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Some of the wise sayings of Francis Nii

Francis Nii, eminent literary figure, dies in Kundiawa

WheelchairKEITH JACKSON

NOOSA – Francis Sina Nii, the author, publisher, mentor and literary innovator, whose promising career as a banker was cut short in a vehicle accident that rendered him a paraplegic but who became a towering figure in Papua New Guinea literature, died yesterday afternoon at the age of 57.

Francis had been in ill health for some months but surviving crises was not new to him as he had fought many battles in his three decades in his bed in the critical care ward of Kundiawa General Hospital.

From this unlikely location he wrote articles, and a novel, often with no technical assistance other than a mobile phone.

Francis H&SIt was in 2011 that his literary career flourished when he encountered the unlikely couple of Phil Fitzpatrick and Keith Jackson who had determined upon securing a literary revival in PNG and found an enthusiastic and talented accomplice in Francis.

In the last 10 years of his life, Francis wrote much – and he was an excellent and perceptive writer.

But he probably achieved more as a literary mentor and administrator, inspiring others to write, founding the Simbu Writers Association, publishing home grown PNG writing, working with his Australian colleagues Terry Shelley and Murray Bladwell, both of whom predeceased him in recent times, to equip Simbu schools with books and equipment, initiating writing projects in secondary school and constantly urging PNG to take seriously a commitment to its own literature.

That he and others never fully succeeded in establishing a sound literary culture in PNG was not due to lack of nurture and hard work, but to Francis must go great credit in driving its pursuit to a point where it is taken seriously in PNG and overseas.

Amongst his peers and those who knew him, Francis was much loved and greatly respected and hundreds of Papua New Guineans and Australians this day grieve his death.

Like all these people, I am distraught that Francis has left us. He was a very special man. A bright star who never let his serious handicaps and brushes with death interfere with his achievements - and which were so considerable.

The Simbu people have given much to PNG and the world and Francis was an icon of their grit, commitment, passion and friendship.

Many people will miss Francis in many ways but especially as a courageous and wise man and a true leader.

We offer our great sadness to Maggie Francis Nii and Sharon Nii and to all of Francis’s other family, friends and colleagues and fellow staff and patients at Kundiawa General Hospital.

There is a haus krai at the gate of the hospital until Wednesday and Francis will be buried on Thursday.

In 2014, Phil Fitzpatrick wrote this tribute to Francis which sums up the man, his character and achievements – and there was much more to come over the ensuing five years.

Francis Nii & the green hills of SimbuThe indomitable & progressive spirit that is Francis Nii

IN 2010 Keith Jackson and I established the Crocodile Prize to help rejuvenate the flagging literary scene in Papua New Guinea.

At the first writers’ workshop at the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby in 2011, we and the writers endeavoured to plot a road ahead for the competition.

In the second row there was a gentleman sitting in an old wheelchair listening intently to what everyone had to say.  Now and again he joined in the conversation.

At first I didn’t make the connection.  In his submissions to the Crocodile Prize competition and his contributions to PNG Attitude, which is the central support agent for our endeavours, Francis Nii had not once mentioned that he was a paraplegic.

I was later to learn that this was typical of Francis. His focus was on writing, not on himself, and he certainly wasn’t looking for sympathy or special treatment.

When we read those entries in the initial competition in 2011, we had noted Francis as a talent to keep an eye on and, as the years went by, he didn’t disappoint.

I was to learn that he had already published a book and a few years later I had the great pleasure of helping with editing and publishing a new edition.

Fitman, Raitman and Cooks: Paradise in Peril is a ground-breaking novel in its portrayal of modern life in the Papua New Guinea highlands.

It pulls no punches and is ruthless in describing the ills that beset this region, particularly for its socially disconnected young men.

At the same time it is inspirational, setting out what is good in highlands society and how this can be harnessed to forge a way forward - all packaged in a highly readable and enjoyable narrative.

