The chasm in cultural integrity
A full day for a fulfilling life

Heroes of modern PNG literature

Phil Fitzpatrick - a pioneer of the 21st century revival in Papua New Guinea literature


TUMBY BAY - I’ve been ruminating about the successes and failures of Papua New Guinean literature since Keith Jackson and I kicked off the Crocodile Prize in 2010.

In the scheme of things, the Prize and what spun out of it was really the only game in town for quite a while. Things were happening elsewhere but not on the same scale.

Many names of people who floated in and out of the old Croc’s orbit come to mind. Some had a fluttering acquaintance and others stayed the course. A few tried to exploit us.

The private sponsors of the Prize, with much cajoling and caressing, provided a wobbly and rickety base. Some of them also came from unlikely and unexpected places.

We are eternally grateful to them all, even the fickle ones, but it is the individuals that bring back the best memories.


Lapieh Landu


I cannot understand what happened back then!
The factions of superior and periphery

Why her heels graced the footpath
And my feet, the rigid soil

I cannot understand what happened back then!
The hatred and indifference

Why his grog consumed in class
And I, sculled mine in the streets

I cannot understand what happened back then!
The revulsion and animosity

Why his house sailed our hills
And mine loiter the outskirts

I cannot understand what happened back then!
The delusion and coldness

Why his illness healed with ease
And my child died without

I cannot understand what happened back then!
The injustice and wrongness

Why he retained his title as boss
And I not nearly his subordinate

I cannot understand what happened back then!
The vulnerability of my leaders

Why they have the preference
And I settled for anything I receive

I cannot understand what happened back then!
The openness to influence

The reception of standards
The concession of culture and
The enslavement of oneself

I just cannot understand what happened back then!

Who could forget the unflappable and indefatigable Ruth Moiam and her organisational skills, firstly through the Australian High Commission and then international organisations, where she really made her mark.

Or Jimmy Drekore, whose prodigious energy was brought to bear on several occasions, most notably in 2014 and 2015. Jimmy is a poet in his own right but more than that he is an organiser and motivator.

He rescued everyone during the 2014 workshop at the National Library when our catering plans failed by simply going out and buying everyone hamburgers, chips and Coke.

And, of greater significance, he was instrumental in setting up the Simbu Children Foundation and, later, the Simbu Writers’ Association which, ably assisted by people like Francis Nii, Jimmy Awagl and Mathias Kin, encouraged Simbu school children to read and write and even publish.

The contributions of Francis Nii probably deserve a special prize on their own and are far too numerous to mention.

He pioneered the resurgence of PNG literature with his novel Paradise in Peril, not to mention his erudite essays which matched paragraph by paragraph the spectacular output of social commentator and occasional poet Martyn Namorong.

But more than that Francis has been a solid rock in the literature stream – mentoring, motivating, organising, editing and publishing.


Martyn Namorong


When you’ve lost everything
And you choose not to think
About the future
Because those thoughts
Drive you mad
You sit down
Contemplate suicide
And decide to Act

Initially you pick pockets at Koki
Then you break and enter at Manu
Followed by an armed robbery
And when you kill someone
The Gavman responds

When you got nothing to live for
And all you see is greed
What do you care
About change
Or Social order
When life is tough
And All you think of
Is survival

Finally you write a petition
Then you make a call
Followed by more threats
And when you do the damage
The Gavman responds

Mathias Kin was one of the first Papua New Guinean writers to have the courage to take on the established view of PNG history by writing stories from ‘the other side’ – the side of the colonised people themselves.

Among other things he had to challenge the kiaps’ world view in his quest for balance and a voice of his people.

Writers like Daniel Kumbon joined him in this healthy revisionism, following from pioneers like Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin, who wrote the stories his forebears told so they would never be lost to time.

And then there’s Captain Bougainville, aka Leonard Fong Roka, who virtually pioneered a new form of Papua New Guinean literature that was at once visceral and raw.

Later, Baka Bina and others joined him in a quest for authenticity no matter how harshly its screech as it cut across the grain of good manners.

In seeking out these heroes, I should not omit retired naval Captain (a Colonel in Papua New Guinea parlance) Reg Renagi who, at a time when it was considered risky to put one’s head above the parapet by adding your name to what you wrote, did so – and in doing so encouraged so many others to do likewise.

In those early days of the Crocodile Prize we struggled to gain traction within the academic world. The unstated view seemed to be that we were upstarts and populists who wouldn’t last long.

