Saturday, December 19, 2009

Colours of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tough Journey for PNG Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen My Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scientific Research and Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Saving Our Languages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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