Francis Nii  2012As the Crocodile Prize matured, Francis seemed to hit his stride as an essayist.  This has become his forte and his work has appeared in all of the Crocodile Prize Anthologies to date.

He is not a populist and doesn’t engage in hyperbole; nor does he preach.  His essays uphold those classic traditions of humour and subtlety, a more lethal combination.  In 2013 he won the essay prize, much to the delight of his many fans.

But this indefatigable man hadn’t finished yet.  In late 2014, at the Crocodile Prize Awards ceremony in Port Moresby, along with his good friend, prize winning poet Jimmy Drekore, he announced that they had set up the Simbu Writer’s Association.

And if that wasn’t enough, they also declared that the association intended to host the Crocodile Prize awards ceremony and writers’ workshop in Kundiawa in 2015.

The Simbu Province has been a fertile breeding ground for Papua New Guinean writers.  They have consistently produced the most entries and the most winners in the Crocodile Prize and have probably produced more published works than any other province in recent times.  Only Bougainville snaps closely on their heels.

Francis has since been trekking around the schools in Simbu, which is no mean feat for a man in a wheelchair, encouraging young people to put pen to paper.

Paradise in PerilThe Simbu Writers Association program in the schools has produced the first in a planned series of anthologies.  The Ku High School Anthology 2014, edited by Francis, has been distributed throughout schools in the province and has inspired the provincial governor to commit to a substantial contribution for the future.

It seems that nothing will keep this man down and nothing is too hard for him.

In a country renowned for its public ennui he stands out as a shining beacon of hope.

If it was possible to package his indomitability and humanity and sell it in the stores, Papua New Guinea would forge ahead in leaps and bounds.

Not bad for a humble writer in a wheelchair.

Comments

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Shila Yukuli Paia

Francis - I only digi-met you. You have been an inspiration. Your story and your work in making PNG literary landmark in our progress has truly being a life changing touch in my life. I am saddened to know of your passing. Please rest in peace and we will carry on your legacy.

Joe Herman

You were an inspiration to PNG writers, Francis. RIEP brother.

Mathew Komabo

It was with great sadness that Yobai Village of South Simbu has lost its literature star.

Francis, if it wasn't for you, the people of Simbu, Papua New Guinea and the rest of the world would not know about our small village, the name of our water source, the name of our elderly fathers.

Your creativity has put us on the map. You made us proud and I was always happy every time I saw you at the hospital.

You left Yobai to put us on the map. Now that you are returning home we are heart broken. Our worries are beyond words and we will cherish you forever in our hearts.

Your mentoring skills built a shining path for our careers. We will miss you. Sorry Daddy.

Rest in Peace.

Arnold Mundua

Bro, I was lost when I heard of your passing. I know I never visited you over the last two weeks but I told you I won't be coming back again until my knee condition improves. But it's so sad that that visit happened to be our last meet. Till we meet again, bro. Rest In Eternal Peace.

Gregory Bablis

Turangu Francis Nii. Very sad to lose this great Papua New Guinean literatus. My sincere condolences to his immediate family, friends and clan. Sori tru! Bai em inap silip wantaim bel isi bilong Bigman nau na oltaim.

Lindsay F Bond

Daniel, pardon me to repeat your words "saw the back of [Francis's] head most of the time."

Customary for folk in PNG yet perhaps not for folk elsewhere, moving along single-file paths necessitates that configuration of conversation, an expectancy of all journeys, perhaps life itself.

Add too the reality of battles in ancient times, where the leader was ever the person of whom you would see only the back of his head. Francis's gift was he ahead.

Lindsay F Bond

Francis shared fortitude, exuded fearlessness, evidenced febrile cognitive agility. Many are they, blessed with these whiffs of delights at discovering fragrances from his humanity and humility.

Philip Kai Morre

In the hour before his death, I visited Francis at the medical ward. His wife, Cathy, was at his bed side. He was weak but manage to smile at me for the last time.

