WRITERS from seven provinces feature in the nine prizes awarded in this year’s Crocodile Prize – Papua New Guinea’s national literary awards.
And one of the winners, 20-year old medical student Hazel Kutkue, not only won the Martens’ Award for Young Writers but the national short story prize – a prodigious achievement at such an early age and against some very stiff competition.
The Ok Tedi Mining Award for Book of the Year saw Baka Bina’s Man of Calibre triumph in a strong field of 10 contenders while the inaugural SP Brewery Award for Illustration went to another Eastern Highlander, Emmanuel Landu, brother of two-time Crocodile Prize winner, poet Lapieh Landu.
Other provinces represented in the prize winners are Enga, Simbu, Milne Bay, Morobe, Madang and the National Capital District.
The other winners include Philip Kaupa Gena (poetry), Busa Wenogo (essay), Joycelin Leahy (writing for children), Ronnie Dotaona (heritage) and Daniel Kumbon (tourism, arts & culture).
The writers’ ages range from 20 to 56, averaging 36, and their professions include economist, teacher, court officer, journalist, artist and student.
In the following section we present the names and profiles of the winners and links to their winning entries together with the judges’ comments.
OK TEDI MINING AWARD FOR BOOK OF THE YEAR
Baka Barakove Bina for Man of Calibre
Baka, 53, was born in Kotiyufa Village, Iufi Iufa in the Eastern Highlands. Since 1993, he has worked in the National Court in Port Moresby, first in security, then as sheriff and now in the registry. He has published two novels and three collections of short stories. His wife is a primary school teacher and they have four adult children. “My goal is to publish 10 short stories and, if life permits, 10 novels.”
When Phil Fitzpatrick reviewed Baka’s book for PNG Attitude he noted a similarity in style to the famous Irish writer James Joyce, albeit enhanced by a distinctly Papua New Guinean flavour.
Joyce was famous for his unique use of language and his modified steam-of-consciousness style of narrative. Man of Calibre shares these attributes.
There is also a hint of the innovative language from the work of the previous year’s winner, Leonard Fong Roka and, looking even further back, in the work of Russell Soaba. In this sense Man of Calibre is a worthy successor to what might now be called the beginning of a truly Papua New Guinean school of literature.
All literature is derivative but this is an important book and I suspect that one day it will be claimed as a Papua New Guinean classic.
GOVERNMENT OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA AWARD FOR SHORT STORIES
Hazel Kutkue for When Life Gets Tough in January
Hazel, 20, was born in Madang and is a medical student at the University of PNG. “I love writing in my spare time,” she says. “If I could earn a living in PNG from writing, I would most definitely drop everything and write full time.”
In this age of realism Hazel’s short story strikes a perfect chord. Her sharp, bright and funny dialogue beautifully portrays what is a very serious reality - the all too common plight of single women with recalcitrant husbands trying to bring up children on their own in modern Papua New Guinea.
In this case it is the way “you mauswara people so they pay your children’s school fees” that features. We get a lot of short stories, poems and essays about the realities of life in modern Papua New Guinea but many of them are depressingly bathed in pathos and misery.
It is a superior writer who can avoid that trap and truly bring these issues to our attention in a forceful and readable way and Hazel succeeds admirably.
MARTENS’ AWARD FOR YOUNG WRITERS
Hazel Kutkue for Papa
Hazel also won the short story prize, an achievement that is surprising given her young age. Much of what has been said about that entry applies to this story. Again, Hazel tackles a serious subject in a manner that makes it immensely readable. This time the humour is more wry and subdued but it perfectly conveys the angst of a rebellious teenager faced with the traumas and peccadillos of her parents.
KINA SECURITIES’ AWARD FOR POETRY
Philip Kaupa Gena for We Are Poets
Papua New Guinea is still developing its literary voice. This is a persistent theme in many of the entries in the Crocodile Prize and particularly so in poetry. Many Papua New Guinean poets struggle with what actually constitutes a good poem.
A lot of would-be poets seem to think that stringing prose together in an unstructured way is poetry. Well, maybe it is or maybe it isn’t, but it’s a question worth pursuing and this is what is appealing about Philip’s poem.
In it he champions the cause of the wordsmith and attempts to place poetry in an artisanal niche rather than some arty-farty higher literary plane. In doing so, however, he is mindful of the need for structure and cohesion.
Like the broader development of Papua New Guinean literature poetry is slowly finding its voice. Philip’s poem is not perfect but it is well on the way to that ideal and he continues a theme established by the winner of last years’ award, Diddie Kunaman Jackson.
PNG CHAMBER OF MINES & PETROLEUM AWARD FOR ESSAYS & JOURNALISM
Busa Jeremiah Wenogo for The Shadows in My Eyes
Busa, 30, was born in Port Moresby and is an economist and freelance writer. He specialises in the area of PNG’s informal economy but his writing reflects an array of socio-economic issues that confront contemporary PNG. He is the creator and administrator of the Facebook page Black Economy- The truth about the other side of PNG and the blogsite PNG Informal Economist.
