One of the many responsibilities I inherited when appointed editor of the PNG Education Department’s School Papers in early 1969 was the custody and development of that rascal-cum-hero, Yokomo. (And I use both terms here in the broadest and gentlest of senses).
But first, and for those unfamiliar with the School Papers, let me explain. The School Papers were a set of monthly, 16 page magazines published 10 times a year for Papua New Guinean primary school children. One was for upper primary classes (Standards 5 and 6) and the other for lower primary classes (Standards 5 and 6). A sister publication was Our World, a social studies magazine for upper primary classes. Yokomo was a regular feature of the Upper Primary School Paper.
Having inherited our hero from Frank Hiob and Keith Jackson who had established Yokomo as something of a celebrity, and knowing the delight of my own former charges in the East Sepik when they read of Yokomo’s exploits and travails, I assumed custody with no illusions as to the magnitude of the responsibility I was taking on: the expectations of tens of thousands of young readers must be met, or exceeded.
And for five years or more, through a mix of serendipitous creativity, even more creative cross-cultural plagiarisation (every culture has its own Yokomos) and not a few ideas from teacher colleagues and others, we kept Yokomo alive and kicking against the traces. Not so, alas, Omokoy. Somewhere between Keith’s departure and my arrival, poor Omokoy was lost, stolen or eaten by a pukpuk or some such.
The School Papers were established in the early 1960s (and here I rely on a faulty memory and, in truth, not a lot of knowledge) to provide supplementary reading material in PNG schools – and remember, back then, Frank and Lois Johnson were still labouring furiously to complete that fabulous Minenda English program which featured the much-loved Raka and Ranu and which served us teachers and our charges so well.
Indeed, I recall having to rely on dog-eared copies of Oxford Sepik