Beginning the climb - my PNG education
Crocodile Prize will encourage PNG writers

Papua New Guinea: A writing heritage


Phil IN THE YEARS leading up to Independence and for a short time afterwards literature flowered in Papua New Guinea.

One of the reasons for this was the need felt by many Papua New Guineans to examine their place in the world in those radical times.

The question for many was: who are we and where do we want to go? Writing about it seemed a logical thing to do.

Impetus was given by the establishment of a creative writers’ course at the embryonic University of Papua New Guinea by the irrepressible Ulli Beier.

The first novel by a Papuan writer, Vincent Eri’s The Crocodile came out of that course and Ulli also had a hand in Albert Maori Kiki’s Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime and Michael Somare’s Sana.

Under Ulli’s benign guidance a journal of Papua New Guinea literature, Kovave, also appeared. In the first volume prose such as Peter Lus’ My Head is as Black as the Soil of our Country, John Kadiba’s Tax and Kumalau Tawali’s Island Life appeared along with John Waiko’s play The Unexpected Hawk.

The Papua Pocket poets, a series of booklets, appeared shortly thereafter and included works like John Kasaipwalova’s Reluctant Flame.

Some of this literature had a distinctly anti-colonialist tone. This was not instigated by Ulli Beier but he didn’t discourage it either.

Some of the more virulent anti-colonialists were, in fact, colonialists themselves, the expatriate academics at the UPNG. They enjoyed nothing better than taunting and baiting the Australian administration. Mind you, there were people in the administration who needed taunting.

Ironically it was the students of these leftie firebrands who took a more balanced and conciliatory view of the march towards nationhood.

Some of the other writers active at this time, in no particular order, were, Peter Lus, Wairu Degoba, Pokwari Kale, Allan Natachee (Avaisa Pinongo), Leo Hannett, Rabbie Namaliu, Arthur Jawodimbari, Turuk Wabei, Bob Giegao, Jacob Simet, Jack Lahui, Clemens Runawery, Peter Wia Paiya, Renagi Lohia, Joseph Saruva, Herman Talingapua and Ikini Yaboyang.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Prior to 1975 many Papua New Guinean public servants and others in sensitive positions published material anonymously or by using a pseudonym to protect themselves and their jobs.

Some of them should perhaps now stand up and be acknowledged for their contributions.

You can read the complete version of Phil Fitzpatrick’s essay here. The essay was written for the Independence Day supplement of the PNG Post-Courier on 16 September 2010.


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