NOOSA – Baka Bina has become the first author from Papua New Guinea to be shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
The Prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states.
Baka’s story, ‘Wonem Samting Kamap Long Mama’ (‘What Happened To Ma?’) was written in Tok Pisin and translated into English by the author.
It’s one of 26 stories shortlisted from 6,730 entries by an international judging panel that will now choose a winner from each of the five regions: Pacific; Africa; Asia; Caribbean; and Europe/Canada.
The five regional winners will be announced on Monday 23 May and the overall winner in June.
The other Pacific regional finalists are ‘Sarah Walker (Australia), Eleanor Kirk (Australia), Mary Rokonadravu (Fiji) and Shelley Burne-Field (New Zealand). Mary was a regional winner in 2015.
Baka’s is one of two stories written in a language other than English; the other being written in Bangla, the national language of Bangladesh.
All the regional finalists’ stories will be published in adda, the online magazine of the Commonwealth Foundation, which features new writing from around the globe.
Baka Barakove Bina, 60, was born in Goroka and is the Assistant Registrar in Common Law working for the National Judiciary.
He is a Bachelor of Laws from the University of PNG and has a Diploma in Secondary Teaching (majoring in English) from Goroka Teachers College.
Baka is also a prolific author. His first short story was published by Oxford University Press and he has self-published a number of works on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.
“Bang, dammit!” Baka exclaimed when he opened the email and read that he’d been short listed.
“I was about to do my whoop,” he told me, “but I couldn't because the missus supposed to do the accompaniment wasn't there.
“And the girls in the outside office would have no idea of why Highlanders do whoops.
I was glad he didn't whoop, I'd previously been a victim of the whoop.
“But it would have been nice to rattle some of the many papers strewn around the office."
Rattle. I doubted rattle. It would have sent them flying - writs, subpoenas, summons, disclosures, judgements - as if swept along by the laurabada.
“I settled for a cup of coffee to fill up the bladder bag.”
Having recovered from that question, I asked Baka whether his story was related to a real life experience. I’ll let him take up the narrative.
Baka Bina on the art & toil of writing
There is a backstory. As a child it never occurred to me why my mother would sometimes go away to live on her own at either the garden house or the pig's house.
Our garden at Sogopex is only a 10 minutes breezy walk away from the village and yet she would regularly stay a week or two away living in the garden house while Dad and we children would stay in the village house.
As kids, my sisters and I took it for granted that Ma would stay and at times sleep there so we organised our afternoons around that. It was just normal.”
It was only much later I realised what had been happening.
Ma stayed away from the village and away from people so she could manage her menstrual cycle.
The pads that we now know were non-existent in her time. Tradition dictated Ma self-isolate, self-quarantine, and live by herself for a few days.
So I thought, ‘What if she was not there in the garden?’ Is that a story?
I sat down to write and tried to infuse conjecture and imagination and came up with some scenarios I was able to capture in the story. This is how it went:
The kaukau in the fire hearth, that happens plenty of times as Ma knows we would visit her for our share of 'hauslain kaukau'.
She would have cooked and roasted the kaukau ready for us when we visited her in the afternoons to pick a bilum of kaukau and firewood for the village.
The burnt-to-cinders kaukau and that there were no recently harvested kaukau for us were reasons enough to be worried.
Pigs on tethered leash were normal for us as we raised 'free ranging' pigs. However they were not tethered to be left out in the heat of the day so, if they had not moved, where was Ma?
The bloodied cloth was something a boy was never schooled in and that was a bit strange and confronting, although the shock to my sister-girl would have been less as she was being schooled in village biology lessons about women.
Aagh, the consequent upturned earth meant something was buried there….
Gosh, I'm telling a complete story to the back story – don’t want to do that!
I write a lot and always have plenty of ideas, drafts, storylines and even planned sequels to my novel ‘Sweet Garaiina Apo’ and second and third volumes of ‘Antics of Alonaa’.
I’ll still be writing for evermore in the future, if I can find the time.
Currently I am toying around with three works and they have been on the books since last year but I cannot find enough time to complete them.
I’ll tell you something about them:
‘A Farmer Buys a Wife’. I have a manuscript of 184 000 words and this story is epic, detailing the traditional process of parents’ involvement in finding a bride for their son - the Goroka way.
It is a narration rather than an anthropological study and the aim is to take the reader for a walk through the process from start to finish when the bride is installed as a wife.
I wrote it - hand scribbled in four diary-type note books, snapped each page and sent it to my friend, Ed Brumby, in Melbourne who typed it for me.
Now I’m going over each page and rewriting it as a self-edit. It is sheer hard work when your vocabulary is limited.
How have I progressed on the self-edit bit? At this time, only 20 out of 502 A4 pages so I'm not sure if I can ever complete this to send to my editor for his final look see before I decide to publish.
Tasol mi traim. It is eight years in the making and still going on.
‘Jumo Jama Jumae Zymur’. This is the complete and unedited version of ‘Zymur’ - my first published work from Oxford University Press some 25 years ago.
This new version is print ready, waiting for drawings to be inserted before I publish it hopefully this year.
‘The Kutubu Run’. A modern short story of misplaced scientific exploratory zeal in a dark traditional world where superstitions of 'sanguma' and 'stonmahn' reign. This I also hope to publish later this year.
Next: Baka’s shortlisted story, ‘Wonem Samting Kamap Long Mama’ (‘What Happened To Ma?’) and more on the Commonwealth Short Story Prize