SONOMA - One of the top questions leaders must ask themselves should not be, “How can I build my ego when I’m at the top?”
It should be, “What kind of legacy will we leave when we’re gone?”
A judicious person once answered this question by saying, “Leave the world better than you found it.”
I’ve written recently that one of the misfortunes of today’s Papua New Guinea is that there is no respect or regard for books written by our own authors, an attitude that is setting back the causes of both literature and literacy.
There are very few books by Papua New Guinean authors in circulation and, of those that are, a veru tiny number indeed are of our modern era.
I know from his own words that prime minister James Marape wants to leave a positive legacy for PNG.
And I know that one positive legacy he can leave is to accept the petition submitted by local authors and support it with action that will promote the rich pool of Papua New Guinean writing and make something of it for the whole nation.
This will be a great service for this nation and it will strengthen his legacy.
Except for the period around independence, no leader of this nation has left a great literary heritage that represents this unique country and its citizens; a legacy that can be handed down to each generation and which will answer the question, what were things like then?
The legacy of the former United States presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson was the Library of Congress. It was a permanent gift and the whole nation has been able to drink from the fountain of this wonderful home-grown library.
Its books have shaped the mind of America and one result is that America became and remains a great nation today.
If wealth benefits the belly, then books benefit the mind – and we are thinkers as well as drinkers.
One way to thrive in this 21st century is to bathe our people in knowledge and information and books. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write,” said futurist Alvin Toffler, “but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
To be poor in literature in our century is nothing more than to move backward. PNG must never allow the mediocre days of the past to pretend it can shepherd us forward today.
Papua New Guinea is in need of literature.
Last year, I had the privilege to visit our national library at Waigani.
And I was surprised to see the scarcity of books written by Papua New Guinean authors.
How can this be so? How can we continue to bury the potential of the power of our writers in the history’s invisible mausoleum.
It’s time PNG invested more in literature. I wish our government could find the will and the means to do so.
Here’s how the government can contribute:
It can provide funds – or ask aid givers to provide funds - to build libraries in our schools and towns and stock them with one book from PNG for every 10 books from overseas.
It can turn some of its book-buying budget for schools to acquiring PNG-authored books and distribute them to schools.
It can first provide libraries and give books to schools that are further away from town where are other reading resources – like social media – are scarce.
It can train librarians to work closely with students and the community.
Papua New Guinea is a literature loving nation. We have such a long and rich oral tradition.
Today is Marape’s opportunity to translate this into a tradition of written literature to leave a legacy that is noble and profound.
The legacy of pen will outlast the legacy of wealth. Here’s an opportunity to give Papua New Guineans a literature that will elevate them and last them through time.