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Sensitive & wise stories about PNG women – by a PNG man


Survivor, Alive in Mum’s Loving Arms by Daniel Kumbon, Pukpuk Publications, July 2017, 172 pages, ISBN-10:1973724979, ISBN-13:978-1973724979

BRISBANE - In ‘Survivor, Alive in Mum’s Loving Arms’, Daniel Kumbon skilfully presents the separate lives of three Papua New Guinean women: Tuman Kende Apuulu, Julie Kumbon and the fictional Delisa Ingirum.

All three are connected (through ancestry or marriage) to the province of Enga in Papua New Guinea.

In 2016, the McKinnon-Paga Hill Fellowship Scheme, an initiative of Keith Jackson AM (editor and publisher of PNG Attitude), sponsored a two-week literary tour of Queensland and New South Wales for Daniel Kumbon and fellow PNG writers Francis Nii and Martyn Namorong.

I joined the trio in Brisbane for the annual writers’ festival where we presented a session on PNG writing which, as a result of a lively dialogue with the audience, led to Survivor as well as to the collection of women’s writing, ‘My Walk to Equality’.

Daniel Kumbon, responding to the audience, has diligently and sensitively conveyed these stories about Papua New Guinean women who navigate the challenges and often contrary expectations of culture and tradition to achieve commendable individual goals.

There is a narrative of Papua New Guinea that is true but over-saturated; a narrative that emphasises gender inequality, domestic violence, polygamy, tribal warfare, revenge killing and bride price. Amongst all the controversy and shock it is disappointingly easy to overlook the strength and initiative of the women themselves.

The lives of Tuman, Julie and Delisa, as related by Daniel Kumbon, show women not just as oppressed but as triumphing despite oppression.

Daniel Kumbon is an experienced and well-travelled journalist and readers of his books and essays will be familiar with his intellect, compassion, thoughtfulness and fatherly wisdom.

The story of Tuman Kende Apuulu – when we meet her a 22-year old, Papua New Guinean-born New Zealand resident – illustrates Daniel in all these attributes.

Daniel and Tuman are brought together in 2016 as the long-term result of a tragic and horrendous crime that occurred 21 years before.

In 1995, a prominent Engan man, Leo Kende, his Samoan wife Fa’ala’ula’u Kende Apulu and their son were ambushed and slain as they travelled along the highway leading from Wabag town. Then two months old, the daughter Tuman was the sole-survivor of the roadside massacre.

D aniel Kumbon had witnessed the Kende family driving past the town’s main market just minutes prior that fateful incident and he went on to file the media stories.

Although relocated into the care matrilineal relatives in New Zealand, Tuman maintained a connection with Papua New Guinea as she grew up. And it was her continuing search that eventually brought her into contact with Daniel.

The four people who murdered Tuman’s family were found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Mt Hagen National Court. Yet the outcomes of outrageous crime in PNG are not always dealt with so effectively, especially violence against women and the shifting rules of engagement in tribal warfare.

Kumbon’s in-depth narration of the complex and intricate process of revenge killing and his ability to interpret this through Tuman’s eyes is both chilling and unnerving. It is masterful story-telling.

‘A Woman’s Prayer from a Polygamous Household’ is the story of Julie Kumbon; her childhood and eventual marriage to the author.

Julie’s life has been lived predominantly in rural PNG and includes the not rare circumstances of an early exit from formal education and strict adherence to custom and traditions.

Julie’s childhood was marked with great sorrow and then a swift succession of adolescence, marriage and motherhood.

Her delicate balancing of capability, selflessness, humility and self-awareness exemplifies the Papua New Guinean woman, and it leaves the reader in awe and admiration of how so much good can emerge from so much hardship.

To be raised in and then join a polygamous household is a conscious choice that Julie and many other women in Papua New Guinea continue to make.

“From my experience, I feel that the practice is not suited in this modern cash economy,” Daniel Kumbon writes. “It has certainly been hard and challenging to maintain my own family.”

Kumbon reiterates this stance of gender equality in his fictional short story, ‘The Old Man, his Wife and the Young Girl’, which explores the complexities of aligning personal conduct with traditional practice and cultural obligations.

This is a wonderful demonstration of the use of fiction to depict the gaps in PNG society that require addressing, particularly by the nation’s menfolk.

Coupled with Kumbon’s candid and crystal clear prose, ‘Survivor’, is a valuable contribution to the growing body of contemporary PNG literature. That a male should so sensitively and insightfully tell women’s stories at this point in PNG’s history is an especially significant achievement.


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Rashmii Bell

Fantastic news for your family, Daniel.

Thanks for your patience with the review. It would be terrific for to you take the book to the Writers festivals in Qld, 2018. I've had positive reactions and several enquiries on my Twitter page about purchasing your book. Have referred all on to Amazon.

Daniel Kumbon

Thank you so much Rashmii. What a Christmas day gift this review is.

And what a coincidence. I arrived from Kandep just today to read all emails, this review and the fact that one of Julie's daughters was accepted to train as a teacher.

You have done a fine job, Rashmii. I hope the stories will inspire a lot of people, especially the youth who must know that there is one life to live - a life that can be lived not for centuries but for only 50, 60, 70 or 80 years.

And thanks Ed for the words.

Rashmii Bell

Many thanks to Daniel for the gift of a paperback copy of 'Survivor' and the invitation to review his book.

Ed - great to see your editing in action. Also teaming with Keith (Foreword) and Phil (Pukpuk Publications), Daniel has delivered an important work to shifting the narrative of PNG women and our contributions to national development. I was really inspired by the three stories

If other PNG writers would like to do as Daniel has done by forwarding a copy of your book for me to review, please email me at [email protected]

Ed Brumby

Having had the privilege of editing Daniel's remarkable tale, I was delighted to read Rashmii's insightful review. I, too, was impressed with his sensitive, empathetic and insightful treatment of all of the players, both men and women, in his narrative and his own struggles, intellectual and otherwise, as the head of a polygamous household and astute observer of contemporary PNG society.

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