Standing up & starting small
Tribal Fights

A good plan for PNG literature

Establishing a sustainable literature in Papua New Guinea has always been a struggle and it's a fight not yet won. Phil's book, 'Fighting for a Voice', tells the story


TUMBY BAY – Someday soon perhaps, Papua New Guinean prime minister James Marape will put away his golf clubs and meet with a delegation of writers.

These writers, twice stood up by Mr Marape already, are hoping to present him with a petition calling for the PNG government to support a national literature that deserves recognition and requires support.

The writers, representing hundreds of their colleagues in PNG and writers worldwide, are ready to discuss with Mr Marape the benefits that will flow from a buoyant national literature and what needs to be done to achieve it.

And what needs to be done includes recognition of the value of writers, the encouragement of home-grown literature, getting books authored by Papua New Guineans into the education system, supporting local writers’ associations and assisting with a national literary competition.

The writers would like the prime minister to make a general statement of commitment to Papua New Guinean literature and to establish a working group to investigate how a national program to advance literature may be realised in practise.

An important part of the working group’s brief would probably include the establishment of a National Literature Board along the same lines as exists in other countries.

With such a broad commitment and implementation structure in place, planning could move on to more specific proposals, including but not limited to the following ideas.

The Board could be set up and housed in the National Library and supported by the Education Department but be independent of those institutions.

It should have its own funding, and a director and committee drawn from senior writers and other relevant groups.

Its overall role should be to actively promote Papua New Guinean literature in a way that avoids nepotism, favouritism and corruption.

The Board should manage an annual grants program for writers, editors and publishers.

It should also establish an annual national literature prize, along the lines of the Crocodile Prize, across a range of categories, with an annual anthology drawn from the best entries in the competition.

All this should be coordinated with an annual Writer’s Week circulating each year between cities and provinces. The board should publish.

Over time, the board should encourage, fund and support the establishment of writers’ centres in all provinces. These would ideally be housed in individual provincial libraries.

The board should play an active role in ensuring that appropriate works by Papua New Guinean writers are integrated into school curricula. Every school and educational institution should have included in its library a section including works by Papua New Guinean writers.

Beyond the establishment of a Board, the government needs to re-invigorate the national library system. There must be an adequately resourced public library in every provincial capital.

Given the parlous state of the national budget these proposals should be rendered into a staged and progressive plan involving not only the PNG government but businesses, churches and relevant international bodies.

If readers have other suggestions, you comments are welcome.

As background it might be worthwhile to read how literature was encouraged in Papua New Guinea before independence. An excellent history is provided here.

And also there is my own book on how the Crocodile Prize was established, 'Fighting for a Voice', and how it operated so effectively, if not without challenges, during its glory years.


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Michael Dom

We're on this schedule Phil - Baka, Caroline, Betty and I met last week in POM.

More details to come.

Watch this space.

William Dunlop

Michael - Seventy years ago, my mother in the aul' sod fed our pigs on boiled potatoes and turnips. Swit moa....

Michael Dom

Just before the Covid-19 lockdown I had two 70 kilo pig frozen carcass flown to POM for a customer whom values very highly the distinctive flavor of our sweet potato silage raised pigs.

So, dead pigs do fly - at least the tasty ones.

William Dunlop

You might have a chance of PM Marape giving support when you see pigs flying.

Mind you we had one in the form of an Italian aircraft in Ansett livery nicknamed the Pig, flying the milk run - Lae, Kainanta, Goroka, Chimbu, Mt Hagen - back in the 1960/70s. Em nau.

Philip Kai Morre

If James Marape and his government want to take back PNG, firstly there has to be a political will to promote books especially books written by local writers.

Books produce human resources and the intellectual ability to be deployed in the workforce. Without books there won't be knowledge and without knowledge they won't be science and technology. The nation will not prosper without books.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Yes, I was aware of the develop plan and the board. Also the literature and book week.

The development plan is quite comprehensive but like all development plans seems so far to have been ignored or at least delayed because of budgeting concerns.

I don't know much about the board or who is on it. Most writers would probably not know of its existence either.

I should have perhaps stressed the need of a literature board to be as free as possible of government interest and to be made up of people in the trade of writing.

We have a literature board in Australia but it is loaded with people who have vested interests and is highly nepotistic, favouring established writers, the literary establishment and prestige seekers.

The Crocodile Prize kicked off in 2010/11.

Baka Bina

Mr Fitzpatrick - The National Libraries and Archives (NLA) have a new board in place (can have up to 11 members) under the auspices of the National Libraries and Archives Act 1993.

NLA also has since 2017 a 10 year national libraries development plan. They have a National Literacy and Awareness Secretariat that runs a National Literature Week and National Book Week annually.

These are similar to the machinery that you list here.

The only problem is, since Crocodile Prize evolved in 2015, people involved who are part and parcel of this life have not invited nor approached the writers and authors to be members of the scheme of things going on for the National Libraries and Archives.

But like you say, and a lot of us do agree, a separate and fully funded and independent National Literature Board is a good thought. It may require legislation to give it steam.

Something that we can all talk about until someone takes it on to fruition.

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