Bougainville: Was the regional election fair?
When I counted the authors, I gasped

Mr Marape & the tenacity of PNG writers

Edited by Keith Jackson

“To all my children across our beautiful and blessed country, have hope and faith that you too can make it in life and make use of your time and talents by working hard wherever God has placed you in our diverse and blessed land of PNG” – James Marape, ‘Advice for young people: You’re here for a purpose’


WABAG - You know prime minister, your words are gold for children of this country. Your direct message can impact their lives at an early age.

Your words can get them off Facebook and get them into a library full of books.

All it requires is to support Papua New Guinean writers, who are writing the books – but the books are not finding libraries.

There are so many unsung heroes of modern PNG literature. Our country should be proud of them - and encourage them.

Our country is blessed with a thousand cultures, all different from the other but none more valuable than the other. All unique to this world.

Our bilas, our songs, our legends, our way of dress, our methods of cooking and so many more elements of our culture are the very things that give us our identity – they are the heartbeat of PNG.

As far as I know, you are the only prime minister who has proudly worn our bilas for the world to see. That is why I placed a photograph of you in traditional Huli-Opene attire in my recent book 'Victory Song of Pingeta's Daughter' now available at

Our culture is truly unique and we need to preserve it. I am sure you know that our writers are helping to do that. I am sure you know they need more support to do it so effectively that our children will learn and understand just who we are as a people.


Mr Marape, your message to our children was really some good encouragement.

I assume you have had a good reading experience through your life to afford you a strong and cultured intelligence.

And I think those young folks you are encouraging could use some reading books.

It would be doubly encouraging to read books written by fellow Papua Niuginans.

As you know, out there in the sticks a hard copy book is what is most useful.

So here's an idea: why don't you support PNG authors?

We've got some ideas worth sharing with you, which we would like to share with you.

About a lasting legacy you can leave this country, a legacy which not even Somare could achieve.


I want to congratulate Daniel Kumbon for his magnificent historical book, 'Victory Song of Pingeta's Daughter'.

This is a landmark book for Enga and for PNG. It is a book from Enga but it tells a story all Papua New Guineans can relate to.

It is a book about us and what we were and what we have become. Our individual experiences may not have been as big and heroic as Paul Kurai's, but the impact of colonisation affected each one of us.

Daniel's book is something that we Papua New Guineans should treasure and try to emulate - to record our history in our own words.

History can be big or small, but we need to have its stories recorded.

Daniel mentions that writers will always continue to write.

We know that the dawn of PNG's written literature came about with the advent of Ulli Beier at the University of PNG. After he was gone there was a hiatus until along came the Crocodile Prize.

Unfortunately most of our work is self-published. It is difficult for most PNG authors to get their books published and to gain support and recognition for this.

I applaud the tenacity of our writers to continue to publish their work despite these difficult conditions.

There have been three very recent books (and probably 60-70 over the last few years) and I hope that more will join them even if Amazon's Bezos goes to Mars.

So congratulations to Daniel and all of PNG's writers for their resolute focus in keeping the flame of literature alive with little money and without government help.


While the promise of digital publishing technologies has ultimately let down the writers of Papua New Guinea through the withdrawal of marketing opportunities, the greater disappointment has been the failure of the PNG government to offer any form of alternative support.

It is difficult to ascertain why the government has taken this approach. There are two possible reasons.

The first is wilful ignorance, a possibility brought home to me quite vividly at the 2014 Crocodile Prize awards presentation.

During the proceedings, the government minister who had come to the event read a speech prepared for him by one of his staff. About halfway through the speech the minister paused and peered into the audience.

He had just read aloud a reference to a famous Papua New Guinean writer and he had just realised this man was sitting only a few metres away listening to him intently.

The minister pointed in amazement at one of PNG’s most eminent literary sons, Russell Soaba, and said, “It’s you, isn’t it?” At which Russell smiled in that pleasant and charming way he does.

The minister, by the way, before being elected to parliament, was a school teacher. Obviously Papua New Guinean literature was not on his school's curriculum.

This sort of unfamiliarity would be funny if it were not for the great cost to the nation and its history. Without writers with avenues for publishing, the story of Papua New Guinea will not be told.

Do PNG’s politicians realise that they are depriving future generations of Papua New Guineans of the history of their nation?

The recording of history through both fiction and non-fiction goes well beyond politics, of course. A significant element of history in PNG that urgently needs recording involves the traditions of its people.

One of the first examples of how this might be done was Ignatius Kilage’s fascinating little novel, ‘My Mother Calls Me Yaltep’.

Papua New Guinea has a number of current authors who are writing a new kind of literature for the country – it is descriptive, dramatic, emotional and humorous and steeped in both tradition and modernity, just like the PNG people themselves.

I am thinking of writers like Baka Bina, Daniel Kumbon, Marlene Potoura, Caroline Evari, Mathias Kin, Sil Bolkin and the doyen, the late Francis Nii.

The second reason why the government has kept a distance from writers, and probably the more serious reason, is fear.

Perhaps politicians are simply afraid of writers because of what they might reveal about them, their government and the way they are running the country.

This is not a phenomenon peculiar to Papua New Guinea. Fearful governments of all persuasions the world over have long sought to suppress writers and the media.

You might be inclined to suggest that authors caught in this situation should write flattering accounts of politicians in the hope of attracting support.

This, however, discounts one of the cardinal beliefs of good writers that their integrity is not for sale.

And a cardinal value of politics that if someone is giving in to you, you need not change your behaviour.

Politicians and writers are both important influences in society. PNG’s writers recognise this. I think it is time for PNG’s politicians to recognise it too.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)