Bleak & black year shook Land of the Respected
Pandemic: The truths they won’t tell you

PNG writing: Stop reminiscing. Start again

Michael Dom 2
Michael Dom - "The success of the Crocodile Prize helped to develop our country’s literature"

| Vernacular Traces in the Crocodile Prize:
| Part 1 of an essay in five parts

English translation by Ed Brumby | Tok Pisin original follows

LAE - In 2010, Keith Jackson AM and Philip Fitzpatrick came up with the idea of establishing a national literary competition in Papua New Guinea – the Crocodile Prize.

Writing on Keith’s website, PNG Attitude, some of us supported their idea. In recognition, I gave them the name, ‘Grand Pukpuk’.

By way of background, these two men lived a long while in PNG in pre-independence times: the time of the patrol officers.

Dom - Daniel Kumbon  Phil Fitzpatrick  Martyn Namorong and Keith Jackson  Francis Nii (seated)
Daniel Kumbon,  Phil Fitzpatrick,  Martyn Namorong, Keith Jackson and the late Francis Nii (seated). Taking PNG literature to Australia in 2016

Keith was a teacher and journalist and Phil was a kiap (patrol officer). Being young men at the time, both have insightful stories about, and a good understanding of, us and our lives.

They also acquired a good understanding of our culture and our storytelling, poetry, drama, art and handicrafts – throughout PNG and Melanesia in general.

They established the Papua New Guinea Crocodile Prize in 2011 and last year, 2021, marked 10 Christmases since the start of another revival of everyone enjoying reading and writing stories, wondering and imagining about poetry and writing novels.

The Crocodile Prize money of K5,000 was not just peanuts.

Midway during this time, I think six years on, some of us PNG writers came up with all kinds of ideas about this ‘contemporary literature’.

The reason for this name is because it is about stories about now.

Plenty of us have had no education about this kind of literature and we had to clarify what it meant.

Dom - Fighting for a voice
Philip Fitzpatrick's story of PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize reads just like the detective thrillers he's best known for

The ideas of PNG writers can be found in six books which Phil Fitzpatrick published in Pukpuk Publications.

After 2017, something happened with the Crocodile Prize and we could not participate any more.

Four years ago, sadly, the Crocodile Prize died and we writers were left in the shadows.

But we should not be too sorry or worry too much because we have men and women writers who support the work involved in story-writing: developing and testing ideas, having conversations, sticking their necks out to remove the sadness and building support for promoting PNG generally.

The success of the Crocodile Prize has helped to develop our country’s literature and I think it’s good to look back at that time to understand how it encouraged the development of PNG writers and writing – and what worked and what didn’t.

I enjoy reading and thinking about the many kinds of poetry that we writers have produced.

Poetry is one way of recording our thinking and understanding of ourselves and our place in the world and exists strongly in our thinking, our customs and our imagination.

I also think the same about stories.

Sadly, while many writers write in English and a few write in Tok Pisin there are close to none who write in Motu or any of our other 800 indigenous languages.

This isn’t the fault of the Crocodile Prize. While writing in English predominates, Tok Pisin and Motu entries are also encouraged.

Ed Brumby
Ed Brumby - the unassuming Australian who has assisted PNG writers deal with everything from English grammar to the complexities of publishing

Keith and Phil and their Crocodile Prize colleagues have enough understanding of Tok Pisin and Motu to be able to assess and judge entries written in these languages. But there has been none.

And there have been no entries written in other indigenous languages either – even though, it must be said, we don’t have many people who can translate them.

I don’t think that this is a problem that we should worry about too much. It’s a personal choice to write in English, Tok Pisin or Motu.

It is natural for us, also, to think and speak in our native language. I don’t have a good enough understanding of how to assess different customs and culture. And I don’t know anyone who can explain them to me.

As I reflect on the Crocodile Prize, I think mainly about how good it is that we wrote all kinds of poetry and how poetry is part of our culture.

Experts call it ‘oral literature’ – in Tok Pisin, ‘orol litiritia’ – which is used as a way of remembering and explaining our culture and ourselves.

We know, of course, how our forefathers’ educated children through stories, poetry, songs and dance – through this oral literature.

Along with all Papua New Guineans, my heart swells with pride, when I read these stories, poetry, essays and novels of my fellow country men and women.

Dom - Call for entries 2013However, nowadays, in the relative absence of any literature written in our mother tongues, my soul feels weak and my spirit wanders aimlessly on barren ground.

