TUMBY BAY - Older Papua New Guineans will recall the role of oratory or speech-making by clan and tribal leaders.
Many kiaps and other field staff will also remember those times when hundreds of people gathered to hear the words of these important people, not least because they were expected to take part and contribute.
As a young cadet patrol officer I can recall the daunting experience of having to stand in front of these large gatherings to deliver a speech in my rudimentary Tok Pisin. Thankfully my audiences were understanding.
As my proficiency in the language improved, I became more confident and actually planned what I was going to say.
As did, of course, the Papua New Guinean speakers who practised and practised their speeches until they sounded just right.
It may have seemed those speeches were off the cuff but they were the result of much refinement.
With the necessity of an interpreter to turn the talk into the local vernacular. I could eventually spin out my contributions to over half an hour, which was probably the minimum expected.
Some of those old orators could rattle on for hours with the advantage of clan histories and family genealogies to work through.
The oratory tradition goes back into the depths of time in Papua New Guinea and the rest of the world.
In the West it has antecedents dating back to the Roman conquest of Greece.
The art of oratory began to flourish when the Romans adopted the Grecian tradition and reached its zenith in their senate.
That same tradition was later reflected in the dramatic works of William Shakespeare and others. The monologues and soliloquys in those plays follow a direct line from those early orators.
Shakespeare’s perfection of the language of these speeches has never been bested. He was a master wordsmith - a writer who applies craftsperson-like skills to the use of words.
Wordsmiths are different from the writers who throws words at the page hoping they land in some sort of logical sequence or writers whose words flow directly from their brain with no intermediate pause for thought.
Such writers sometimes come up with brilliant pieces of work but this success is more often a matter of luck than anything else.
A wordsmith, on the other hand, has a reasonable idea whether what they have written is good or bad or somewhere in between.
In this class conscious world where work is divided into professions, trades and menial labour, the wordsmith sits in the middle as a kind of artisan.
For the wordsmith, crafting a written work is very much an art form. Like painters or sculptors, they touch and retouch or cut and smooth and generally arrange things until everything looks and feels right.
For the painter or sculptor every brushstroke or tap of the chisel is significant. Each has to be considered and even tested until the desired effect is achieved.
For the wordsmith each word one has to be placed exactly and fittingly, until they all fit together perfectly.
If you are creating a painting the colours and patterns have to be harmonised so they enhance the whole picture. It’s the same with the style and narrative of a story or poem.
How a painting finally looks is a statement of its many parts. How a story or poem works is also a function of its many parts.
For a painting, the ingredients are the colours of different hues, the types of brushes, spatulas and other instruments used to apply the paint and the material on which it is applied.
In a written work, the characters, narrative and scenarios are the raw materials.
While the Western literary tradition has a direct link to earlier orators so too has Papua New Guinean literature. The differences between the two are just a matter of elapsed time.
It would be very interesting to compare the areas with a strong oratory tradition to the areas from where much modern day Papua New Guinean literature has emerged.
It is entirely possible that a strong linkage could be established.
As an example, perhaps the prolific wordsmiths of Simbu owe their skills to traditions of oratory inherited from long ago.