs, and in socially productive activities of hunting, fishing, tending to gardens, and following the wisdom of elders in our communities make the kernel of the story. We must write such valuable lessons down or even document on basic audio or video technologies.

The Melanesian Islands share similar cultural knowledge systems. I recall the experiences of visiting Ambryn and Ureparapara Islands in Vanuatu. The dances, costumes, and dance patterns are similar to those performed in West Britain, Manus, Morobe, and Madang provinces. Across Vanuatu and in the Solomons boarder are the Santa Anna Islanders. The highlight on Santa Anna was the grand display of the Bonito or tuna fishing dance. Almost everyone in the village is involved because of its significance to this island community.

In some of the Melanesian countries the government and donor agencies support research, performance, media, and educational programs of cultural education and research. New Caledonia boasts about the Djibaou cultural center. The Vanuatu cultural center remains the pride of Vanuatu. Fiji has the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture at the University of the South Pacific. The excitement and interests these centers generated in the last decade say a lot about the importance of organizing indigenous cultures and institutionalizing cultural knowledge systems. Institutionalizing cultures seems the only way to get government funding for cultural activities.

The issue for me is not about promoting Melanesian Way or any other way, but about the indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing passed down from our ancestors. What are we doing to learn and promote some of our indigenous cultural knowledge anchored in our traditional societies?

One of the most extraordinary examples of bridging the indigenous knowledge system of Oceania and Western science is on the Big Island of Hawai’i. My interests in indigenous knowledge systems have led me to this new wonder in Oceania. The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii was opened in February 2006. The world-class facility intertwines the indigenous Hawaiian cultural and navigational understanding of the stars with real-time information direct from Maunakea’s world famous astronomy observations. Various activities are organized at the center to celebrate the superior Polynesian knowledge of astronomy and navigation. ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai’i is a part of the University of Hawai’i at Hilo and encompasses 40,000 square feet. It has a main exhibit gallery, planetarium, restaurant, classroom, Moanahoku (Ocean of Stars) special events hall and a museum store. The center is complete with an award winning landscape featuring indigenous, endemic and ‘canoe’ plants (plants brought by early Polynesian navigators). The landscaping mirrors the changing plant life found as one ascends from the oceanfront to the volcano.

Our indigenous cultural knowledge systems are part of us. We can talk about them the whole day. After that we can repeat the same conversation every day. We can do the research and documentation of our indigenous cultural knowledge system in our own little ways, but is that enough? Our conversations and researches must produce results: publish them in books, produce audio and video documentaries, and create programs of cultural re-education of our people.

The reality is that our cultures and societies are changing very fast. We need to reinvent our institutions for cultural research such as the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies (IPNGS). The complete neglect of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies has seen it go from being a cultural hub in Boroko to a derelict of obscurity.

Immediate attention is to have a redesigned structure fitted with indigenous architectural motifs, complete overhaul of its current research programs, and make it become the national center of cultural research. This will create spaces for art and cultural exhibits, book launching, a bookshop, theatre performance, writer’s recitals, music performances, film studio, library, restaurant, a classroom for cultural re-education programs for our children and adults, and research studios.

Increased funding, provide new equipment, and insert innovative education and research programs to involve everyone in the community to have the 100% support of the government. If the current site is a legal wrangle then move it out to a wider and bigger space.

Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies must be separated from the National Cultural Commission so that it can have its own funding and powers to pursue a broader vision, wider research agenda, and realign itself with the changing national aspirations of Papua New Guineans to see cultures and knowledge systems documented in print, audio, video, and electronic technologies.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Book of Thousand Words

Lasting impression from Budibudi Island, Milne bay Province of Papua New Guinea. Steven Winduo's article on the experience published in The National newspaper of September 04th 2009.

