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Writing inspiring change: Defining the perfect PNG gentleman

Melanesian perfect gentlemenMICHAEL DOM

THE RECENT article by Nathan Lati, extracted from a paper based on his Divine Word University graduate thesis, reveals there are many thinking Papua New Guineans who are aware of their culture and the how it is being diminished by modernisation.

More importantly, thinkers like Naith are also doers; working towards addressing the issues he’s talking about.

Another familiar voice of PNG Attitude, Martyn Namorong, is likewise a doer with his championing of the PNG extractive industries transparency initiative (EITI) through the Papua New Guinea Resource Governance Coalition.

These agendas seem broad and separate but they meet at a single point, well over seven million points – Papua New Guinea’s citizens.

It is clear that Papua New Guineans are still defining what it means to be a PNG citizen or even Melanesian.

This continuing self-discovery requires us all to do what Naith and Martyn are doing, not necessarily through a thesis or a full-time job, but by finding ways of participating in our community, country and democracy.

It is only through participating in our nationhood that we can take control of our destiny as a nation.

Naith understands this about the need to preserve our unique culture.

Martyn understands this about the need for us to be more responsible about our resource use.

Me, I feed pigs.

But that gives me time and lots of olfactory inspiration to write stuff – stuff which gets published by my generous friend, Keith Jackson.

As writers and poets participating in the Crocodile Prize, it is our citizen duty and philosophical prerogative to participate in writing that helps to define us as a nation.

That brings to mind Dolarose Atai Wo’otong’s recent poem, Perfect Gentleman.

Dolarose’s poem describes her personal thoughts about the characteristics of a Papua New Guinean gentleman.

There is real socio-cultural value in the issue Dolarose addresses in her poem: what does the modern Papua New Guinean gentleman look like? What does he do? What does being a gentleman mean in our culture today?

In our male dominated society, predominantly afflicted by male insecurity, I think the agenda is worth exploring and I’m really looking forward to reading PNG writers thinking on this topic, especially with crimes such as witch hunting, rape and domestic violence being on the national agenda.

I was musing on Dolarose work – initially posting three modified lines – and this made me think that perhaps I was adding my own impression into the creation.

While reading the Crocodile Prize website, I found an excellent example of Chip Mackellar’s editing on Jimmy Awagl’s poem, People of the back page.

It is very instructive for poets to do work with Chip Mackellar, who can impart his fine skills through the editing process. That’s a valuable service he’s providing freely.

Mr Mackellar’s skill transformed Jimmy’s poem into a very eloquent ballad. But I have to admit I really enjoyed the ‘ruggedness’ of Jimmy’s original work. It was so clearly a Simbu man talking – to me.

That’s an important dimension of poetry – voice.

Here’s what President Barack Obama said about using your voice: “Voting is the most fundamental and sacred right of our democracy. I believe it should be almost as easy as voting on American Idol. But when we choose not to vote, we surrender that right to someone else.”

Freedom of expression is a famous pillar of democracy.

So, when writing poetry, try to know your voice: listen to the poem as you write it; think of your audience; write the sound of how you would speak your words to them.

I have written what my take was on Dolarose’s poem and also translated it into Tok Pisin (in spite of those ignorant gnats who still say the language is no good).

There’s a lot to be said about the creative process and about being Papua New Guinean. And about how we can move forward as a responsible nation filled with good, respectful citizens – gentlemen and ladies.

A PNG gentleman

Inspired by Dolarose Atai Wo’otong’s 'Perfect gentleman'

His claim to skill does not shout
Nor do his eyes deny his truth
He stands within himself–immovable–his will is rock
But at his speech enemies dissolve
In his one flaw – magnanimity to all.

His name is well known in the hausman
And the wood smoke recalls his tears

As he regales the youth with stories
While old folk bake him their largest sweet potatoes
And sleep by the fireplace to tell him their secrets at dawn.

The stone-washed Levi’s, scuffed at the knees,
Are handed down to his cousins
(The suit and tie – he left in town.)
But his uncle holds his feathered head-dress
Which no one else dare touch.

They sought him far, his brides to be,
Many were willing, many still are.
But she knows well who holds his heart
When she hears his gentle breathing:
She knows this with or without his speaking.

Man em igat gutpela pasin

Tingting ikam long ridim 'Perfect gentleman', Dolarose Atai Wo’otong i bin raitim

Wokmak bilong em ino save bikmaus
Na bel tingting em i stap stret long ai
Em i sanap insait long em iet –strong tru– olsem ston
Na ol birua i save pinis nating tru
Long wanbel pasin bilong em tasol.

