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Outpouring of support in plea for survival of PNG literature

In the Chimbu highlands in 2017, I tell the students and teachers of Barengigl that their principal Roslyn Tony has just been published in a Papua New Guinean book. A rare event anywhere in PNG


NOOSA – A huge number of friends of Papua New Guinean literature - authors and readers from around the world - have signed a manifesto drafted by Phil Fitzpatrick asking prime minister James Marape to commit his government to provide support and recognition for PNG writers and literature.

This morning 150 people had shown their support, with many not only signing but offering reinforcing comments for the Marape government to consider.

The manifesto is the centerpiece of a petition organised by Caroline Evari that will be handed to Mr Marape and other senior politicians in the PNG parliament in an effort to provide home-grown literature with a solid foundation.

The manifesto seeks to stimulate meaningful, tangible and scaled up governmental and institutional support for PNG creative writing by influential people who will understand, endorse and support investment in literature as a transformative force in PNG society, education, culture and nation-building.

The truth is that the renaissance of PNG literature that began in 2011 is running out of steam and is in danger of stalling.

“Without an indigenous literature, how can Papua New Guineans know their own history and tell their own stories?” asked former kiap, senior Australian health bureaucrat and PNG Attitude commentator, Chris Overland.

“The creation of a body of indigenous literature is a prerequisite for the nation to be able to discover and define itself as something greater than its constituent parts,” Mr Overland said.

And writing from Barengigl High School alongside the treacherous highlands road that runs to Mt Wilhelm from Kundiawa, principal Roslyn Tony said, “we need our own home grown literature to keep the past and present alive in pen and paper”.

I visited Barengigl in March 2017 and told an audience of the entire school that their new principal, Ms Tony, just had an essay and a poem published in a book, a Papua New Guinean book.

I then extracted from my bilum a brand new copy of My Walk to Equality, which was to be launched in Port Moresby a few days later, and presented it to a delighted Ms Tony.

The school gave a Chimbu yodel that reverberated back and forth among the surrounding lofty mountains. The  new principal had been published in a book, the book was here in Barengigl and this was cause for excitement and joy. 

We also heard from Chimbu social welfare advocate, Philip Kai Morre, who said:

“Having books in schools is important to increase intellectual ability. Books transmit knowledge and wisdom. The education department needs to buy books produced by local writers.”

I couldn’t agree more. Those books exist (Pukpuk Publications has alone published over 50) but getting them into schools, libraries and people’s hands is an extraordinarily difficult and costly task.

“I support this manifesto,” wrote Richard Dinnen from Cairns, Mr Dinnen was the ABC’s PNG correspondent from 1999-2001.

“More than any nation, Papua New Guinea needs to develop written story-telling," he said.

“It frustrates me how little there is about PNG in books and literature. You have great stories, and PNG people are great story tellers. Do it now. For your country, your children, your future. Tell your stories - develop a thriving literature.”

From Port Moresby, author Baka Bina wrote:

Gavman mas sanap wantaim yumi long kisim olgeta rait bilong mipela.” [The government must support us by purchasing our works]

Ol man igat stori i dai isi isi igo na ol yanpela bai nogat moa stori long rit na kisim save bilong mipela yet long Papua Niugini.” [The people with the stories are gradually dying and younger people don’t have the stories that will give knowledge to us Papua Guineans]

Sapos dispela tingting long noken givim tingting na sapot long ol lain bai rait holim pain na stori bilong mipela, mipela bai lusim pes na luk olsem ol mahn nogat hausman.” [If there is no support for authors and our stories, a significant amount of our culture will be lost]

“History is stories. Writers write stories. A nation is invisible if its stories are (perhaps) being written and yet not available to be read. Writers and readers together imagine a nation," said friend of PNG literature, Wendy Glassby.

And Francis Nii – the prominent Papua New Guinean author, editor, publisher, commentator & literature advocate – wrote:

“Literary excellence is the key to unlocking the hidden treasures of life. We as writers and publishers are solving the writing and production issues. But schools do not have funds to buy books and do not get them unless they are made available free of cost.

“There is a disappointing lack of support both from the government and aid donors to supply PNG-authored books.

“Stories are part of our culture; books are repositories of our culture. What is it that the authorities don't understand? A nation without literature is a people with lost identity.

“Can the current government, under prime minister James Marape, embrace national literature and PNG-authored books in his government's mission of making 'PNG the richest black Christian nation' by giving PNG authors and their work special recognition and supplying their books to schools around the country?”

Social commentator, journalist, author and self-described traditionalist, Daniel Kumbon from Enga, said he feared “so much of PNG’s rich traditions will be lost if not recorded down in whatever form”.

And former vice-chancellor of the University of Technology, Dr. Albert Schram, now living in Verona, Italy,  said:

“Writing is thinking, and reading is feeding the mind.

“We all have an interest in supporting PNG literature, which will help forming confident citizens with a strong sense of identity.

"Those type of citizens will be able so successfully interact with the rest of the world, and not become its victims.”

“This country needs to invest in its own literature,” poet Caroline Evari told us. “Instead of diverting money into foreign material and making the rich become richer overnight, let’s invest in our own writers and authors.

“Let’s encourage the publication of our stories, cultures, traditions and languages as a way of preserving our heritage which will soon disappear. Most importantly, let’s fill our libraries with PNG authored books and have a bookshop that is dedicated to publishing and selling PNG books only.”

And finally, to end these extracts of the many comments received at PNG Attitude, my great friend Corney Korokan Alone, a public affairs commentator who describes himself as “a thinking and patriotic citizen of beloved Papua New Guinea advocating for a better educated citizenry”, said:

“I firmly believe that we will create a smart, healthy and wealthy Papua New Guinea, an economic powerhouse that is driven by confident, professional, patriotic, tenacious and altruistic entrepreneurs, educators and role models in every space who are community centered.

“In doing so, we will lift up others along the way with that ladder of opportunity.

“To do that, we must articulate our own destiny. Tell our own stories clearly. PNG-born artists and writers who are able to differentiate the fluff and falsehoods that gets pushed down and absorbed without questioning and second thoughts. We must see that clearly and chart our paths.”



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philip kai morre

I am proud to see Gordon Shirley's name in support of PNG Literature. He was my teacher at Wandi Primary School in 1970s now converted to Kondom Agaundo Memorial High School.

Ross Wilkinson

Expression and Literature must start in the schools. They must be core elements in the education system. This will both allow the people to properly record their history but also to express themselves better in their daily lives and business dealings.

This needs strong government support and I add my name to this initiative.

Chips Mackellar

Sorry it took me so long to respond, Phill. I was looking for an appropriate comment, and finally I found it. In the movie The Ten Commandments, there is a command attributed to the Pharoah of Egypt:

So let it be written, so let it be done.

You could pass this on to the PNG Prime Minister.
And please add me to the list.

Gordon Shirley  | PNG bush teacher, 1964-72

Add my name in support of PNG literature.

Marsali Mackinnon

As an Australian who's lived and worked in PNG and appreciates its proud literary heritage, I'm glad to support such a worthy cause.

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