The reviews will come but this is not one of them. Daniel Kumbon’s first novel, The Old Man’s Dilemma, was published this week and here I offer the Foreword I wrote accompanied by Daniel’s Preface. The book is now on sale.
The Old Man's Dilemma by Daniel Kumbon, Love, Grief, Happiness & Rebellion: A Modern Day Novel From Papua New Guinea. Independently published, June 2021. Paperback, 188 pages. ISBN-13: 979-8526508247. Link here to purchase from Amazon. Paper $11.39. Kindle $1
NOOSA – Daniel Kumbon is one of Papua New Guinea’s most prominent modern day authors and he has accumulated a substantial collection of non-fiction writing – all of it offering a Melanesian worldview.
Since 1998, more so over the last six years, Daniel has produced seven books and numerous commentaries and essays but has never before ventured into fiction.
With The Old Man’s Dilemma, he has produced a gloriously written novel that, in the Kumbon-style, is full of truth.
Although a work of fiction, its underpinning reality is always present. It flows from the author’s eye for detail, his understanding of his own disparate people and the innate wisdom derived from traditional Melanesian values and Western ideals.
It is situated in that shadow world where traditional Melanesian and Western cultures coincide, sometimes overlapping with ease and sometimes clashing and delivering great uncertainty.
Such conflicts compel The Old Man, Akali Wakane, a protagonist for whom the reader forms great compassion, to wrestle with himself about what constitutes The Right Way.
Daniel Kumbon is a university educated and much-travelled journalist who, after a career beyond his home, decided to spend the balance of his life back in his birthplace of Enga Province living and working among his own people.
This commitment shines through all his work, which has consistently shown him to be able to successfully blend the rich traditions of Melanesia with the exacting demands of modernity.
There are few Papua New Guinean writers able to transcend the conflicts that inhabit Melanesian culture as it finds itself in a state of constant transition - a process without a defined end point - that has brought great problems to the country and its people.
Daniel is one of less than a handful of contemporary Papua New Guinean writers who understand these underlying forces – and his resultant knowledge and sensitivity inform this book.
The Old Man’s Dilemma is both a fascinating story in its own right and a fine insight into the challenges for the individual who has been forced to come to grips with a culture in conflict.
And it brings to that small club of all-round Papua New Guinean authors, the distinguished presence of Daniel Kumbon.
PREFACE by Daniel Kumbon
WABAG - In preparing to write this book, I searched for famous love letters written from other parts of the world.
I found some really splendid ones but, although the language of love was the same, none suited how a Papua New Guinean, particularly an Engan from the highlands of our great country, would express their love for the person they hoped to make their life partner.
Then I remembered our traditional love chants – expressed at meri singsings, courting sessions.
As a child in the village, I had accompanied young bachelors to meri singsings or enda lakungi rituals. In the nearby Western Highlands these are called tukumu or tanim het, and karim lek in Simbu and Jiwaka.
I recall those captivating love songs that were exchanged between a couple as they sat on the woman’s side of the house, a fire always kept alight by elderly women.
I could not understand some of the words used in the enda nemongo chants. The man would often refer to the clouds above, clouds lifting and clouds disappearing along the Bini Aipini and Koe Koname mountain ranges, which were connected by traditional trade routes.
They were the places where love was to be found as young men and women walked the trails together in the early morning. The mighty rivers they crossed sprang straight from the ground – pure and fresh. That’s where love was to be found.
Would the young woman wholeheartedly follow the young man to the valleys beyond or would she pause to think of other lovers and return home? The birds of the forest sang sweet little songs as if urging the girl to go on.
I was too young to understand love but it became clear later what the chants had been about. So when I became a writer, with this in mind, I penned Love Letter in the Glassed Frame.
Although not as perfect as the enda nemongo, the letterform essay is a composite of how true love can be expressed in modern times.
Love is endless, it does not age. It is inextinguishable when it’s on fire.
That’s how Ambassador Akali Wakane, The Old Man who is the hero of this book, finds love to be.
His love for his first wife was this. But she had gone missing from his life just as they were beginning to enjoy the fruits of his distinguished career.
He mourns, he recovers and then, unexpectedly, he remarries a much younger woman, a protégé.
These personal events challenge his commitment to traditional Melanesian ideals, which he constantly tries to marry to the rapid Westernisation and its attendant corruption that are raging through Papua New Guinea.
Eventually, as traditional land is threatened, trouble erupts in the capital city, Port Moresby, and The Old Man finds himself called upon to act.
And so unfolds another dilemma for The Old Man, one that embraces an entire turbulent nation.
The Old Man’s Dilemma is a story of triumph, tragedy, redemption and eventual victory set against a background of tradition, tribalism, venality and discord. It is a story of modern Papua New Guinea.