As I reflect again on the creativity of Papua New Guinea literature, I ask the spirit of the original Crocodile to help me find a voice for indigenous languages in the Crocodile Prize.

So that this small voice doesn’t disappear, I would hope that we can re-establish the Crocodile Prize, even more strongly.

This work belongs to all Papua New Guineans and my appeal goes out to all writers: “This work must continue.”

Hap 1 - Maski salim tingting. Kirapim gen

Long 2010, Keith Jackson AM na Philip Fitzpatrick, ibin kirapim tingting long kamapim nesenol literari kompetisen – Crocodile Prize.

Mipela sampela man meri ibin raitim toktok igo ikam wantaim ol long blog site bilong Keith Jackson, em PNG Attitude, na mipela stap wanbel long tingting ol igatim. Mi iet isave givim tupela nem Grand Pukpuk.

Sotpela stori bilong tupela man emi oslem, ol ibin stap long PNG long taim bilong kiap, bipo long independens. Keith em ibin wanpela tisa na journalist na Phil ibin wanpela kiap o patrol opisa. Ol igat bikpela stori bilong ol iet long laip bilong ol na oltaim isave gat tingting long PNG olsem em i ples we ol ibin yangpela man long en.

Na tu ol ibin gat gutpela luksave, wantaim bikpela bilip, olsem yumi ol PNG man-meri igat save na pasin bilong tok stori na mekim tok-singsing, wantaim drama na ol kainkain art wok we makim stret hanwok bilong Papua Niugini na bikpela ples Melanesia.

Crocodile Prize memorabilia (Michael Dom)
Crocodile Prize memorabilia (Michael Dom)

Papua Niugini Crocodile Prize Nesenol Litireri Kompetisen ibin kirapim wok bilong en long 2011, olsem na dispela yia 2021 em i makim namba ten krismas igo pinis long stori bilong wanpela kain kirap-gen o ‘revival’ bilong ol man-meri isave gat laikim tru long ridim na raitim ol stori, skelim tingting, tok-singsing na raitim ol bikpela stori buk ‘novel’. Win moni mak bilong wanpela Crocodile Prize emi faiv-tausen kina (K5,000), ino pinat samting.

Namel long dispela taim, ating sikspela yia tasol, mipela ol sampela PNG raita ibin kamapim ol kainkain wokmak long dispela save igatim nem ‘contemporary literature’. As bilong dispela nem emi olsem ‘ol stori tru bilong nau iet tasol’. Planti mipela inogatim skul-save long dispela wok litiritia na mipela brukim bus tasol igo na kamap long ples i kilia liklik.

Tete wok mak bilong ol PNG raita em istap long sikspela buk we Phil Fitzpatrick i pablisim long Pupuk Publications. Bihain long yia 2017 sampela pundaun i kamap long Crocodile Prize na mipela ino moa stap wantaim.

Group scene at writers workshop 2011
Phil, Keith and some of the participants at the first Crocodile Prize at the first Crocodile Prize writers' workshop, Waigani, 2011

Fopela yia igo nau long dispela turangu Crocodile Prize em idai pinis. Bus ikirap gen na haitim mipela wanwan raita. Tasol yumi noken sori na wari tumas, bilong wanem igat wanwan raita man-meri husait i sapotim iet wok bilong raitim ol stori, skelim tingting, stretim toktok na tu mekim liklik nek ikamap long autim bel hevi na gutpela bel wantaim long storgim PNG. Emi bikpela karim kaikai bilong Crocodile Prize na tu dispela pasin emi wanpela wok trutru bilong literitia bilong kantri.

Ating emi gutpela long lukluk igo bek gen pastaim long dispela taim bilong Crocodile Prize na luksave long wokmak na tu long kainkain hanmak ol PNG raita ibin kamapim, na yumi skelim wanem emi gutpela na nogut long en.

Mi isave laik long ridim na tingting long olgeta kainkain tok-singsing (poetry) we ol raita ibin kamapim. Tok-singsing emi wanpela kain pasin we istap long as tingting na save bilong olgeta man-meri bilong ples griraun, na isave stap strong tru wantaim ol kain bel tingting, pasin na skelim yumi wanwan lain igat long en. Ating wankain long ol stori tu.

