PORT MORESBY – Yesterday afternoon I sat with prime minister James Marape and we talked about Papua New Guinea literature and culture.
At last I was able to tell the prime minister what a number of us writers have been trying to do for some time.
And that is to convey to the Marape government the important role of literature in developing and preserving the diverse cultural heritage of the country of 1,000 tribes.
Mr Marape had invited me to visit him after he had read one of my books, ‘Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter’, which was published in 2020.
I was delighted to get the invitation and took the first plane out of Wabag to fly south to the national capital and meet him on the ninth floor of Sir Manasupe Haus.
The Pineapple Building, as it called colloquially, is home to the prime minister’s department and other important government agencies.
And here I was, sitting with the prime minister and hearing him say that he identified himself fully with the story told in ‘Victory Song of Pingeta’s Daughter’.
He had given me the opportunity to express my feelings and I was not going to let him down.
“This building we are sitting in will be replaced by another,” I said, “but the words we record in books will never be erased.
“They will remain with people forever like the words in the Bible.”
I told the prime minister that I had published seven books over the years.
And I had made sure that every one was placed in the National Library to remain safe for the benefit of future generations.
I added that my published works are also available online for anybody in the world interested in Papua New Guinea, and even Enga Province, to access with ease.
Mr Marape agreed about the importance of literature. He said it was something that interested him and that one day he would write his own life story or maybe about politics.
He told me that he was very impressed with my book, and felt similar books should be written about each province before our elderly people died taking with them all the knowledge and information they had accumulated over their lifetimes.
He then asked me to list all the writers in PNG (there are many) and get them to write more books about the history and cultures of each province and to write biographies of influential people from every part of PNG before they died.
He said that, when he returns from an official trip to China this week, where he will attend the Beijing Winter Olympics with other world leaders, he will make an announcement to reveal how established Papua New Guinean writers can be assisted and encouraged to write about the diversity of PNG.
So far as I know James Marape and Michael Somare are the only prime ministers who have proudly worn traditional dress for the world to see.
I had featured this son of Tari in his splendid attire in the pages of 'Victory Song of Pingeta's Daughter'.
The thought crossed my mind that, in reading the book, the prime minister may have come across this photograph. Maybe this drew him to a consideration of the importance of literature and published works by Papua New Guinean writers.
Perhaps this was why I was now sitting in the Pineapple Building and exchanging views on a national literature with a very interested prime minister.
The book had been presented to him when he recently visited Wabag by Enga businessman Cr Paul Kurai.
Pingeta was Cr Paul Kurai’s maternal grandfather who was blown to pieces in a loud explosion emanating from a long stick held by one of two strange white man who had ventured into Pingeta’s territory in 1934.
Pingeta was the first to be killed in the massacre at Tole village, the people’s first encounter with white men and the fire arms of the Leahy brothers.
Who might be on that list of contemporary Papua New Guinean writers who would enjoy the opportunity to record the history of their country?
They might be drawn from people like Michael Dom, Betty Wakia, Caroline Evari, Jordan Dean, Emmanuel Peni, Wardley Barry, Samantha Kusari, Dominica Are, Jimmy Drekore, Jimmy Awagl, Ruth Moiam, Mathias Kin, Martyn Namorong, Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin, Leonard Fong Roka, Baka Bina, Reginald Renagi, Marlene Dee Gray Potoura, Philip Kai Morre, James Thomas, Winterford Toreas, Diddie Kinamun Jackson, Lapieh Landu, Raymond Sigimet, Arnold Mundua, Jeffrey Febi, Busa Jeremiah Wenogo, Michael Kabuni, Patrick Levo, John Kaupa Kamasua and Bomai Witne.
The list will grow longer when prime minister James Marape after he returns from China and makes an announcement to reveal how established PNG writers can be assisted and encouraged to write about the diversity of PNG.
This is such an important message for Papua New Guinea writers. The people who can be trusted to this major task are current writers who have already published their works and recognised as heroes of modern-day literature in this country.
So yesterday the prime minister sat quietly, listening to a story about the literature of his own country which, even with minimal or no nourishment, had managed to survive, but could do so much more given the chance.
There are many suitable books already available by Papua New Guinean writers but there has been no clear way to get them into the libraries, into the schools and into the hands of Papua New Guineans who fall in love with writing from their own country the moment they set eyes on it.
Our country is blessed with a thousand cultures, all different, none more valuable than the other, each unique.
Our bilas, our songs, our legends, our customs, our cuisines, our histories are all different – the such things are the heartbeat of PNG. The very things that make us who we are and identifies us as Papua New Guineans.