Tension in PNG over Bougainville as referendum looms
The Bougainville referendum—lessons from other places

Record entries make for stand-out PNG book of the year award

_Crocodile Prize 2015KEITH JACKSON

THE Ok Tedi Mining Ltd Papua New Guinea book of the year award was initiated just last year and its inauguration marked a significant milestone in the rebirth of the nation’s written literature.

It has been observed before in these columns that creative writing in PNG – especially of book length - fell into a deep trough following the effervescent years around independence when many emergent authors found voice.

The drought began to break in 2010 with the advent of the Crocodile Prize national literary contest and the subsequent publication, in 2011, of the first Crocodile Prize Anthology.

And this resurgence was enriched last year when, through the generosity of Ok Tedi Mining, the national book of the year award was established. There were six entries – three from Leonard Fong Roka. These were The Pomong U’tau of Dreams, Moments in Bougainville and Brokenville, which went on to win.

The other entries all came from distinguished writers - Fitman, Raitman & Cooks by Francis Nii, The Flight of Galkope by Sil Bolkin and At Another Crossroads by Michael Dom.

Well this year, with just two weeks before the closing date, the Book of the Year Award has already received nine entries. Each has been previously been recognised with articles in PNG Attitude, but I thought a brief reprise may be in order.

The production of a full-length book is always a considerable undertaking by author and by the publisher, who has been the incomparable Phil Fitzpatrick. Phil, through his not-for-profit Pukpuk Publications, the publishing arm of the Crocodile Prize Organisation, COG, was responsible for bringing most of these books into existence.

All of the titles are available from Amazon, so if any of these summaries intrigue you the books are readily available.

Bougainville Manifesto coverBougainville Manifesto by Leonard Fong Roka, Pukpuk Publishing, 88pp, ISBN-10:1502917459. Reviewed by Chris Overland.

These essays outline the history of Bougainville, including the civil war in the 1980-90s, and suggest a way forward towards eventual independence from Papua New Guinea. In considering where Bougainville might go in the future, Roka rejects any idea that it should stay as a part of PNG. He is adamant that PNG is a colonial construct to which Bougainville has no historic, cultural or ethnic ties.

If Roka's views are representative of a significant majority of Bougainvilleans, then the result of the forthcoming referendum on the island's future will see it moving towards independence. This will present huge challenges to both Bougainvilleans and PNG.

Even if his views represent those of a small but significant minority, then it is entirely conceivable that any referendum will achieve little other than to polarise opinion on Bougainville and, perhaps, incite a resurgence of the violence that bedevilled it in the recent past.

Lost in His LandLost in His Land by Winterford Toreas. Pukpuk Publications: Amazon/Kindle. 2014. 126pp. ISBN10:1503051846; ISBN 13:978-1503051843. Reviewed by Ed Brumby.

While Leonard Fong Roka and others have provided valuable accounts of, and insights into the events and consequences of those times via books, essays and other means, their endeavours have been targeted primarily at adult readers.

No-one has written of the conflict and its effects specifically for younger, adolescent readers. Until now. In Lost in His Land, Winterford Toreas provides a timely and somewhat conventional tale of loss, recovery and reconciliation that illuminates, for younger readers, the trauma that war and conflict inflict on everyone, combatants and innocents alike, regardless of age or gender. Lost in His Land is a worthy, well-written, easy-to-read tale well-suited to adolescent and adult readers alike and Winterford Toreas is a skilled wordsmith and story-teller.

Man of CalibreMan of Calibre by Baka Barakove Bina, CreateSpace, 2015, ISBN-10: 1499751842, ISBN-13: 978-1499751840. 248 pages. Reviewed by Phil Fitzpatrick.

It is the rich soup of contradiction and inconsistency that make this novel so compelling.  Some of the meaty pieces that the author fishes out of the soup are fascinating and irresistible.

The pieces range over a wide spectrum but feature the changing roles of men and women in the new society.  The discussions about men washing their kid’s nappies and their wives’ underwear are hilarious, as much so as the descriptions of men left without land and gardens hassling to get by any way they can are sad. 

Another central theme is the changing language and concepts and the introduction of new words and ideas into local usage.  In this case it is the concept of ‘calibre’ (kalibaris), which is little understood and misconstrued by many of the villagers – just what is a man of calibre they wonder?

It is wickedly funny and earthy book which is thankfully devoid of the preaching and religious platitudes that spoil so much of Papua New Guinea’s better writing. I would have no trouble in calling this a landmark novel.  I haven’t read anything this good since Russell Soaba’s Tinpis. In as much as it is possible, given Papua New Guinea’s cultural diversity, I would even go as far as describing Man of Calibre as an instant classic.

Daddy Two ShoesDaddy Two Shoes: For Mama and Papa with Love by Diddie Kinamun Jackson, Pukpuk Publishing, 2014. ISBN-10: 1502772280. ISBN-13: 978-1502772282. 132 pages. Reviewed by Keith Jackson.

At the heart of much Papua New Guinean writing is music and the expression of this musical soul is seen with no greater clarity than in the nation's poetry. Poetry is a literary form where emotions and truths seem easier to reveal; providing a kind of camouflage where matters otherwise difficult to say can be disclosed through metaphor, imagery and the subterfuge of words.

In the 2014 Crocodile Prize, a field of nearly 100 writers produced more than 300 poems for the Kina Securities Award. Diddie Kinamun Jackson, 28, born in Mt Hagen, took out the top prize for As a Writer and went on to publish this volume of 102 collected works.

