An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
I feel elated that a collection of stories from Enga Province, which have been collecting dust for many years, has just been published by Pukpuk Publications and immediately becoming available on Amazon.com.
But I also feel like the chef who has prepared a banquet but wonders who will eat all the good food. It’s a thought that keeps nagging at my mind.
I once published a small book with Oxford University Press, Climbing Mountains. It was a supplementary reader for students in Grades 6 – 8.
But I don’t know if students in Enga and the rest of PNG for that matter were ever aware of its existence.
And not only my book but many other similar books by PNG authors published by one of the world’s renowned academic presses.
The Oxford University sales team sends me transcripts of the sales of my small book. Apparently they sell over 100 copies a year. I wonder who buys them.
Last Saturday, I found Justin Lyain, a Grade 11 student at Wabag Secondary School, at the only book outlet in all Enga Province.
Students always crowd this small second-hand shop and, when they begin to read the books, the security guards emphasises they should buy first and then find out what’s inside.
This place for readers is a small cubicle in a corner of Kumul Clothing, the largest second hand dealer in Wabag. It orders second hand items like clothes, bedding, handbags, shoes, hats and books from Australia and New Zealand and sells them to 300,000 Engans.
Kumul Clothing is always busy and the used books on the shelves quickly disappear. But none of these books include anything new or old authored by Papua New Guineans.
On Saturday, Justine Lyain was late. There were no suitable books for him so he was reading an old magazine. I asked him to keep reading so I could the picture above.
This young lad had walked to Wabag town to read books on the weekend. Wabag Secondary has a well-stocked library but he must have read all the books he liked and come to the second hand shop in search of new titles.
An old copy of Enga Nius - the provincial newspaper - attests to this fact that Mr Ganim’s students and teachers used to read books.
One of the teachers, John Kapi, was one of them. He found reading to be a good cure for boredom. He also said it helped him improve his English, useful in his profession.
Mr Kapi said one of the books he enjoyed reading was A Bridge of Magpies by Geoffrey Jenkins, published in 1974. Jenkins has the ability to create villains and heroes – and even icy heroines – with a few vivid words.
“The whole arrangement of the book with certain chapters containing real-life stories made it so exciting I was unable to put it down till the last page,” Mr Kapi said.
Agnes Kapipi was reading The Colour Purple, a novel by American writer Alice Walker. It describes the life of a black American woman lived in the USA between the wars.
“I found hard to put down once I started reading it,” Ms Kapipi said.
The entire book is made up of letters the woman wrote to God and to her sister.
People in Enga want to read. But how to access good books, this is a dilemma confronting Engans today.
The man who implemented Governor Peter Ipatas’ popular free education policy was none other than Wabag MP Robert Ganim.
Last Friday, the day before I met the student at the second hand shop, Mr Ganim told hundreds of people in Wabag town that he supports the policy because he wants to see his district filled with an educated population.
He said the PNG government had generously allocated extra funds on top of the annual K10 million district allocation and, of that money, K3 million for education.
He said with K2 million he would build classrooms, libraries and teacher’s houses. He had bought 16 Lucas sawmill sets and five chainsaws for the communities to process their own timber.
Mr Ganim said the remaining K1 million would be used to improve Birip Primary School to upgrade it to a new day high school to supplement the work of Sir Tei Abal Secondary, Kopen Secondary, Highlands Lutheran International, Enga Teachers College, Institute of Business Studies, Enga College of Nursing and many top-up schools.
That makes for a lot of students in this part of the world.
All these students will need to have access to educational materials like reading books. It is hoped that Mr Ganim will support Lady Carol Kidu, Governor Gary Juffa and others who have prepared a proposal for the government to buy PNG-authored books to be given to the 4,000 educational institutions in PNG.
Mr Ganim could even consider purchasing some of the books himself with district education funds.
What a perfect fortieth independence day gift that would be.