Em igat nem long hausman
Na simuk paia tingim ai wara b’long em tu
Taim em i stori wantaim ol yangpela
Ol lapun i putim traipela kaukau long as bilong paia
Na silip wetim em long liklik toktok long tulait.

Gutpela jean trasis, emi save laikim long em,
Em i givim igo long ol kasen barata
(Jaket na nektai – em lusim long taun.)
Tasol unkol i holim kastom het-bilas bilong em
We inogat wanpela man bai putim han antap.

Ol yangpela meri i save painim em
Planti ibin igat laik, planti igat laik iet.
Tasol wanpela meri i save gut tru, em holim lewa bilong man
Taim em i harim man i pulim win isi tru:
Na toktok o nagat, meri ia em i save stret.

Perfect gentleman

Original poetry by Dolarose Atai Wo’otong

Quiet, but confident with his profession,
An honest expression and eyes that don’t lie,
Remains true to himself and the things for which he stands for,
Not brutal but he will prove all his enemies they are wrong without force but by solving all his problems with no violence,

Pays attention to all his family, friends, colleagues, and workers in the same building for no one is beneath his attention,
Never forgets about his tradition, heritage, identity and roots,
Never forgets about the things, struggles and people that made him who he is today,
Dressed in his best attire whether in suits and polished shoes to work or just jeans, sweater and sneakers to visit friends or in his traditional bilas to singsings

With gentle deeds, gentle smile, and gentle gesture he will make your problems melt away,
He remembers to always be a gentleman and treat all ladies with respect,
Treats his woman right, whether it’s dancing in the rain or on romantic dates and tells her she’s beautiful,
That’s my idea of a perfect gentleman.


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Nathan Lati

Thank you for the acknowledgement, my brother Mike. You are a great inspiration in the field of poetry (literature) and my respect for you as always.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Some lead and some follow. Some do neither, they're the ones to watch.

I'm a great believer in not putting professionals in charge of anything. In my case it has been anthropologists and archaeologists. They are great tradespeople but terrible leaders.

A bit like plumbers. If you have a leaking pipe you call a plumber. If you have a genealogical problem you call an anthropologist. Just don't put either of them in charge.

Michael Dom

I missed one important role - followers - which is also important to understand, especially since the role of leader and follower, writer or doer, can change with time, task, team, temperament, temperature and temptation.

(e.g. Never appoint an accountant to be in charge of spending money because the temptation for creative accounting after wild spending sprees is too great for them to resist.)

Michael Dom

Thinkers, writer's, doers, leaders, everyone has a role to fulfill and we take on different roles at one time or another.

I suppose the central idea is being conscious about the role others are playing and the one that you can take on, like the Tropical Gems.

What I observe about many of us in PNG society is that many are simply 'being', we just be, and not in a spiritual, meditative sense.

Many are not conscious of nor empowered to enact their citizenship and take responsibility for their action(s) and simply behave like a decent Papua New Guinean.

This is reflected in the mundane actions, such as, dropping litter everywhere they go without conscience (Tropical Gems will need to tackle litter bugs not litter) and spitting and smashing bottles on memorials(expression of hopelessness); and in far reaching aspects are the lack of social conscience and a feeling of national identity.

Most people don't know where they are, what they are doing, where they are going and let alone how to get there.

But we can talk about it till blue in the face.

Turning the talking into walking, like...Martyn, our paranoid, foul-mouthed, not-so-perfect gentleman, that's really quite difficult - it takes a completely different mentality, as Martyn rightly says.

Being foul mouthed at times, suppose that's a role too, in a way, if it gets the job done, people can understand it and appreciate the personality behind the character that's being projected and not so much the words - it's about expression.

There's a meme going around that says those who swear a lot are a lot more honest and trust worthy. Those are qualities of a better person, if not a 'gentleman'.

Rashmii Bell

Agree with you there Martyn - Zibe Wari and the T-Gems team are doing great things throughout PNG! However, I get a quite frustrated with the comparisons made between 'doers' and 'talkers'.

I wrote about this point in an article a few months back. I think it's a cyclical process - a person may have tried tirelessly to champion 'doing' but become exhausted by the very things you've mentioned; lack of funding, absence of resources etc. In saying that, personal reflection it would seem plays a big part in those who resort to 'sitting around and talking' about the factors that impede 'doing'.

Commentary is valuable if effective (the operative word here) solutions or alternatives are offered. Ultimately, conversation should encourage the 'talkers' to get back to participating in ''doing'. It is important to have such dialogue because although someone may be 'doing', it may not neccessarily be the best way to achieving the end goal.