He could not talk and I knew that he soon will be gone. God must have told him that "you have written and done so much for humanity and now I will give you rest."

Francis, you are gone but your memories will remain with me. You are the writers' writer, full of talent and wisdom. We will never find another you - not only your writing but you are a man of humility, an advocate for social justice who does not fear anybody.

The moment I needed your help, you were there, kind-hearted and a giver. You consciously followed the charisma of St Francis of Assisi: "Where there is hatred you show love, where there is injury, you show pardon, where there is sadness you bring joy."

Fr Enio Montevani SVD rightly baptised you as Francis.

May the angels in heaven welcome you. Rest in peace my mentor, my philosopher and my advocate for humanity.

John Kaupa Kamasua

Yalkuna Francis! A great soul and a gentleman. A free thinker and a straight shooter.

I have been blessed like many others to grace your presence. You are finally free, free at last. I share a tear as I write this but your legacy through your community spirit, your books and contribution to literature in Simbu and PNG and the world will live on.

Your spirit to transcend personal challenges and bear your attention on bigger issues will be our greatest inspiration for me and many others.

We had a chat outside BSP in Ktaun last Christmas, the last time we would ever meet. RIP Champ.

Dominica Are

What an amazing person you are Francis. You have blessed so many people with your life story and gift of writing.

You will be missed dearly.

Rest easy Champ!

Phillipa Jenkins

They always say that you live on as long as people still remember you, and you are not easily forgotten!
Rest easy Francis Nii.

Dave Ekins

Rait man ya! Sori nogut tru.

Garry Roche

Sincere condolence to all the family of Francis Nii, and to all his friends. May his life and writings continue to inspire others.

Caroline Evari

I am still in shock and deeply wounded by the death of a man who I came to know as a mentor and friend. Although we never met in person, we were always in constant communication. Rest in love champ!

Bernard Corden

I met Francis at the Brisbane Writers Festival several years ago and it is quite sad to hear about his death.

RIP

Kenny Pawa

Francis

I can't believe that you are gone.

You are truly leaving a void in my heart where no one will fill.

You know, I was new to this environment of literature and like a toddler I was crawling and you pulled me up.

My hero, champion, my mentor Francis

My soft spoken Francis,

REST IN ETERNAL PEACE

Daniel Kumbon

Francis, I met you through your writing in 1985 in ONDOBONDO and later PNG Writer at UPNG. But we never physically met.

Later I met you through your writing and comments in PNG Attitude. I never imagined you sat in a wheel chair until I met you in Simbu in 2015 during the Crocodile Prize presentations.

Then I pushed you in both your two wheel chairs - the old one from PNG and the other given by generous friends in Brisbane during our attendance at the memorable 2016 Brisbane Writers Festival.

Francis, do you remember what you said to me at Noosa Blue Resort when I came to help you early next morning after we had arrived there from Port Moresby?

'Daniel, don't worry. I'll manage. You go back and have your breakfast.' You were able to climb onto the bed yourself, prepared tea yourself, made bread yourself, washed yourself, changed yourself. You did everything yourself.

All I did was to give you my coat to keep you warm on our trip down the Bruce Highway to Brisbane to attend the festival. And pushed your wheelchair in the city.

Francis, I discovered you, the REAL FRANCIS NII' in Australia when I pushed you around in your wheelchair, across the bridge over the Brisbane River, on the footpath along the Brisbane River, in the bustling market and shops, along the streets - everywhere in the city.

When I pushed you, I saw the back of your head most of the time. You spoke to me as you took in the sights of Brisbane.

My impression of you was that I was pushing around a 'brain box' comparable with Stephen Hawkins also a wheelchair bound British author.

Both of you could think big from your wheel-chairs.

Stephen was a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author.

Could I have been pushing this UPNG economics degree holder, this towering PNG writer in a wheelchair if he had been involved in an accident that destroyed his banking career?

No, definitely not. People could have been making appointments to see him in a bank. But it was decreed that he should be a writer and thinker. And that is what he had become – a towering figure in PNG literature.

