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A consummate storyteller brings to life the tale of a tree

Elep Returns coverPHIL FITZPATRICK

Elep Returns: The Story of a Tree and its Conversion into Paper by Arnold Mundua.  Published (reprint) by Medtec, ISBN: 9789384007096, 160 pages.  Available from the author here

IT’S not often that you get to read a book that is narrated by a tree – or is it the spirit of a tree?

When we first meet Elep he is a blossom on a Galip tree. We then follow him as he turns into a fruit, falls to the forest floor, gets swallowed by a wandering muruk, is discharged out of its rear end and then grows into a mighty giant destined to watch over his beloved Amumsong rainforest in West New Britain.

Enter Rimbunan Hijau and Elep quickly finds himself cut down and turned into a log in a stockpile on the coast waiting to be shipped overseas to Japan where he is turned into a massive roll of paper.

The chainsaw bar gradually made its way in. I stood firm but could no longer stand brave against the piercing, cutting chain ripping out my flesh. As it made its way deeper I felt my nerve system and the connections to my roots gradually diminishing. I sobbed profusely as inches of my flesh were ripped out and disposed of as sawdust.

Finally, without any more connections left to my roots I slowly moved forward in the direction I had been pre-planned to fall. Slowly at first, then rapidly, as the cutting edge ripped the last few centimetres of remaining flesh down I went.

Through various twists and turns we follow Elep as he is shipped to Brisbane, cut up into sheets of paper and shipped to Port Moresby and finally united with the son of the landholder of the forest where he began life as a Grade 10 school certificate.

On the face of it Elep’s story is bizarre but if you are prepared to suspend reality for a while it is strangely satisfying and very informative.  And this, I think, is what Arnold Mundua was aiming for when he wrote the book.

As a forester of long standing he knows what he is talking about and the details he provides are not only fascinating but also thought provoking.  They are particularly germane given the current debate about SABLs and growing opposition to logging in places like Western Province and Collingwood Bay.

What Arnold presents to us is an ideal scenario of an ordered, ethical and sustainable logging industry, something that should be but patently and unfortunately isn’t in PNG.

In 1988 the Barnett Commission of Inquiry exposed massive corruption and malpractice in the forestry industry.  As a result a number of reforms were instituted, including the appointment of an independent body to monitor the export of PNG timber.

Sadly, as we now know, these reforms are faltering.

The story that Arnold tells is one built on the premise that the reforms once did and still can and should make a difference if they are allowed to operate as they were intended.

Among the mass of detail in the book are some interesting statistics.  Paul, the landowner of the forest where Elep once proudly stood is paid K68.04 in royalties for the mighty tree, an amount on which he has to pay tax.

Arnold MunduaRimbunan Hijau, on the other hand, sells Elep for K900 to the Japanese buyer.  And so it goes with Elep increasing in value as he continues on his journey.

Arnold Mundua (pictured) is a consummate storyteller and the book flows along evenly.  It is aimed, I suspect, at high school students but it is not out of place in the hands of an interested adult wishing to learn about forestry and logging.

His previous book, A Bride’s Price, I would aver, once I can lay my hands on a copy, will be well-worth reading too.

*Elep is Galip in the local Arawe dialect of Kandrian


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John Kaupa Kamasua

Looking forward to getting a copy.

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