On one of the isolated islands in the Laughlan Group in Milne Bay is the atoll village of Budibudi where an experience with books and reading had an unexpected impact in my life. I was among the primarily Australian tourists on board the cruise ship Oceanic Discoverer, who visited the atoll village after we had crossed over the boarder from Gizo in the Solomon Islands. Woodlark Island is the nearest government post and administrative centre. The villagers depend on the ocean and what they can grow on the atoll, though not much to be spoken off as plentiful in the language of mainlanders.

I had walked further away from the village, along the beautiful sandy beach to see if I can walk around the entire length of the island. Coming towards me was a village youth in his twenties. He appeared to be lost in his own world, trapped, perhaps by the sheer isolation, and abandonment as it were. Nothing else mattered to him more than the book he carried with him that day. As he came nearer I noted he seemed happy being alone. The book was not the Bible, but the way he carried and displayed pride in the book showed how much the book meant to him. The book and the youth were connected, somehow, through some force beyond the likes of me.

Of all the people I had met on this trip, this Budibudi youth with the book was the most invective. The book he was reading was Dame Josephine Abaijah’s autobiography: A Thousand Coloured Dreams; the story of a young girl growing up in Papua. Obviously, the book was not just about someone from his province, but also about the experiences of growing up on isolated islands scattered in Oceania, remaining vulnerable to the geographical isolation, and exposed to natural disasters such as cyclones and Tsunami, and affected by the lack of political influence from Waigani or Alotau, and cut off from all matters of modernity sweeping through the rest of Papua New Guinea. I asked him if he has been to school and beyond his village. Woodlark was the furthest and for school, he has never been to high school.

The tourists visited Budibudi to learn about the people, their way of life, culture, and to admire the beautiful sandy beaches, marine diversity, and to understand the island life, away from the trappings of modern cities and towns. The youth with a book on Budibudi Island, in contrast, wanted to learn about the world outside of his small island village. The prized possession of A Thousand Coloured Dreams was his window of escape, the canoe to sail away across the ocean to other places, and his dreams about another world, another reality, another life. The visitors to his island were the physical link between his island and the outside world. After we left he had only the book to indulge in for all he wants.

The reason I recount this experience is to highlight the issues of books and reading. If more Papua New Guineans, regardless of education, where we are, what our socio-economic status is, or if reading is or isn’t part of our culture, can read books written by Papua New Guineans then I see this country on the way to making sense of itself. Would it hurt to reprint some of our PNG classics for every school child in the country? Would it make sense to have our leaders write their memoirs for every child in their electorates to emulate?

The kind of responsible approach to address this national challenge is to redirect our attention away from the path we have been traveling all along. Encouraging steps are being taken. The Education Department has announced during the National Book through Jacob Hevelawa, the acting director-general of the Office of Libraries, Literacy Awareness and Archives that starting next year onwards it becomes compulsory for all schools in the country to have a library. It makes sense also to consider the non-formal education sector’s need for information and reading resources to assist them to participate in the development of the country. Another sector of the population without access to books and reading materials are the ever increasing out of school population in urban centers and rural districts. Ignoring this slice of the population is not the way to go about addressing the development and acceleration of the literacy rate. Many of them are engaged in street vending, endless search for employment, and becoming the undesirable members of the society.

In November 2008, the Department of Education through the National Literacy and Awareness Secretariat released a situational analysis report on literacy initiative for empowerment in Papua New Guinea. In his message in this report the Secretary for Education Dr. Joseph Pagelio acknowledged that the growth rate of literacy is 1% per year, less than 3% per year for our population growth. It is a national dilemma and a national set back. “Political will and adequate funding from the government to support institutional strengthening of NLAS [National Literacy and Awareness Secretariat], the coordinating agency, to boost the morale of literacy stakeholders and effective collaboration network” is needed now than to wait another ten years, says Dr. Pagelio.

