No Mr Bird, PNG is not ‘printing money’
PNG’s Chinese changing of the guard

The hard history of the storyteller

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Author 1

TUMBY BAY - Humans have always told stories. It’s something that distinguishes us from our animal peers and contributes to our inflated perception of ourselves as special beings.

Our stories are an essential part of our character and personality.

Once upon a time stories were the province of storytellers. These people wandered the countryside telling their stories in return for a meal and a bed for the night.

In Ireland they are called seanchai. Modern day seanchai still tell the same stories that have entranced listeners for over 2,000 years.

It is only in the last few hundred years that stories have become commodities that can be bought and sold.

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, movable type and paper were invented in China, and the oldest known extant book printed from movable type was created in Korea in the 14th century.

Printing first became mechanised in Europe during the 15th century but it was only during the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century that the mass printing of books became possible.

With the rise of capitalism and later the birth of its ugly little brother, neo-liberalism, anything and everything became a target for monetisation.

When stories became mass market commodities story tellers were turned into workers and suppliers whose labour, before anything else, had to be saleable. At base it represented the monetisation of culture and tradition.

This saleability and market competitiveness now informs the stories that get to be heard and read.

Author 2

Although many will deny it, saleability has now become one of the main motivating factors driving modern day story tellers.

As such, it represents the cold, hard reality of capitalised publishing.

The prime consideration for publishers when they evaluate a manuscript is not so much whether it is a good story but whether it is commercially viable and will return a good profit.

The name of the game is now the titillation of the reading public. Story tellers now need to know what turns on the reading public and how to pander their output accordingly.

With some exceptions this commodification of storytelling cannot fail to produce anything other than a banal and formatted product. Something similar to a can of beans or the latest pop song.

Finding a good book to read these days is highly problematic, one has to look elsewhere.

This all sounds very depressing but rest assured there are still storytellers out there whose motivations have nothing to do with ego or profit and who write simply for the love of doing so.

You’re unlikely to find them in the publishing stables maintained by multinational monopoly publishers but rather with small independent publishers or self-publishers.

So if you reckon you’re going to make a million bucks out of your book, good luck with that.

On the other hand, if you write simply for the love of it, keep up the good work, you never know where it will lead you. Rewards for hard work don’t necessarily come in the form of dirty lucre.

Author 3


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Baka Bina

Birds can talk. In Goroka, there is this small black bird with a white spot on its nape called the Nipiye. I call it the harbinger bird as it will chirp all day and from the direction where the news is coming from.

It will either tell of a visitor or a relative who is returning after a long while out. Most times it will chirp long non-stop without end if there is going to be news of someone dying.

Most times the bird will be said to talk to the person in hearing range (in a garden area) and that person will return to the village with this news.

The strange bird in the area is the ghewo - a man in the form of a bird up to some crazy puripuri magic.

You should never try to shoot an arrow at it. You try at your own peril.

When I was small, a bird the size of a pigeon appeared in the village when we had taken out pulped coffee to dry.

This bird flew down and walked around the dried coffee parchment. The owner of the coffee, an uncle, went into his house brought out a bow with some arrows and shot the bird, who had flown up in to the trees.

Two days later the uncle died in a freak accident when he was in a car and the driver lit some cardboard under the car to check on a broken petrol fuel line.

He was the only one to die when the truck exploded. The truck had been crammed with so many people that we could not fathom why he was the only one to die.

Our fathers blamed the bird he shot and said it was a human being. They said the bird people avenged him by taking our uncle's life in this freak accident. Never meddle with a foreign bird.

For AG Satori and his like - Sorry we can't find you a publisher's daughter in PNG.

Keep those pigs, money and bird feathers for the bride price. You never know, someone will come by or you might kick the bucket first.

I feel for you writers. Our grandchildren are watching too many movies and now they are doing their writing with AI. Our days are numbered.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Aboriginal people in Australia did the same thing Garry. The so-called dreamtime legends were presented that way.

Among the Central Lakes people around Lake Eyre they referred to these sung stories as 'histories'.

As for animals telling stories, I tend to agree with you Chips. We had a couple of butcher birds in Hervey Bay that would rock up in the morning and exchange the low down on the surrounding area for a feed of dog biscuits.

When we were in Cromer near Mt Crawford in SA we had a bunch of magpies to do the same thing.

Our cocker spaniel in Tumby Bay uses whines and clicks and gets most frustrated when we fail to understand what he's talking about.

Never under estimate the intelligence of animals.

Even sheep and chooks have a point of view.

Garrett Roche

Phil makes reference to the Irish storytellers known as 'seanchai'. Part of the storytellers' original function was to record and pass on ‘old lore’ sometimes as long lyric poems.

This reminds me of people in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea storytelling, often presented as a ‘chanted saga’.

The story was encapsulated in a long narrative poem that was sung out loud in a rhythmic manner.

Similar methods were found throughout the highlands. Some of these chanted sagas recorded historical facts and events, others related mythical events.

In the absence of writing in those early times it was perhaps true that presenting facts and events in a poetic manner made it easier for them to be remembered and passed on to future generations.

Chips Mackellar

Storytelling is not confined to humans. Animals can also tell stories, Phil.

My Siamese cat would always answer when spoken to, and after an adventure in the garden or an outing somewhere, he would often sit on the floor in front of me and yowl and howl in that awful Siamese voice and conduct a conversation for about fifteen minutes or so.

I could never understand what he was talking about, but he certainly had a story to tell.

Similarly, we had a very friendly magpie which, while we were sitting on the veranda, would fly down and perch on the railing, and in squarks and warbles would talk to us for hours.

I never knew what he was saying either, but he also certainly had a story to tell.

I have often wondered, if we ever had some kind of Enigma machine, we could decode their yowls and squarks and understand what stories these animals were telling us.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Maski wori long ol pikinini na fon AG.

Mobeta tingting long ol manmeri ikamap namal long krismas. Dispela lain ipinisim 45 or 50 krismas got planti save long rit na rait.

Em sitori bilong Australia na tingting bilong mi em stori bilong PNG wantaim.

AG Satori

Bernard - Orwell na yu, mi gat askim.

Nem bilong mi - AG Satori - mi gat planti tingting long raitim ol stori tasol mi breik breik isi isi. Nogut mi hat wok long raitim stori. Tasol nau yutupela givim mi gutpela tingting, moabeta mi traim marit insait long pablisa femili.

Askim - em ol despla pikinini meri blong ol pablisa, ol stap we.

Toksave igo pas long papa bilong ol, pig, moni na grass pisin blong braidprais, em stap sambai na redim nau.

Long taim lapun bilong mi, mi ting mi mas painim wanpela pikinini meri blong pablisa.

Phil, yu brukim leva blong mi wantaim displa stori - em tru mi ken salim stori tasol em hat wok resis wantaim mobail fon.

Ol pikinini laikim watz long fon na ol les long harim mipla ol lapun toktok.

Bernard Corden

"The only way you will get rich by writing is to marry a publisher's daughter" - Geoge Orwell in 'Down and Out in Paris and London'.

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