NOOSA - As I gradually compile the full list of books that Francis Nii authored, edited or published, it has become clear to me that his productivity – if I may use such a managerial word – was far greater than previously acknowledged.
And so that I can ensure that the volume we are putting together, Man Bilong Buk – The Francis Nii Collection, is as complete and accurate as possible, I’m previewing here where we’re up to in compiling the list of books he wrote, edited or published in the hope that readers will contribute by adding to or correcting our work so far.
You can contact me here. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll enjoy this descriptive review of the substantial literary contribution - never officially recognised - that Francis, as an author and publisher, made to Papua New Guinea.
This was Francis Nii’s first published book, its initial edition (there were three) appearing in 2005 with the assistance of Sir Paulius Matane. Paradise in Peril was extensively revised in two more editions – the first in 2013 and again in 2018 with a new cover and layout. The book observes a society where traditional culture is rapidly breaking down and corruption and greed have become a way of life. The boundaries between what is legal and what is criminal are blurred and stretched to the limit.
For brothers Rasta Fitman and Abe Raitman and their cousin Ongi Cooks the only way they can see out of a meaningless and poverty stricken future in the village is to turn to crime. Using the proceeds of a daring heist they enter the dark world of drug running and are soon joined by an Australian and two Asian businessmen. Life looks good but can it last? Paradise in Peril is a chronicle of the times in Papua New Guinea and written with a distinct Melanesian voice.
As the Simbu Writers Association extended its activities, Francis not only travelled the province encouraging students to read and write but he decided to publish a book directed at providing them with technical skills. This book compiles 25 of his own short stories, essays and poems attaching reading comprehension exercises to each so Grade 10-12 students could test their literacy skills
“Literacy is a major component of a good education and lays the groundwork for a successful employment future,” he said. Francis was hoping that the Education Department might see merit in the textbook but was unsuccessful in generating any interest. Nevertheless he persevered to produce three editions of the book.
This short novel is significant because it directly addresses physical and psychological problems, confronting disabled people in Papua New Guinea. Francis draws deeply on his own experience as a paraplegic in the book. “Discrimination, ignominy and even atrocity against fellow human beings on the basis of physical or mental disability still exist in Papua New Guinea despite the efforts to address this societal illness,” writes. “These people are confronted with stigma, prejudice, injustice, inequality and exclusion almost every day of their life and in every community activity.”
In a fictitious setting, Francis delivers a powerful narrative in a framework of engrossing suspense and mystery. In the novel, the first child of a millionaire couple is born with deformed lower limbs. In fear of the stigma the child might bring upon the family, the couple abandons the infant in a trash bin to die. What happens next makes for compelling reading.
Francis had been writing poetry since his school days not only as a means of expressing himself but to hone his writing skills. “I don’t call myself a poet but my interest in writing began with poetry when I was in high school and then university,” he says. This collection illustrates the full range of his thinking and writing. His target audience was principally students in the hope that he could encourage them to write about their own lives and ideas. Francis continued:
“The direction of most of the pieces in this collection aims at educating young and older Papua New Guineans to become patriotic and conscious of the evils affecting our country so they can play their part in building a prosperous and progressive nation. We must restrain ourselves from getting involved in any form of vice, vileness or dishonesty, and make sure our countrymen and women, including our children, are not infected by it.”
This collection of essays reminds readers that Francis is an award-winning essayist (Crocodile Prize 2013) and encourages student readers to write for themselves. The book collects some of his journalism on social, economic and political issues affecting Papua New Guinea today. They provide for interesting reading and thought-provoking educational material for secondary schools and colleges.
LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE SKILLS (2018)
A practical, competency based textbook complete with exercises designed for grades 10, 11 and 12 students in Papua New Guinea and neighbouring Melanesian countries of Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji.
This book was published as part of a pioneering project of the Simbu Writers Association to encourage provincial school students to write to improve their English language skills. It includes short stories, poetry and essays.
It was a landmark publication and symbolic of the SWA’s objective to promote home-grown literature more widely. It was launched by the member for Sinasina Yonggamugl, Kerenga Kua, now a senior minister in the PNG government. In addition to producing an anthology it was expected that an annual literary competition would be held.
ANTHOLOGY by Simbu High & Secondary Schools Students (2015)
This second anthology of short stories, poetry and essays published by the Simbu Writers Association drew its content from schools throughout the province. as part of its continued literary encouragement of Simbu students.
Francis Nii wrote:
“SWA members climb rugged mountains and cross ferocious rivers amidst scorching heat and bone-shattering cold to inform and spread the idea of Papua New Guinean literature and reading to students and teachers. For the SWA leaders, getting students and teachers fully versed with their intentions was critical if they are to value Simbu for literary excellence and get involved in it. Communication is very important and a task that has to be accomplished by every possible means.”