The issue is not about books and reading as a Western concept, but on how we deal with books and reading in our lives? What importance do we accord them? How much are we willing to spend on buying books than on other everyday items? The concern is not about print culture replacing oral culture, but about how we use print culture to broaden our perspectives of the horizon. We can go on thinking books and reading are not part of our culture, but the success of anyone’s survival in the world or any students in the education system is determined on the basis of how much one has read to broaden the knowledge base anyone needs to participate in a meaningful and productive way.

Syllabus Without Learning Resources

Steven Winduo's reaction to the PNG Department of Education's Language and Literature Upper Secondary Syllabus, published in The National newspaper of August 28th, 2009.

The Department of Education has made available an electronic version of the Language and Literature Upper Secondary Syllabus (2008) a year after publication.

The Language and Literature Upper Secondary Syllabus for grades 11 and 12 has come a long way from the days when I was part of the Syllabus Advisory Committee. In the early 1990s we changed the subject name English to Language and Literature at Jais Aben meeting. As UPNG representatives on the committee Ms. Garua Peni and I suggested the subject name change to reflect the study of language and literature at the higher levels of education. The committee agreed and thereafter all upper secondary schools teach Language and Literature, with the final imprint of the same name on grade 12 certificates.

Several observations on the new syllabus are due. First, the syllabus, a broad guideline provides the most intelligent document to guide teachers and students in their learning environment. It is simply an instruction to teachers and students about what they need to do to achieve a specific knowledge gap, what they are expected to achieve as the final outcome, (but not in finality), and the list of resources they need to enable the wheel of knowledge to work.

The Secretary for Education, Dr. Joseph Pagelio introduced it in these words: “The Upper Secondary Language and Literature Syllabus contribute to integral human development as it is based on the students’ physical environments, societies and cultures. It links to the National Education Plan’s vision, which is that secondary education enables students to achieve their individual potential to lead productive lives as members of the local, national, and international community.”

According to Dr. Pagelio students will “relate their learning to society, the local culture and the global culture; and to influences that direct the course of change in these environments. Students learn the art of effective communication and the skill of sound decision making, and accept and value views other than their own.” Such a vision is valued for its desirable outcome.

The issue that seems to pop its ugly head up, however, is that the effectiveness of the Language and Literature Syllabus is measured, eventually by its outcomes. Right away one would ask: What are the instruments for measuring the outcomes of the new syllabuses? Are there study resources and manuals to assist teachers and students achieve a measurable outcome? Are there programs to assist teachers to achieve effective delivery of the subject?

My observations are in no way a measure of the outcomes of the Language and Literature Syllabus, but indicate my concerns for the instruments and methods of delivery used in achieving outcomes. The units have a basic structure: introduction, learning outcomes, content (more like outcomes, text types and recommended texts. The syllabus says nothing about how and what to teach in each contact periods, weeks, or a term. It is too general.

The syllabus says nothing about how to plan a course, how to teach the unit, or give model lesson plans to follow. There are no directions on how to deal with pedagogical and learning issues and challenges in effective delivery of the subject.

Consider this: How will a teacher teach about Paliau Moloat when he or she doesn’t have a book on or any knowledge about the person? Are there books about Moloat and the Paliau movement? Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare’s autobiography Sana is out of print and has never been reprinted since 1975. How many schools have a copy of Sana in their libraries? About 99 per cent of recommended textbooks, films, and readings materials in the syllabus are to the best of my knowledge NOT available to teachers, students, and their schools. Many schools do not have advance information technology and internet facilities to access electronic learning resources.

The designers of the Language and Literature Syllabus should have recommended or suggested commissioning local language and literature specialists to write how to study language and literature handbooks, how to research and write literary essays, how to do book, film, essay reviews, how to teach and not teach literary texts, and using of critical study or essays about novels, poems, plays, short stories, writers, and their works. The so- called outcome based Oxford publications do not correspond to the texts listed on the recommended reading list for each unit.

