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Francis Nii
Francis Nii - "We struggle to produce our own literature hoping that one day a good leader will rise up and see its importance"


KUNDIAWA - Writing and publishing our own Papua New Guinean stories in the absence of government or donor agency support is a daunting and painful experience.

But we write because stories are part of our culture and books are repositories of our culture. What is it the authorities don’t understand?

I would like to relay the many struggles and hardships I went through to get my first book published only to find there is a trifling level of readership in Papua New Guinea. My story, unfortunately, is similar to many PNG authors.

I started writing, mainly poetry, in the 1980s while doing my economics degree at the University of Papua New Guinea and published in Ondobondo and the PNG Writers’ Union magazine.

Some of the poems were later republished in a collection by lecturer Ganga Powell with Macmillan Press Australia in a book titled, ‘Through Melanesian Eyes’, now available on Amazon.

My first serious writing, a novel, came in in 2003-04 while I was recuperating at Sir Joseph Nombri Memorial Hospital in Kundiawa from a near fatal motor vehicle accident.

ParadiseI wrote the story on scrap paper and Rev Daryl Boyd, a Lutheran pastor who was the hospital chaplain, assisted me type it on a beaten up old typewriter.

When I felt that the story was complete, I sent a hard copy by airmail to the author Sir Paulias Matane, who was then Governor-General of PNG, at his Government House address. I asked him to assess and critique the work.

Some weeks later, I received a letter from CBS Publishers and Distributors of New Delhi, the same publisher that published Matane’s and other Papua New Guinean writers’ books. The letter said CBS had received my manuscript, was happy with the narrative and was ready to publish.

For a novel written by a first-time writer to be accepted for publication by a renowned foreign publisher was unusual and quite a feat, I thought. I was very happy.

After a number of expensive letters going to and fro, and with the benevolent assistance of Caritas PNG courtesy of Dr Jan Jaworski, I got the first batch of hard copies printed and ocean freighted to Lae in 2005.

Unfortunately, I traded two boxes to meet customs and storage costs because I didn’t have the money to pay the fees.

TearsThis was the first and last shipment of my baby, ‘Paradise in Peril’, from India. I never went back to CBS and I was never sent the soft copy of the book even though I asked the publisher for it.

The sad thing I found out later was that, while I struggled to write and get my story published, 30 copies of ‘Paradise in Peril’ were in the possession of the humanities department of Divine Word University in Madang. And the Theodist Stationery store in Port Moresby was selling copies.

In both cases, I hadn’t supplied the books and I had no idea how they got hold of them. Some people had obviously benefited from my struggles and toil by getting the books delivered on golden platter thanks to the PNG government’s indifference to copyright law.

After that experience, I kept an eye out for a cheaper way of republishing ‘Paradise in Peril’. I made enquiries of publishers including the PNG government printing office and all of them wanted hefty upfront deposits I couldn’t afford.

That was until 2011, when the door opened.  The new national literature competition, The Crocodile Prize, came along, initiated by Australians Keith Jackson AM and Philip Fitzpatrick to promote and encourage Papua New Guineans to write their own stories using the PNG Attitude blog as the platform.

Language and LiteratureKeith and Phil each had long standing connections with PNG in various capacities dating back to the pre-independence Australian administration of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. They understood the development of PNG literature from the time of Ulli Beier, writer, scholar and pioneer mentor of modern PNG literature.

They knew the burgeoning interest in writing around the time of independence and the sharp decline into dormancy after independence. They were the right people to initiate this important project of rejuvenating a home-grown PNG literature.

I was introduced to the Crocodile Prize in 2011by award winning poet and founding president of Simbu Children Foundation, Jimmy Drekore. I have been writing for the competition and PNG Attitude ever since.

Through my association with the two Australians and the competition, the opportunity opened up for the republication of ‘Paradise in Peril’. I hired a typist to retype the book and after three hours a night for 10 nights, I had the badly needed soft copy in my hand.

Motherland CallingWith the help of Phil Fitzpatrick, I got the revised version published by Amazon in 2013under the Pukpuk Publications imprint. It was a trial and error effort because we were both new to Amazon’s CreateSpace self-publishing platform.

Pukpuk Publications had been established to accommodate the influx of writing as a result of the Crocodile Prize and to publish its annual anthologies. Many Papua New Guinean authors including me benefited greatly from the selfless voluntary editing and publishing support provided by Phil. In many aspects, it was a sacrifice for Phil as he did everything without charge.

I then published my English textbook with kind support from Amos Dagma and Mika Kekemo.

At the same, I was also studying how Keith Jackson was editing my writing for PNG Attitude.

My own first editing was for the ‘Ku High School Anthology 2014’. Philip Fitzpatrick published the print-ready version I sent him. This was followed by the ‘Simbu High and Secondary Schools Anthology 2015’ under the Simbu Writers Association banner.

Resonance of My ThoughtsThe Crocodile Prize has been very successful thanks to corporate and agency sponsorships. It is an annual anthology of the best writing by Papua New Guineans from all walks of life and it has been published and distributed free of charge throughout PNG through a network of volunteers.