Much of what he has written shall remain with us and an inspiration to future writers.

Here is a part of the poem ‘The Last Cedar Standing’ from his book -Walk My Song. He dedicated the poem to his father Nii Kaupa Nugrus “Tura’ Duma. The sixth verse talks about how his father was heart broken when he was involved in a nasty traffic accident which paralyzed him for life.

….’Although lacked modern education
He has seen civilization
Has travelled the jets
Has dined in the luxurious hotels
The heart wrecked moment of his life
Came when his only seed suffered a tragedy
It afflicted him so much
And goes into seclusion atop the rocks

Although a broken-hearted cedar
He has embraced his great grandchildren
A soul-filled satisfaction he cherishes
He shall pass on a happy man….

Francis, indeed your father passed on as a happy man surrounded by grandchildren.
And now you have passed on a happy man. Your life has not been in vain. The volumes you have published shall remain with us into the future.

And the copy of your signed book you gave me at the Noosa Blue Resort on 4th September, 2016 shall remain in my family. And of course, the pictures we took in Brisbane.

Travel well my brother.

William Dunlop

Francis Nii - Hail, hearty and always well met, what more can I say - PNG is a much lesser place without you.

I never met you in person, but as discussed by us, I traversed the new Salt Nomane Road at your place when it was opened by Administrator David Hay in 1970.

Vale Francis

Jordan Dean

Rest easy champ!

Ed Brumby

I met him but once and, like Phil, wish I'd known him better and longer.

He was a truly gentle man and a true gentleman ... and an inspiration to so many others.

Rest in Peace, Francis: you truly left the world a better place.

Jimmy Awagl

I feel I lost a great man in literature, my tears and agony go with him into the grave.

RIEP, my mentor and hero Francis Nii, I salute you.

Michael Dom

Vale Francis Nii.

Glad to have shaken hands with this man on 25 July, receiving my copies of 'Dried Grass Over Rough Cut Logs', which my co-author and I plan to edit for re-issuing with a dedication to Francis.

His faith in us (writers), his tireless support and stoicism are truly representative of the best and deepest strengths of a Simbu, a trutru nationalist and a very, very good man, and I am a better person for having met him in life.

Raymond Sigimet

I do not know Francis personally, but through his writings and literary achievements I have come to know him. He is an inspiration. He is a legend.

I was shocked and truly saddened by this news. Papua New Guinea literature has lost a giant of a man in Francis.

Vale Francis!

Chips Mackellar

He will continue to be an inspiration to future PNG writers.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Poet, essayist and novelist.

A champion of Papua New Guinean literature in both word and deed.

An advocate for the disabled.

I only knew him over the last ten years but I wish I had known him longer.

A towering figure in Papua New Guinea in the 21st century.

Now walking in that green and sunny highland valley with the God in whom he placed so much faith.

Baka Bina

I feel numb... I just cant continue with keyboarding today.

A kindred spirit, a whisperer in my head has moved on.

Many a times when I have toughed in in writing, I've had FN as an inspiration.

He had a voice in my head always imploring me to get off my ennui and pen that one sentence, that one liner, that one word.

That smile from his haggard face down by Wara Simbu long ago stamped in my head and now always urging me on.

It is a space that will be hard to fill.

Brother, Rest in Peace.

Betty Gabriel Wakia

Totally in shock... PNG has lost a man of great talent and dedication and has been contributing to PNG literature up until his passing.

Francis Nii, a Papua New Guinean writer, editor, publisher and author. RIEP champ. Your legacy in literature will live forever.

Chris Overland

I am very sorry to hear of Francis' death. My deepest commisserations go to his family and friends.

His was a life well lived in the face of many trials.

Vale Francis.

Robin Lillicrapp

Well said, Phil and Keith.
Francis has left a legacy sure to inspire future literary accomplishment.
Condolences to all who grieve his passing.

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