Can a teacher in Buin Secondary School, for example, teach Witi Ihimaera’s The Whale Rider or show the film version, if he or she doesn’t know or have access to studies done on the novel and film by scholars and critics of the Ihimaera’s work, the Maori culture, indigenous knowledge systems, or the New Zealand society? Can a teacher in Brandi Secondary School teach the greatest Eighteenth Century British writers in the likes of Blake, Bronte, Wordsworth, Christina Rossetti, Tennyson, and to the modernist poets: T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and the Irish national poet William Butler Yeates? How many teachers know that Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart was derived from W. B Yeates’s “The Second Coming” poem? The second coming was about the fall of the great civilization of Byzantium and the vision for its rehabilitation and glorification in the modern European cultural imagination.

Apart from the major discord with the recommended list of drama books, books, films, and other resource materials I am more concerned with the impossibility of finding a film like Wokabaut bilong Tonten (1976), Billy Eliot, The Color Purple, Betelnut Bisnis or books such as Wole Soyinka’s Ake: The Years of Childhood, Malcolm X’s Autobiography of Malcolm X, Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity, or Steven Edmund Winduo’s Hembemba: Rivers of the Forest. This is unreal and will not work.

An immediate revision of the Language and Literature Syllabus for Upper Secondary level must take place. Develop how to teach manuals or resource books for teachers to use in teaching Language and Literature courses. I also suggest running short courses or in-service workshops in conjunction with specialist academics from our universities to make the syllabus work.

Life and Literacy

Steven Winduo published this article in The National newspaper of August 21st, 2009.

In the 1990s we had done well with the concept of critical literacy and cultural awareness. The work done by various groups and institutions around the country saw our people becoming aware that learning to read and write is one thing, but understanding and accessing information to move forward was another. We knew the sense of imprisonment by illiteracy and poverty arrested our conscience as a free people.

This week the Minister for Education, Honourable James Marape opened the stakeholders consultation workshops on the implementation of the literacy development project in Papua New Guinea. UNESCO Pacific Cluster Office in Apia with support from UNESCO offices in Paris, Germany, Bangkok and the UNESCO national office in Port Moresby initiated the workshop. The lead agency coordinating this workshop is the National Literacy and Awareness Secretariat (NLAS) under the Office of Library and Archives of the Department of Education, led by Mr. Willie Jonduo, its Director.

In his opening speech Mr. Marape challenged the task force and stakeholders to rethink strategies and plans to achieve a 75 percent literacy rate in the next 10 years. Among his challenges he wants the task force to come up with an accurate literacy map complete with details of the success and failures of literacy programs in different parts of the country. The Minister also challenged the stakeholders to set out achievable tasks and identify mechanisms and instruments to accelerate literacy programs to achieve a higher score. Some of these include: having all stakeholders and developmental partners working in partnership, reorganization of programs and reinventing institutions, strengthening capacities, and providing of basic literacy services to all Papua New Guineans.

UNESCO Apia Office—Cluster Office for Pacific States Director Dr. Visesio Pongi’s challenge to all partners in literacy development to work together rather than duplicating policies and responsibilities. UNESCO stands ready to support Papua New Guinea’s efforts to accelerate literacy rate reach 75-80 percent in the next 10 years. As its commitment to PNG, UNESCO has included it on the list of countries receiving LIFE (Life Initiative for Empowerment) from UNESCO.

LIFE and UNESCO-CapEFA are two principle programs that UNESCO is flagging in its partnership with the people and government of Papua New Guinea. LIFE is a framework of collaborative action for enhancing and improving literacy efforts, a process in support of literacy which is country led and country specific, a support mechanism embedded in national policies and strategies, and an initiative for technical support services and facilitation by UNESCO in the areas of policy, advocacy, partnership, capacity-building and innovations.

The UNESCO-PNG CapEFA (Capacity-Building in Education For All) programme aims to accelerated national efforts in PNG to achieve EFA (Education For All) through LIFE. UNESCO’s success in Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal and Niger under this program now includes Papua New Guinea. I welcome this UNESCO initiative to PNG as it will enable us to strengthen capacities for design, implementation and management of good quality literacy programmes, as well as curriculum and material development, training of senior and middle-level management, assessment, monitoring and evaluation.

