Forest Minister got it wrong over the great timber heist
A Kiap’s Chronicle: 5 – Going solo

Literature & politics: a potent combination in the right hands


IT seems to be standard practise in most western countries for retired or ousted politicians to write books and ‘memoirs’. Many of them see it as an opportunity to ‘set the record straight’.

In reality it is more likely to be an attempt to blame other people for the mistakes or misdemeanours the politicians themselves made while in office. Either that or it is an attempt to secure a tiny spot in their country’s history.

Two of the most recent cases in Australia have been books by ex-prime ministers John Howard and Julia Gillard. Howard was interested in glory but Gillard was interested in putting the boot into the hapless Kevin Rudd, in the nicest possible way of course.

Other politicians write books on their way up the ladder. These manifestos are often much more interesting after the fact when the politicians have peaked, crashed and burned. The standout is Tony Abbott’s Battlelines.

Up and coming politicians as well as the has-beens also write articles for newspapers and journals. Some of them maintain blogs, including most sitting members. The latter are a kind of altar at which they and their friends lay prolific tribute. A few of they even author this confetti themselves.

Some of Papua New Guinea’s early politicians cottoned on to the usefulness of this kind of propaganda. Michael Somare published his book Sana in 1975 as a kind of manifesto and before this, in 1968, Albert Maori Kiki published Kiki: Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime for the same purpose.

Some retired politicians who continue to take an interest in public affairs and politics write books and articles and author blogs pushing their ideas with the express purpose of influencing public opinion. Malcolm Fraser’s Dangerous Allies, which advocated ending the Australia-USA military alliance, was a great but ultimately futile example.

These days Papua New Guinea’s politicians write nothing. A few of them have websites but they usually contain one original screed by some half literate hack on their behalf and then nothing. Perhaps they don’t want the public to know what they are thinking or, more likely, what they are up to.

Perhaps they don’t know how to write – that’s a disturbing thought!

Someone has recently written a book extolling Peter O’Neill and publishing his speeches (which he probably didn’t write) but it is far from enlightening and certainly doesn’t give away what he thinks. If he paid for this spin he didn’t get a very good deal but we all know about Peter O’Neill’s deals.

The only Papua New Guinean politician actively writing is the Governor of Oro Province, Gary Juffa. He is also an assiduous user of social media. PNG Attitude has been privileged to publish much of what he has written over the years.

The governor displays both wit and intelligence in his pieces. It is a very interesting and powerful combination of literature and politics, a juxtaposition that seems to escape Papua New Guinea’s other politicians.

It is clear that Juffa is a thinker and a writer with a clear idea of his mission. He has written: “Leaders are elected to serve, promote and protect the interests of their people, those who elected them into parliament for that purpose”.

He clearly sees literature (he writes across most genres) as a useful political tool, not only for getting his ideas across and receiving feedback but also in reporting what he has been doing.

In this sense he is a politician for the 21st century whereas most of his contemporaries in the Haus Tambaran are throwbacks to the last century.

So backward are they that they seek to repress literature and the media rather than nurture it. The old adage that ‘any publicity is good publicity’ clearly doesn’t resonate with them. But, then again, nothing much except money seems to resonate with them.

I don’t know how you can drag these literary Neanderthals into the 21st Century but I do know that, if it can’t be done, the future after 2017 is looking pretty bleak.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Francis Nii

A new industry! Paint biographically rosy pictures of all the corrupt leaders and tell you what, you walk away with a huge portion of the DSIP fund. It's starting and don't get surprised if more are coming up.

Philip Fitzpatrick

PNG Attitude has been archived by the National Library in Australia since 2009. The Crocodile Prize website has been archived since 2014.

The PNG Attitude archive is a great historical source for those last half dozen years or so. Pretty much every major event that happened in PNG during that time is touched on.

Prior to that however its pretty bare. The only real resource are PNG's two major newspapers. The Post Courier has paper records going back to the 1950s but they are housed in an old building that could go up in flames at any time. A sensible government would be paying to have them scanned and digatised. This is unlikely however because they can't even keep their own National Archives in good condition and usable.

History is a subjective thing and much depends on who is doing the writing. Official government records are generally nothing more than propaganda.

This is why PNG writers should be stepping up.

Raymond Sigimet

PNG literature more than ever, that is after 40 years of independence, needs books, memoirs and commentaries from its leaders in government as well as the different industries to express on their visions, where they want to see the country in the 21st century and beyond; and share their experiences with the ongoing challenges that are faced within PNG.

Their writings will eventually become our modern history for future generations to debate and use as a stepping stone to improve.

Sadly, very few of our leaders are actively writing and sharing their experiences (in books, that is).

A first hand experience from PNG writers tells a lot more about our thinking and wisdom than research papers or news reports.

Currently, we are missing big time on our political literary consciousness because our political leaders are too busy devising means and ways to enrich themselves than sitting down and write about what country they want PNG to be in the years to come, where PNG should be heading, and what are things that we should cherish and value as a nation.

Presently, I don't think we have an active post colonial literature in place to understand our contemporary society now (that is post 1980) after Sana, My Childhood in New Guinea, Kiki: 10000 Years in a Lifetime were published pre independence. We are learning African, Carribbean, South American post colonial literature in our universities but we have very few content understanding of our own because of the very reason that ours is stagnant.

To this end, I would like to acknowledge PNG Attitude blog, Keith Jackson and Phil Fitzpatrick for selflessly doing something practical to realise this need for an active literary culture within the country. Like I commented some time ago, PNG university academics and students of literature will in future acknowledge what you have been doing in the last few years to revive PNG literature through the blog, Crocodile Prize and not forgetting the Rivers Award with Val Rivers.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)