Locally grown marijuana and homebrew alcohol are major contributors to health, crime and other socio-economic problems in PNG. In this book, Philip Kai Morre, a drug educator and addiction counsellor for many years, seeks to educate readers about the types of drugs available, licit and illicit, and the risks involved in taking them.
This is probably the most difficult book that Francis edited because of its technical nature which required considerable scientific knowledge to write and then express in simple terms for a general readership. Striving for accuracy and clarity, he collaborated with several knowledgeable people to ensure it would become a standard reference work suitable both for practitioners in the field and a student audience.
MY STRUGGLE by Jimmy Awagl (2015)
Jimmy Awagl is vice president of the Simbu Writer's Association and an educationist, teaching language and literature at Ku High School. He holds a bachelors’ degree in education from the University of Goroka. Jimmy comes from the Sikaku Tribe of Yongomugl area and has been described as “a raw talent writer with a quixotic approach and a willingness to tackle any subject.” This was his first collection of short stories, poems and essays.
Jimmy’s second collection of short stories, poetry and essays accompanied his field work in Simbu as one of the driving forces in promoting literature in the province’s secondary schools. Introduced to PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize only in 2014, he had rapidly emerged as a prolific writer. Much of the work in this volume was first published in PNG Attitude. In 2015, in the PNG Peace and Harmony Writing Contest, he received the judges’ award for consistency and diligence in writing.
A CONTEMPORARY VOICE by Jimmy Awagl (2016)
Jimmy’s inexhaustible energy in creative writing had produced two books in 2015 - My Struggle and My Journey – and this third book, comprising only poetry, is a collection of 100 poems largely depicting the social life of modern Papua New Guineans. Most of the poems depict contemporary themes and offer a colourful introduction to the concerns,, dreams and activities especially of people who live in villages and townships.
ECHOES OF MY HEARTBEAT by Jimmy Awagl (2017)
The evocatively titled Echoes of My Heartbeat shows Jimmy’s poetry capturing the political, economic and social issues that affect Papua New Guinea. In this fourth book the author was more determined than ever for Papua New Guineans to read and think about important issues. The book is intriguingly interspersed with amusing PNG anecdotes and romantic verses to keep the reader captivated and engrossed. Echoes of My Heartbeat is a good resource for educational institutions introducing their students to poetry.
This biography of Pole Kale, subtitled From Selling Firewood To Yale University, was Francis Nii’s first commissioned work under the Francis Nii Publications imprint. He had previously been approached by several people to publish novels, poetry and biography but wanted to be selective in who he assisted. At the core of his publishing rationale was a need to inspire readers, particularly young Simbu readers , and Pole Kale’s autobiography met that criterion admirably.
Pole was the only son and ‘dream child’ of aging couple Thomas Kale and Monita Nirua from the Mian Tribe of Gumine whose great desire was to see their son well educated and succeed in life. This he did beyond their highest aspirations, rising from typically poor village life to win a place at Yale University in the United States. Pole had helped Thomas well firewood to finance his education and this book is a poignant and inspirational reminder that a dedication to learning is an exceptionally powerful means of realising dreams.
MY HOBBY by Jimmy Awagl (2018)
Jimmy’s fifth book is titled after his hobby, which is creative writing of all kinds. This volume includes a range of fascinating and captivating short stories, essays and poems mostly depicting social life and political and other issues facing Papua New Guinea. It is targeted at a general readership but is also suitable for educational use at high school level.
Francis published Dominica’s first poetry collection as his health was in steep decline in March 2020. “His guiding hand will always be on our shoulders,” writes Dominica. “He always radiated so much positive vibration to those he crossed paths with, and for that he will always be remembered and treasured.” Ed Brumby writes of Dominica’s poetry:
“She brings the particular perspective of a woman who has endured, like nearly all Papua New Guinean women, more than her fair share of tragedy, violence and loss. Yet, even while living, in her words, an ‘oasis of chaos’, her indomitable spirit of optimism, strength and hope comes to the fore in these poems.
“Even while acknowledging the beatings and bruises she has suffered, Dominica is able, through her strength of spirit, to find solace and hope and enjoy the ‘euphoria of the cuddly bodies, yelps of delight and bear hugs’ of her children. There are elements of irony in the title of this volume because, apart from her children, so many of her prized possessions are no longer within her physical reach and remained confined in memory.”
The final book Francis edited and published and the last he worked on was completed during the final stages of his illness and was a difficult task for him. It was a struggle to get it finished and one small example of this was the omission of the word ‘A’ from the title.
The Flight of Jungle Eagle is an inspiring account of a Jimi boy born and raised in a poor village. It describes his life as a child, the emergence of western civilisation, his struggle to gain an education and a job. It is a highly motivating story for young Papua New Guineans to read and learn from as Wake Goi became the MP for Jimi District and is now Minister for Youth, Religion and Community Development in the current government.