The questions begging immediate answers, however, are: Have we achieved any significant changes in our efforts to eradicate literacy and enable a critically literate society? Why have we abandoned or marginalized some of the outstanding organizations and institutions in the communities, civil society, and even in the government, committed to building basic literacy and strengthening critical literacy programs in PNG? Two of these that come to mind readily are the PNG Trust Inc. and the National Literacy and Awareness Secretariat (NLAS). The later should by now have an elevated status of being an autonomous government Department.

The national government must now firm up its commitment to increase literacy rate by making NLAS become a separate department known as National Languages and Literacy Department, with wide ranging powers and sufficient funding to organize and mobilize national literacy programs in the PNG.

The lack of critical cultural and social literacy is affecting our responses to the modern global cultural, social, economic, and technological changes such as the changing social demographics and associated socio-economic activities in our urban areas, global epidemics such as HIV/AIDs, and the impacts of new communication media and technologies, patterns of unemployment, underdevelopment, and transitional tribal urban surge of cultural communities crowding our urban centres.

We are all affected by these sweeping changes. To deal with these changes we need to reinvest our efforts and resources in key programs, organizations, and institutions. We need to organize and assist our communities to give up counter-productive activities robbing their dignity, pride, and future. A nation with a high percentage of illiterates always struggles with dissent, negative responses, and stubborn refusal to abandon socially disrespectful attitudes and backward behaviours.

The need is to re-examine the yardstick of human development priorities and where we have channelled massive funding without achieving any measurable positive outcomes. How much have we achieved in the last 10 years? The surveys, carried out in the National Capital District and the New Ireland Province, by PNG Education and Advocacy Network (PEAN), a civil society organization in 2006 and 2007 reveal a troubling trend in literacy growth in Papua New Guinea: (1) A crisis in school participation with an alarmingly low participation rates among youth aged 15 and 19 years with many of them missing out on school, (2) a crisis in school quality reflected in low literacy rates for those who have completed school and (3) a crisis in literacy with pronounced low literacy rates in the community, dramatically lower than officially reported rates.

It is difficult to ignore the evidence of a systemic failure in accelerating literacy rates in PNG. In the words of Nicholas Faraclas, one time advocate of critical literacy and print literacy in PNG: “the way in which print literacy is implemented must not be counterproductive to the ultimate goal of critical literacy.” Literacy is LIFE. These words echo so loud in our ears, yet we choose to ignore them by shifting our focus elsewhere to trite and banal developmental discourses.

Information Paralysis in PNG

Another Steven Winduo article published in The National newspaper on August 17th, 2009. The column where this article first appeared is Steven's Window on page 5 of the newspaper.

Information paralysis begins when students and teachers have no access to library facilities or the closest library. The educational institutions acknowledge this problem, but are limited in their capacity to provide a library to serve the students as well as the general public. The small and limited capacities of public libraries cannot serve the national demands of the population needing specialized and technical information and knowledge. Existing public libraries do not even have the technological edge to provide online searches and access to relevant technical information needed by special groups of users.

The non-existence of public libraries and the lack of library services in our country make learning and access to information for Papua New Guineans one-hell-of an experience. Over the years I have shared similar sentiments with advocates of library services like Oseah Philemon and the Governor General, Sir Paulias Matane, that our government must fund school libraries and public libraries. Serious commitment to the development of libraries and expansion of library and information services to the people is needed. Recent announcement on making school libraries a compulsory requirement for all schools is refreshing, but seeing it through is the difficult part.

A nation without libraries and information resources that libraries provide is a nation that struggles to make sense of the changing global environment. In bookshelves of school libraries and public libraries there are no new titles or the kinds of titles someone needs for specific purposes. Journals and electronic search and research facilities are needed in these libraries. Book related gatherings and activities are the public services of libraries.