Tasol long lukluk bilong mi ating ol planti moa wok bilong ol raita ikamap long Tok Inglis, na wanwan long Tok Pisin tasol klostu inogat wanpela wok long Tok Motu na ol arapela 800 plus tokples yumi igatim long en.

Namorong - Landu - Drekore - Febi - 2011
The first Crocodile Prize winners: Martyn Namorong (Essay), Lapieh Landu (Women's Writing), Jimmy Drekore (Poetry), Jeffrey Febi (Short Story)

Em ino bin wanpela asua bilong Crocodile prize. Dispela Prize em i stap long Tok Inglis, tasol ibin igat singaut igo aut olsem ol raita iken mekim wok long Tok Pisin na Tok Motu. Keith Jackson na Phil Fitzpatrick tu igatim liklik save long ol dispela toples bilong PNG na igatim ol sampela lain bilong halavim tu igat save long tupela tokples, we ol iken skelim ol raita. Tasol nogat. Mipela ino bin lukim planti narapela tokples na inogat planti ibin tanim tokples.

Ating dispela ino wanpela bikpela asua long bai yumi wari tumas. Em i laik bilong wanwan sapos yumi laik raitim Tok Inglis, Tok Pisin na Tok Motu. Na tu, pasin kastam bilong yumi long kamautim tingting na toktok long ol wanwan tokples tumbuna i narapela-narapela. Mi nogat gutpela save long skelim olgeta dispela ol pasin kastam na kalsa. Olsem na mi lusim long arapela save lain iken autim tingting.

Naunau mi lukluk igo bek gen long ol wokmak bilong Crocodile Prize na mi salim tingting tasol long dispela ol gutpela taim we mipela ikamapim ol kainkain tok-singsing, long wanem pasin bilong tok-singsing em istap pinis long kalsa bilong yumi, em ol save man-meri bilong litiritia i givim nem ‘oral literature’ na long Tok Pisin yumi ken itok ‘orol litiritia’ em ‘pasin bilong holim save insait long toktok’. Yumi ken luksave olsem pasin bilong ol tumbuna long givim skul long ol pikinini insait long ol tok-stori na singsing na danis, em inapim dispela mak orol litiritia.

Trevor Shearston at the writers workshop 2014
Australian author Trevor Shearston - guest writer at the 2014 Crocodile Prize writers' workshop

Em ibin mekim lewa bilong mi solap gut tru long sanap olsem wanpela man Papua Niugini taim mi ridim ol dispela stori, tok-singsing, skelim tingting na tu ol novel-buk, we ol wankantri man-meri ol i putim wokmak. Tasol long nau mi pilim olsem lewa inogat strong na ai kiau bilong mi i raun nating antap long giraun nogut.

Bai mi lukluk igo bek gen long dispela ol gutpela wokmak bilong Papua Niugini litiritia na singautim tewel bilong tumbuna Pukpuk long halavim mi painim liklik nek bilong tokples long Crocodile Prize.

Dispela liklik nek inoken lus nating igo nogat, mi laikim bai yumi kirapim gen wantaim niupela strong. Em wok bilong yumi ol Papua Niugini iet long kirapim, em nau toksave bilong mi igo long ol wanwok raita olsem ‘wok mas igo het’.


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Sonia Maihi

Is Crocodile Prize going to continue this year?

There has been no Crocodile Prize for some time, Sonia. I suggest you link to the Ples Singsing website regularly to find out what is happening in PNG writing - KJ

Philip Fitzpatrick

Michael is right Jimmy - Ples Singsing is the future.

Michael Dom

Jimmy Awagl, why don't you come to Ples Singsing?

You were implicated in this article

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Lukim yu

Jimmy Awagl

A commendable piece. It was precisely translated and it captivated our hearts with this article.

I wish the Crocodile Prize could continue this year.

Michael Dom

We accomplished this task because of our friendship and trust. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, even if 'they' could do better - we make our own interpretation according to our best ability. That's all we can ever do anyhow.

It is such an honor for me to have any amount of your time and effort Ed Brumby.

Baka Bina

Ino long taim igo pinis, mi salim wanpela hap stori igo long Komonwelt Raitin Resis long ples bilong Misis Kwin.

Mi raitim dispela stori long Tok Pisin na bihain mi mekim wok tanim tok na putim dispela stori ken long Tok Ingis.