Martyn Namorong

I am paranoid about people writing about me. Am I a perfect gentleman? I have a foul mouth so that rules that out.

About being a doer? Yes, I have always avoided ever being labelled a "keyboard warrior". That to me is the most derogatory term someone can use against me.

Perhaps it isn't so much about civic duty or patriotism but being measured up against my own rhetoric.

I think one of the challenges Papua New Guineans face is that of "personal reflection". To be able to reflect on one's own words and an ensure that one's actions speak louder than words is a major challenge for many.

It isn't good enough to talk but to walk the talk.

To me, being involved in the Extractive Industries Transparency has taken its toll on my health and well being. There is so much work to be done and very few resources to work with.

Ideally I would like to see spontaneous governance movements throughout PNG but much of my experience has been that some people are opportunistic observers very fluent in commentary and nothing else of substance.

But in terms of the mentality of "doers" in PNG, I notice that those with a can-do attitude get out and work hard to achieve what they want without even taking into consideration the limitations that exist.

And that I believe is the difference between those who do stuff and those who do nothing and spend a lot of time sitting around discussing "funding" and "capacity building" and "lack of resources."

Millions of Papua New Guineans need to be liberated from mental slavery and the only folks I see trying to change mindsets are the Tropical Gems group in Madang.

Anyways enough of me rambling on but yeah its fascinating observing those living in mental prisons and those who aren't.

John K Kamasua

Just great cheers all around!

Chris Overland

A great piece of work Michael (and Dolarose too). I especially enjoyed the Pidgin version of your poem.

My non-Pidgin speaking wife and family like it when I read out poems written in Pidgin because, suddenly, the strange looking words come alive. What a marvellous language it is and, of course, it is distinctively Melanesian too.

I am teaching my grand daughters to recite a very traditional English poem (Mary had a little Lamb) in Pidgin. While it sounds strange to the ear of a non-Pidgin speaker, most do recognise it:

Meri igat lik lik sip sip
girass bilongen i waitpella tru
sapos Meri i go wokabaut
bai sip sip i go wantaim tu.

The kids love it.

Long may you continue to be a warrior for Pidgin. It is not a mere artifact of the colonial era, imposed by foreigners.

It is the joint creation of many people, as they sought to find a way to communicate across complex cultural and linguistic barriers. It is, in fact, a triumph of human ingenuity and creative thinking.

It also is a genuinely Melanesian language, as reflected in its pronunciation, grammar, rhythm, inflexion, sound and spelling.

You and others are able to use Pidgin to express subtle and sophisticated ideas and feelings that are particular to Papua New Guinean life experience and which often don't readily translate into English.

In short, the full meaning and intent of your words only becomes clear when expressed and understood in Pidgin.

So, stuff the critics and keep on writing in a language that is unique and wonderful.

Michael Dom

Paul, I believe you are thinking along the lines of political change by violent conflict.

Many also have called for political revolution, but we are not prepared for the fall out of violent revolt, let alone the entire undertaking.

What we really need is a revolution of thinking, on philosophy (i.e. Melanesian) and on social policy - i.e. what we think about how we live, and how we want to make it better for all of us: a renaissance.

Society, politics and even economics will change as a natural outcome of such a movement.

As history teaches us, once a renaissance has started it becomes an irresistible force for change.

Rather than be embroiled with the political games of corrupt leaders, who are after all waking dead men just like the rest of us, let's keep to actions that are within our direct control.

Paul Oates

To establish a true national identity, there is usually a defining moment in history where everyone involved decides it is essential to band together for the common good. Often this is a result of an attack by another group who have already in some way, achieved some sort of cohesion.

The topical example I would suggest, is how the Australian states finally decided to federate in 1901. The defining moment, when the ANZAC's arrived on the Turkish beach on the morning of the 25th of April 1915 they weren't Queenslanders, New South Welshmen, Victorians, South Australians, Western Australians or Tasmanians. They were Australians.

Nothing is perfect however. You only have to look at the intense tribalism generated by the State of Origin football matches (wars?), to see raw State tribalism rear it's ugly head after only 100 years of having defined a national identity.

As another interesting example, in today's news an article explains why the Australian Capital Territory's borders are in the unusual shape they are in. The reason has all to do with the surveyors who in 1910 determined the water catchment needed to support the future National Capital Territory.

An interesting aside however, the underlying nature states rights are never truly extinguished. A public toilet at an ACT Ski resort was reportedly built a few steps on the NSW side of the border to ensure the waste so created was someone else's problem.

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