Passion is a rare commodity in our new real world. And, where it is expressed, it often comes in a tempered, cheapened and commodified form. We now have celebrities who are passionate about the latest whiz-bang technology or dietary fad. This new reality has run over into journalism where fear of litigation and a quest for safe but sensational banality has taken over.
These days you seldom read an essay or journalistic piece that could be described as impassioned. Passion seems to have retreated into the world of social media but even there it is often clichéd, muddled and predictable. In the social media world passion has been taken over the top.
This is particularly so in Papua New Guinea. It is very rare in both the traditional media and the new social media to read anything that is passionate, literate and balanced all at the same time. Busa’s essay, however, has succeeded. It is a highly literate piece with a clear message presented in a committed and passionate way.
PNG MINISTRY OF AWARD FOR TOURISM, ARTS & CULTURE
Daniel Ipan Kumbon for From the German Doctor’s Idea a Great Project is Born
Daniel, 56, was born in Kondo Village, Kandep, Enga Province. He started his media career with the National Broadcasting Corporation in 1979. In 1986, he switched to print journalism after completing media studies at UPNG and won scholarships to the United Kingdom, USA and Mexico.
In 2015 he published Remember Me and Other Stories from Enga Province. “Wherever I have gone,” he says, “I have always worn my hand woven PNG highlands cap and my long beard to promote PNG culture in my own small way.”
The title of this award is a little bit misleading. What it is primarily intended to do is highlight writing that is related to travel and tourism rather than a broader category that includes arts and culture. This was made clear when the award was inaugurated.
Being able to write about travel and tourism is a real art. Some of the great travel writers are legends in their own right. What these writers generally do is present their subject in an entertaining, reflective and informative narrative. An essential part of such writing is the 'back story’, something that links what they are saying in a coherent and readable way that will pique the reader’s curiosity and maybe make them want to explore the place being written about themselves.
Done otherwise and a travel piece can sound just like an advertisement. Daniel has done the former superbly and his article stands out from the more pedestrian entries in this category for this reason.
CLELAND FAMILY AWARD FOR HERITAGE WRITING
Konetero (Ronnie) Dotaona for Suau: The Sons of Seafarers
Ronnie, 33, is from Milne Bay and is a science teacher with a deep passion for indigenous knowledge. “I carved my profession out of a childhood hobby for the love of arthropods,” he says. “I'm a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, a prankster and love telling stories with kids. My spare time is occupied by gardening or woodworking or a bit of melody therapy. Never keep me away from the sea for too long.”
If you’ve read a lot of anthropology you will realise how dry and boring objective accounts of customs and culture can be. Any anthropological writer who attempts to lift such accounts out of this academic miasma risks the disapprobation of their peers. Anthropologists like Margaret Mead succeeded only because they were good writers, as well as good anthropologists.
Ironically, this is also a danger for Papua New Guineans writing about their own culture and heritage. What might be interesting to you or your clan may leave other people cold. Making such accounts interesting to a wide range of readers is a real challenge and very few of the entries in this category succeed.
Ronnie has succeeded however. He has taken a traditional custom and history and imbued it with an inspirational tone that tingles the blood. In doing so he has wisely chosen a subject that strikes a chord in our collective memories.
It is a coastal theme but highlanders have a similar theme in their stories of expansion and pioneering settlement. Capturing these themes makes those dry anthropological accounts pale by comparison.
PAGA HILL DEVELOPMENT COMPANY AWARD FOR WRITING FOR CHILDREN
Joycelin Kauc Leahy for The Song of the Turtle
Now Brisbane-based, Joycelin wants to assist in getting more Papua New Guineans reading, writing and getting published. Her passion has been in preserving and upholding the rich and unique culture of her people and other PNG art, culture and heritage
It is a well-known cliché that writing for children is one of the hardest literary chores of all. Too often the temptation to be cute and cuddly is overwhelming, just as is the temptation to pander to kid’s propensity for the crude and shocking.
Papua New Guinea has a long tradition of storytelling for children and it forms an important part of their development by presenting useful information, norms and ideas in an entertaining way.
These days we blame a lot of the ills of society on what kids absorb from all sorts of media, especially film and television, much of which originates overseas. In this sense good children’s literature in Papua New Guinea is very important as a counter to this trend.
At its best it should reflect Papua New Guinean values and not play up to the trite commercialism that imported children’s literature often displays. Joycelin has achieved this with her children’s story.
SP BREWERY AWARD FOR ILLUSTRATION
Emmanuel David Landu for Coffee Tree
“I am an aspiring architect and enjoy creating abstract imagery in my spare time,” he says.
“I believe that great art resonates with the viewer not only with the creator.”
This is a new category and it has obvious limitations in the form that it can be presented in a web based competition and for inclusion in an anthology hampered by the need to keep publishing costs down.
If the competition was conducted in a traditional way with the works displayed at full scale in a gallery it might be a different matter.
In that sense it has presented unique challenges for the entrants.
To their credit however they have met the challenge and presented a thoughtful, albeit limited, set of entries.
Of those entrants Emmanuel has grasped the nettle very firmly and responded in a most innovative way. He provided a number of entries and it was difficult to decide which was best.
In the end Coffee Tree, with its symbolism and fine rendering provided a winner.