Hawsat na me mekim olsem - raitim wanpela stori long tupela tok ples. Mi raitim stori long Tok Pisin pastaim na bihain mi go long hap 'paragraph' (sorre, mi no tingim Tok Pisin nem bilong dispela hap toktok paragraph) na tanim tok igo long Tok Inglis wan wan paragraph.

Mi traim insait long ol despela paragraph long istap klostu long 'meaning'. Yu ken lukim howsat mi mekim long hap bilong stori mi tok mi salim igo long ples bilong Misis Kwin.

I recently submitted to the Commonwealth Writers competition an story in Tok Pisin that I then had translated to English myself.

How did I do that? I wrote the Tok Pisin first then, each paragraph after each paragraph I rewrote it in English trying to stick to the meaning as best as I could.

You can see that in the attached caption of story that I copy here.

Na Mama Weh? (Wonem Samtin Kamap Long Mama?)

What Must Have Happened to Mama?



Kol bilong avinun ikam long baret na san igo daun klostu klostu long hap. Klostu em bai go daun long silip. Hangere bel bilong mi tanim tanim mekim mi lukluk go daun long hap weh mama isave stap long em. Mi tingim, em bai stap klostu o longwe liklik. Em taim bilong painim aut.

The afternoon chills followed the depression up and the sun was slowly setting to the west. Soon it would sink behind the mountains to go to sleep. I was very hungry when I looked down to see if I could find where mama would be. I was wondering if she would be near here or at the far end of the garden. It was time to find out.

'Mama, Iyeno!' Mi singaut tu long tokples.

'Mama, Iyeno!' I also called out in Tok Ples.

Mi sanap antap long maunten na singaut isi igo down long baret. Ples igo daun na mi save olsem liklik nek bilong mahn save ron igo daun na long wonem hap mama istap, em ken harim neck bilong me.

I stood at the edge of break going down to the garden and called out softly. I knew that you just needed to call softly and the call would float down the gully to where mama would be and she could discern my voice.

Nogat bekim ikam bek antap long mi. Mi stap long het bilong gaden na lukluk igo daun. Mi traim tingim weh hap bai mi painim liklik samting bilong kaikai long holim bel.

There were no replies back up to me. I stayed at the head of the garden and looked down. I tried to think where will I find things to eat to hold up my empty stomach.

Mi tingim laulau tasol em istap arasait long gaden na tu em bilong ol lain kasen bilong mi. Nogut ol bel kross. Mi lukluk igo long ples bilong ol guava. Ino taim bilong guava tasol bai sans wanpela bai stap hait long ol lip.

I thought about the laulau fruits across the fence in my cousin's garden. I did not want to create any angst against me. I looked towards where the guava trees grew. It was guava season but I knew there would be a few off seasonal ones out of sight amongst the leaves.

While I applaud Dr Dom, I say it is really hard work, very taxing on the mind - not the writing but the idea around if the words do carry the meaning and intent. I'd say it may have taxed Ed very much and I also say, it is superb work here - the translation - mahn ya katim tok em mekim tru tru stret. Wonem tok, Dokta Maikol laik mekim, Tanim Tok em katim stret ya.

Ed Brumby

I was flattered, puzzled - and decidedly apprehensive when Mikel recently asked me to translate this and related articles.

Flattered? Who wouldn't be when asked to help PNG's foremost poet?

Puzzled? Surely Mikel was capable of executing the translation, wasn't he? And why me, of all people? He must know many others far better qualified and experienced.

Apprehensive? It's been nigh on 50 years since I spoke and read Tok Pisin on a daily basis - and rarely wrote it. And it has, of course, changed markedly during that time.

Moreover, I had only just read Anna Aslanyan's 'Dancing on Ropes', a superb, well-written account of the perils and pitfalls of translation, a must-read for anyone engaged in or contemplating involvement in the practice of translation - with some truly frightening examples of how it can go so badly.

Nevertheless, even with all of this in mind, I could not refuse a good friend.

I decided, early on, that I would take a strictly 'literalist', sometimes word-for-word approach rather than risk 'imposing' my own style - or distorting Mikel's always lucid style.

This has resulted, in many instances, in somewhat stilted sentence structures and such.

And I dare say that readers who are more experienced than me will find errors and oversights of all kinds. Be that as it may. It is not the manner of the message that counts. It is the message itself.

And Mikel's worthy message is, I hope, loud and clear....

An excellent translation, Ed, fluent, clear, faithful and readable. Can't do better than that. Nambawan gutpela tru - KJ

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