Only Russell Soaba, the grand old man of Papua New Guinean literature, saw merit in what we were doing and extended his hand of friendship by participating as a key speaker in our writers’ workshops.

Another good friend was the prolific writer Marlene Dee Gray Potoura, who set us straight about the importance of literature for children.

And while Marlene was busy doing that, scientist Michael Dom set his sights on uplifting the standards of poetry in Papua New Guinea.

And through his own inspirational work, lauded not just in Papua New Guinea but internationally, he encouraged other innovative poets, not least Wardley Barry.

In the realm of women’s writing Rashmii Bell stands out for special mention, particularly for her editing of the ground breaking anthology, My Walk to Equality.

The anthology has been a constant seller and copies of it have gone all over the world, not only bringing Papua New Guinean women’s writing but also Papua New Guinea literature in general to the attention of international audiences.

When the Crocodile Prize was flagging after it was taken over by a Papua New Guinean association several individuals worked hard to keep it on track, among them Emanuel Peni, author of the innovative novel Sibona.

Another significant arrival at this time was Jordan Dean, an early master of CreateSpace and digital publishing, who, like Francis Nii, became a publisher of many other PNG writers’ works

Over the many years since 2010 numerous efforts have been made to interest the Papua New Guinean government in literature but, to this day, it has resolutely maintained the deafest of ears to all these entreaties.

Among those who keep banging on the prime ministerial door are Caroline Evari, Betty Wakia and Daniel Kumbon. Perhaps the government is hoping they will go away if they are ignored long enough. It is unlikely that will happen.

There are many more people I could add to this esteemed list. In ways, large and small, they have all contributed to a renaissance of Papua New Guinea’s literature that now, sadly, appears to be stalling.

Names like Philip Kai Morre, Lapieh Landu, Samantha Kusari, Winterford Toreas, Diddie Kinamun Jackson, Arnold Mundua, Jeffrey Febi, Raymond Sigimet and Bomai Waine all come to mind.

One day, when all the names of the politicians have vanished from PNG’s collective memory, these people will still be remembered.

And their words will still be read.


Ray & his books of poetry
Raymond Sigimet


Naispela wara kalap
Long maunten antap
Kol blong en i nais tru
Harim em lap stap long yu
Taim em i ron kam daun
Na kalap paitim ston

Naispela wara kalap
Em ron yet na kalap stap
Em yu yet lukim long ai
Aninit long ol bus diwai
Nogat narapela i olsem
Ples wara kalap long en

Dispela wara kalap
Stap long naispela hap
Em i ron na kalap i stap olsem
Bipo yet long lapun tumbuna taim
Kam taim blong papamama
Na nau ol pikinini na yangpela tumbuna

Dispela wara kalap
Em kalap isi na i no rap
Save kolim nek na tingting
Na tu ol narapela samting
Taim bikpela wara i rap na doti
Em nogat tru, em klin na kalap isi

Gutpela wara kalap
Long taim blong pait na lap
Em yet gat stori blong en
Taim yu pait aninit long bik san
Na yu sot win na nek i drai
Kam kolim nek na lukluk long ai

Gutpela wara kalap
Long maunten antap
Em ron yet na kalap stap
Stap long naispela hap
Em kalap isi na i no rap
Long taim blong pait na lap


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Shekaina Pai

Thank you PNG Attitude (Phil and Keith) for upholding PNG literature. There had been a downfall in literature since the 1990s but, through you, PNG Literature still got weight in publishing when you published the Crocodile Prize in 2011.

Therefore I recommend you to do a timeline of PNG writers since the first writer from 1930s till now. Thank you.

Raymond Sigimet

Thank you Keith and Phil.

a celebration and remembrance
more twigs for the bonfire

Jimmy Drekore

Thank you Phil and Keith, without our government's support Crocodile Prize will surely die.

Through the Crocodile Prize there was a huge surge of talented PNG writers and poets identified.

Simbu Writers Association last hosted the 2015 awards in Simbu and after that it struggled to find its footing.

Thank you once again in giving us a platform to launch our creative talent to the world.

Michael Dom

This is good.

This brief utterance is the 45,000th comment made to PNG Attitude. Very apt - KJ

Jordan Dean

Thankyou Phil and Keith for playing a huge part in rekindling the literary flames. The first generation of PNG writers in the 80's included Russel Soaba, John Kasaipwalova, Kumalau Tawali and others. Writing and publishing died out in the 90's until both of you started the Crocodile Prize in 2010.

I think we're the second or third generation of PNG writers. Tenkiu tru tupla.

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