Existing school and public libraries have no funding and cannot afford to order new books. The same old response is heard over and over again. The cost of buying books from overseas publishers is astronomical. This is a story that is all too familiar to the dedicated library and information personnel throughout the country. Some of our urban schools are still yet to build school libraries.

For example, the Waigani Primary School, a prime school in the city, build on the grounds of the University of Papua New Guinea, where my children and the children of other top public servants attend school adorns the school ground. Instead a section of a building that houses the administration is converted to a library. So much for a city school with a room labelled library, but on inspection one would see how unfriendly, disorganized, and frightening such a place is for our children.

If we are concerned about improving the quality and standard of education of our children through the pursuit of knowledge in published forms such as books, and now-a-days in electronic forms, we need to make the decision to improve the standard of our existing libraries by building standard libraries in our schools where students can go to discover the magic of knowledge.

I may sound contrite to some for expressing my views about this issue, but as someone who is both a learner of new knowledge and a scholar who has to research, teach, and write about Papua New Guinea I have had the good fortune of accessing relevant and up-to-date information from different libraries around the world. Others have excellent collections of books and publications about Papua New Guinea, making them become the self-appointed custodians of knowledge of PNG.

I acknowledge that one or two provinces have committed themselves to building a new or redeveloping an existing public library. Other provinces need to be persuaded into undertaking similar commitments. In my recent visit to Wewak I was shocked to see the old Wewak public library is now converted to the District Treasury Office. I appeal to those in the know and who control the funds to Wewak and the East Sepik Province to build a new Wewak Public Library as a repository of knowledge and restore the history of the province, but also as the site of knowledge gathering, research, education, and reading pleasures of the beneficiaries.

While our schools remain the primary providers of library and information services, school administrators and boards, need to give priority to the establishment or development of a school library. Giving the same old excuses of insufficient funding is counterproductive. Apart from setting aside annual funds, coordinating of activities and fundraising activities for a school library, and using part of the project fee for building a school library, school boards and administrators need to seek out help of the community.

I make this point as a parent with children attending the Waigani Primary School in the nation’s capital. I have not seen a building that is called a school library or heard from the School Board about activities to raise funds for building a school library. I have not even seen my children bring home a book borrowed from their school library. There is no commitment from the school board to do so. As far as my kids have been in this school nothing good has come out of this school, not to mention the complete disregard for a parents and citizens meeting or even voted for new board members. A certain individual from that school is rumoured to have used the school money to buy a CRV four doors. The same individual abused, risked to thugs, and wrecked the previous school bus. The children have no school bus or vehicle to transport them during school related activities. I paid my children’s project fees for the school to build a school library or a science laboratory to enhance their learning. I hope someone in authority will investigate this non-transparent and irresponsible practice.

Our primary schools, secondary schools, and major centres need public libraries. The government need to fund the establishment of public libraries with the aim of improving the provision of services and making accessibility to information and knowledge of the world easier to our people. Without continuous support from the government our libraries and schools will remain weakened by a system of information paralysis.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Impoverished Reading Culture

The first of several articles on reading culture, books, libraries, literacy, cultural knowledge, indigenous knowledge system, folklore, education, media literacy and technology, film documentaries, writing, and publishing in Papua New Guinea by Steven Edmund Winduo, published in The National newspaper of Papua New Guinea under the column Steven's Window.

People are having a lot of problems with reading. I observed that students at the University of Papua New Guinea are not carrying textbooks around to read. Students walk in and out of lecture rooms without any textbooks. I see them carrying a rolled up writing pad, a folded exercise book, or their bilums, baskets, and bags. Most of them don’t seem to care whether they carry a textbook. They are happy without textbooks. I see them gather in small groups talking and laughing. I see them sitting around the forum, but without reading any books. I see them walking around holding hands or talking on their cell phones. It is odd for university students to fill the campus without having texts books in their possession.

