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James Marape: I will help our writers to write

James Marape with a collection of Daniel Kumbon's many books. Seen here with  fisheries minister Dr Lino Tom while Peter Mis looks on


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.

Kumbon pineapple
The 'Pineapple Building' in Port Moresbyu, scene of an historic meeting to discuss PNG literature between prime minister James Marape and author Daniel Kumbon

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.

Kumbon - Victory Song of Pingeta's Daughter
The cover of ' Victory Song of Pingeta's Daughter'

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.

James Marape in traditional Tari attire as pictured in my book 'Victory Song of Pingeta's Daughter'

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?

Betty Daniel and Caroline in September writing to James Marape
Writers Betty Wakia, Daniel Kumbon and Caroline Evari worked for two years to secure a meeting with the prime minister. It happened, it happened in a hurry, and it happened yesterday

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.

Authors Jimmy Drekore, Daniel Kumbon and Baka Bina at Gembogl in the foothills of Mt Wilhelm, 2016. Establishing a home-grown literature in Papua New Guinea has proven a hard peak to scale

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.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

James Marape may have reneged on his promise to help PNG writers but the government in Australia has just launched a comprehensive program to help its own writers.

This program provides a great template for Marape to follow - if he hasn't forgotten what he said in early February last year.


Kj Lapan

Such a feeling of lightening emanating from my mind to see our prime minister willing to assist the writers of PNG.

Over my entire life since I reckoned the importance of books, I had this question: why would the government fail to give attention to writing and literature in PNG?

And this worry I carried has been lifted by this encounter with the prime minister by our veteran writer, Daniel Kumbon.

Thank you Daniel for pushing this hard enough to make sure it reached the PM with such conviction to persuade him to give it support.

Lindsay F Bond

Riches in writing evidences as readers acquiring wealth of comprehension.

Daniel Kumbon

Indeed Baka Bina, prime minister James Marape has his ears to us PNG writers.

And Lindsay Bond, the chief of staff smiled when he read your comment and seemed to decipher your message.

I took a print-out of this article and a copy of my novel 'The Old Man's Dilemma' to the PM's office on Wednesday morning so the chief of staff could pass it to Mr Marape before he flies to China and on to Paris on Thursday.

The chief of staff, who was present when I talked with the PM, agreed with the content of my article because it accurately portrays our dialogue on Monday morning.

The PM was the same person I met at Laguna Hotel three years ago before he was elected to office - humble, open and a good listener.

At that time, he was camping at a hotel with coalition partners preparing to form government.

I think something good will come out of our meeting on Monday. I was in his office at his invitation and that is the cue. I don't think I will fly back to Wabag in vain.

We writers need to keep faith in our passion. You and I know that it is important to preserve our rich cultural heritage and to write our own history.

We are not writing for financial gain, although it would be nice to earn some money from our hard work.

The problem is that PNG's literacy rate is very low and nobody buys our books. Forty percent of our nine million people still cannot read and write. But some of us keep writing because we believe in preserving our rich cultural heritage.

There is much more to be written and prime minister James Marape is right to encourage us to write more.

But for now, let's stay focused for that announcement when he returns from his overseas trip.

When I reviewed The Old Man's Dilemma in June last year, I designated it as "a landmark novel". Here's an extract from the review:

"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."

Link here to read the full review, which also contains information on how to buy the book:


It is Daniel's first novel, and it's a beauty - KJ

Baka Bina

Kaim o Yakapilin - congratulations and thanks to your good work that we now have the ears of the PM.

Lindsay F Bond

Dear Writers of PNG - scratch, scribble and squeeze out your ideas.

Take heart from achievement of an eight-year old writer who "slid his handwritten book onto a library shelf. It now has a year-long waitlist."

See: https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/north-america/an-8-year-old-slid-his-handwritten-book-onto-a-library-shelf-it-now-has-a-year-long-waitlist-20220201-p59svk.html

Michael Dom

This is good news. Well done!

Thank you for your perseverance, Daniel, and for being the right person in the right place, willing to put forward the interests of PNG writers.

Welcome the PM to visit Ples Singsing, a space for Papua Niuginian creativity.


Lindsay F Bond

Somewhat difficult to pin down the name of that building, known variously as Sir Manasupe Haus, Pineapple Building and earlier Marea Haus.

After a somewhat shaky start, the building was emptied and "waited like that for 20 years to be rediscovered".

See: http://www.alluringworld.com/marea-house/
Perhaps the building will endure. Maybe even become known as the building of both Underpinning and Understanding.

All credit to Daniel, and also his earlier efforts with Betty Wakia and Caroline Evari and ensemble, and of each writer who has published in and of PNG.

Now the milestone is that prime minister James Marape heard and gave that he could "understand the record in books will never be erased", and beamingly portrays faces of PNG leaders.

Thank you PM Marape. Whether from a somewhat 'Road to Damascus enlightenment' or from the publication of a photo, may your words be matched with timely, true and effective delivery.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Good on you Daniel, you finally nailed the bugger down.

After that promise he made, you guys had better vote for him.

I'll put a photograph or acknowledgement of him in all of the PNG books I help publish from now on if he delivers.

Bernard Corden

Dear Daniel, It is quite a while since we last met at South Bank in Brisbane.

Keep up the great work, you are inspirational.

"The proper study of mankind is books" - Aldous Huxley

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