The competition has inspired and helped to develop some of PNG’s finest writers like Leonard Fong Roka, Wardley Barry, Corney K Alone, Rashmii Bell, Baka Bina, Gordon Dean, Daniel Kumbon, Emmanuel Peni, Marlene Potura, Caroline Evari and ‘poet laureate’ Michael Dom to name a few.

When Philip Fitzpatrick decided to retire Pukpuk Publications, I felt the work was so important and must continue, and took up the challenge of editing, designing and publishing.

Editing, designing and publishing are great skills and I could have operated as a business entity but, when I reflected back on how it all started, my heart ached.

The intention of two mentors Keith and Phil was not making money but to foster a spirit of volunteerism. They want Papua New Guinea to have an abundant supply of PNG books in libraries and homes written by PNG authors about their own unique history, culture, development and progress in politics, science and technology instead of just books by foreigners writing about our country.

My ChimbuI have kept to that spirit and so far I have published five books and assisted with the editing and publishing of eleven others.

My story is the story of many authors in this country. They went through the same hardships to get their writing published knowing well that there is no market for their work.

They knew well that there is no government and donor support for their work. They knew well that our education system does not have systems in place to encourage students to read books authored by Papua New Guineans.

Nonetheless, we struggle to produce our own literature hoping that one day a good leader will rise up and see the importance of our literature. A leader who will embrace our effort with both hands and put smiles on our faces. A leader who will promote our stories.

Francis Nii (2)We believe that day is now here. We believe the leader we have been hoping, praying and waiting for all these years is here today and he is James Marape.

A group of PNG writers is gearing up to bring to the attention of the prime minister the voice of writers, mentors and readers of PNG literature within PNG and abroad so the PNG government will recognise PNG authors and our books.

There is no better time for prime minister James Marape to make a grand statement than at this time as the 44th independence anniversary nears. This would be a great gift to the indomitable flag bearers of Papua New Guinean literature.


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Kenny Pawa Ambaisi

Francis Nii, even through our paths have never crossed I trusted his post in PNG Attitude and asked him to publish my book. And he did.

He published my book and I am glad of this man.

I can see that Francis tirelessly promoting reading and writing not for his own benefit but for the country as a whole.

One reason why the level of literature is dropping in the country is because reading and writing is not encouraged.

So PMJM must respond positively to this important plea.

Daniel Kumbon

Nice piece, Francis. I read this in the Post Courier last Friday. We've had internet problems here in 'way back' Wabag.

We must keep writing until people get tired of reading our articles.

Francis Nii

Thank you William.

William Dunlop

Francis - It's time for you to pat yourself on your back. You set your eye on your goal and let nothing stop you.

You are one very tenacious achiever.

As was the late Iggy Kilage. I still have his autographed first book that he gave me, 'My Mother Called me Yalep'.

Francis Nii

Thank you Fr Roche.

Garry Roche

Francis, keep writing. The written word will endure, and we do not have enough writing by PNG writers.

I do remember reading Ignatius Kilage's book, called (I think) 'My mother called me Yaltep'.

And there was a Western Highlander named Michael Yaki Mel who wrote 'Kumdi Bagri', but I do not know if he kept on writing or not.

Francis Nii

Thank you Raymond. Every author in this country has his or her own story of hardship and struggle to get their work published knowing very well that there aren't any return at the end of the hard work. Nevertheless, we have written, we have published and now we have to get the government to recognise us the writers and our work and let's make it happen. We must get the petition to the prime minister. We must voice our concern in any way possible through the social and the print media. copy of this article will be published on tomorrow. The fire has already been kindled by Phillip and Keith. We must keep the fire aflame until prime minister James Marape listens to our concerted voice. Let not the fire die, all you authors out there.

Raymond Sigimet

I still recall the time I purchased, with my meagre pocket money, a department-print and bind copy of 'Through Melanesian Eyes' for my post-colonial literature class at college.

I scanned the cover, look at the price tag and made a rash decision to buy my copy. It was the only collection of Papua New Guinea writing available then for me to read. I went through the contents and can still remember the print name Francis Nii in the book.

There was no internet, no smart mobile phones then in the mid 2000s. To search and look for national literary material was foremost, impossible. The library had very few in its reserved collection, all overly used. It was the anthology that I treasured as my copy of PNG literature.

I was captivated by the prose narratives and poetry in the anthology. I read the stories and poems but never really got hold of their compositions and forms. As students, we were conditioned to read, comprehend and study but not to create.

It was also in those days that I realised that there was no new PNG writing. All were from the 1970s and 1980s. I made a decision to create something but never understood how I am going to create this 'something'. It would take some years before I was able to when I started reading the PNG Attitude blog.

Francis is a great role model and a true patriot. God bless you, sir.

Francis Nii

Thank you Robin, you have played a very significant role in my life too which I still treasure.

I am still enjoying the comfort of the air mattress and the mobility of the wheelchair. I look after them well and they are still in good condition. Thank you and thanks to everyone who helped me in that aspect.

Robin Lillicrapp

Kudos to all who were mentioned in your chronology of events and achievements.

And Robin's own intervention at a critical moment is remembered with much warmth and admiration - KJ

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