I have traveled and lived in many international university campuses where students are seen buried in their textbooks, or rushing off to their classes with textbooks under their arms, in their bags, or next to them in coffee shops, cafeterias, and even under a shady tree. Students walk in and out of libraries with many books. Bookshops are filled with students buying textbooks, supplementary texts, and even books of general interest. The busiest places on a campus are the library, the bookshop, and the cafeterias. Books are everywhere. They are the inseparable gear of a student on campus.

I decided to take it on myself to tell my class one day about my observation. I was teaching a course on literature ad politics. I had about 60 students registered for the course. I began my course with some theoretical and conceptual frameworks influenced largely from the Marxist school of thought. In my first lecture I noticed the students were not with me. The key thinkers such as Karl Marx, Hegel, Emmanuel Kant, Theodore Adorno, Antonio Gramsci, Jean Paul Sartre, Ferdinand Saussure, Frederic Jameson, Stuart Hall, or Raymond Williams were not their cup of tea. For two weeks I talked to students attending my class without textbooks or any supplementary texts.

I am convinced photocopying lecture notes costs a lot of money. I believe lecturers should not photocopy lecture notes, books, or journal chapters to give to their students. Students should not be spoon-fed or have their tuition subsidized by the university. Students should pay for their lecture notes, readings, and textbooks. Every year staff at in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, for example, run down the poor photocopy machine several times a year because of heavy photocopying load, let alone running high the bills for photocopying. Students must buy their photocopies whether lecture notes, journal chapters, or textbook chapters. Students are led into believing that they can attend lectures without buying their own textbooks because lecturers will give free handouts, lecture notes, and readings. This is a false sense of responsible learning.

I raised the awareness of this poor learning attitude in class one day. Soon after that lecture three quarters of the students dropped out of my course. How could students understand theoretical and abstract ideas only from a lecturer’s notes? A lecturer is not the gospel truth of the subject he or she teaches. A lecturer guides the young raw minds inexperienced in the path of knowledge to achieve a competence sufficient enough for national duty after graduation. Students are expected to read beyond the readings set by a lecturer. Lectures are only understood when students have read the required readings and other relevant texts before they attend class. Instead, students attend classes expecting a lecturer to spoon-feed them everything. Such learning expectations do nothing more than making a class of lazy students pontificating a lecturer as the only source of knowledge.

Somewhere along the line something went wrong. I know that the curriculum and syllabuses are carefully designed and published to effectively develop the reading and learning skills of students. If these are taught and delivered properly students should be properly equipped with reading and writing skills by the time they get to the university. With teachers who are good at teaching reading and writing skills their students too benefit from the skills and confidence of the teacher. With teachers struggling to deliver the right skills of reading and writing students too fumble and stumble.

The problems of reading among university students are like a cancerous growth within our young society. We should not allow it to grow or gain footing in our education system and learning environment. Our goal should be to end such poor attitudes among university students. It should not only be the responsibility of university lecturers. It should be everyone’s responsibility to encourage and instill in our young people’s minds the values of reading and making books become an important part of growing up and developing successful foundations to reach one’s dreams.

I shared this observation with the Governor General of Papua New Guinea Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane at the Government House one day. He was shocked to hear that our university students are not reading or buying textbooks and carrying them around in traditional scholastic fashion. Shock it was to him because His Excellency is both an avid reader and writer in his own right. He had come from a very oral society to one that is dependent on written texts and electronic material cultures.

A nation is strong if its foundations are build on a well read and literate population. Good leaders and wise man can lead their people, but their people can fall behind and be a burden, when they cannot understand what is happening around them. Policies on improvement of quality of life and national development have been made and shelved because then no one reads them or implement policies The implementers do not understand them owing to their inability to read such documents in the first place. The language of some of these policies is written in difficult technical languages that people have different kinds of interpretations and takes on a policy.