Few-bougainvillean-voicesFew Bougainvillean Voices by Leonard Fong Roka, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, March 2015. ISBN-10: 1508712433, ISBN-13: 978-1508712435. 110 pages.

Few Bougainvillean Voices is an anthology of poetry and short stories covering issues of the Bougainville people in the northern Solomons. The anthology offers the voices of the otherwise unheard cries of the Bougainville people. Bougainvilleans will soon have a referendum to decide their political future as a result of a decade of bloody civil war that cost the lives of 10 to 15 thousand people.

The Musing of an Assistant Pig KeeperThe Musing of an Assistant Pig Keeper by Michael Theophilus Dom, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, April 2015. ISBN-10: 1490505970. ISBN-13: 978-1490505978. 220 pages. Reviewed by Phil Fitzpatrick.

One of the more delightful aspects of running a national literary competition is coming across new and talented writers. Among the hundreds of entries received, there is very occasionally one that stands out and announces that here is a talent that needs to be watched. This point of recognition is hard to define; it is akin to the tingle that comes with finding a beautiful new shell on a windswept beach.

Michael Dom’s poetry came to us in this way. His was an evolving talent that was constrained by opportunity and unease about recognition in a society that can attach political meaning to creative writing. We watched Michael for a year or so as his writing got bolder and more refined. A significant milestone was when he decided to drop the protective ‘Icarus’ pseudonym. By that stage he was a committed poet with no fear of losing his feathers to the sun.

That he won the Poetry Award that year was no great surprise. His poetry has now evolved to a point where we would both be wary about making judgments’ about it. Rather, we defer to his expertise. In this second volume of work we think you will agree with us that he displays a mature and confident talent that has a boundless future. In our estimation, Papua New Guinea can rightfully claim that it has produced a world-class poet.

My StruggleMy Struggle by Jimmy Awagl, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, March 2015. ISBN-10: 1508532338. ISBN-13: 978-1508532330. 128 pages.

Jimmy Awagl is an educationist who lives in the Simbu Province in the Papua New Guinea Highlands, teaching language and literature at Ku High School. He is a keen observer and writes about anything that interests him. This is his first collection of short stories, poems and essays. He says he “writes about anything he sees, hears and thinks about”.

Jimmy is a raw talent who is also vice-president of the Simbu Writers Association and one of the driving forces in promoting literature in Simbu secondary schools. This volume of literature is a tribute to Jimmy’s stamina, having been produced in the short period since he was introduced to the Crocodile Prize – PNG’s national literary awards. Jimmy’s prolific energy was recognise when he was awarded the special judges’ award for consistency and diligence in the Rivers Writing for Peace & Harmony Awards of 2014.

The Resonance of My ThoughtsThe Resonance of My Thoughts by Francis Nii, Pukpuk Publications, ISBN 978-1511968874, 126 pages. Reviewed by Phil Fitzpatrick.

Francis Nii was one of the earliest supporters of the Crocodile Prize and, following Reg Renagi’s example, wasn’t afraid to put his name on what he wrote for PNG Attitude either. Given Francis’s vulnerable physical condition this was a great example to other writers. I well recall looking up from my papers at the very first Crocodile Prize writers’ workshop in Port Moresby in 2011 and spotting him in his battered old wheelchair. It was a bit of a surprise because he hadn’t mentioned his disability to anyone.

Francis has a well-developed streak of contrariness and we’ve had our differences in the past, most notably about religion and a certain parliamentary Speaker and a set of Sepik carvings. They are differences, however, that have been discussed politely and with informed measure. And I must admit that these days I look forward to his contrary views, they are always illuminating and thought-provoking.

Francis is a founder and stalwart of the Simbu Writer’s Association leading by example rather than by decree.  He is also a strong advocate for disabled people in Papua New Guinea. So what he writes about is worth reading. And that’s where this collection of essays comes to the fore. Hopefully, as more writers follow Francis’s example, a body of similar material will be assembled. It is the stuff of history after all, and very important to the nation and in its own right.

Remember MeRemember Me and Other Stories from Enga Province, Papua New Guinea compiled by Daniel Kumbon, Pukpuk Publications/Enga Writers Association, ISBN: 9781514311813, 124 pages. Reviewed by Phil Fitzpatrick.

It is the sad case that Papua New Guinea has few commercially established general publishers. This has been true since before independence in 1975. The reasons for this are manifold, but the relatively small market for Papua New Guinean literature, both within the country and internationally is of significance.

Until very recently most of the books published by Papua New Guinean writers were self-published and distributed by the authors. This was, and still is, expensive and limits the size of print runs possible. It is only in the last few years that such technologies as print-on-demand, e-books and internet distribution have made the process cheaper.

Perhaps the saddest fact is that Papua New Guinea has an over-abundance of talented writers, poets and essayists. This has become apparent over the five years of the annual Crocodile Prize literary awards – an initiative so far largely managed from outside the country.

Remember Me And Other Stories From Enga Province is a classic example of the dilemma facing Papua New Guinean writers. The collection was largely compiled in the mid-1980s but sat on a shelf collecting dust because no publisher could be found.

When you read the stories you will realise what a great shame it was they went unpublished for so long. They still have vibrancy and relevance almost 30 years after they were written and are a testament to the talents of the writers.


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Leonard Fong Roka

Brumby-You have the point. The gentlemen are making history.

They are heroes!

Ed Brumby

When the annals of PNG literature are recorded, the names Jackson and Fitzpatrick will be writ large, up there with the likes of Eri and Beier.

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