Sunday, February 22, 2015


 "If Lady Gaesasara stands her ground we are doomed."

"According to whom?" Numwaya Nathalie looked puzzled.

"Her associates."

"And just who are her associates?" said the numwaya, pacing restlessly in the deputy governor's office.

She did not walk all the way from the Numwaya Lodge just to hear the politician's views on Lady Gaesasara. Her girls and her guests went missing more than eight hours ago and she was getting extremely worried.

The deputy governor eyed her head to toe and then shrugged. Women were increasingly becoming pests in the consciousness of dutiful politicians like himself was the thought that ran through his mind. He nevertheless gestured towards the secretary to make a cup of tea for the numwaya.

"Black or white, my numwaya?" said the secretary, rising from her desk.

"Oh, none for me, thanks, Rita," said the numwaya. "Make just yours and the deputy governor's. I've just had a cup before strolling over." She pulled up a chair and sat directly in front of the deputy governor. "Who are her associates? And why are you so concerned about her unfortunate partners instead of me and my pressing demands? You forget I voted for you, Ronald. And so did my husband."

"Ha!" laughed the deputy governor, and it was an explosive kind of laughter. "Flatter me as much as you want, my good numwaya, but I do my job regardless. And bye the bye, our natural disaster and risk management unit has been alerted five hours ago, the patrol is out, your girls and guests should be found by now. Besides, porimana isn't as bad as it was a few days ago. Dinghies are safely coming into town in numbers from our part of the province." He paused, pointed to the TV grumbling away along the ledges of the office. "We should rather be worried about her breaking away from her associates."

The TV screen showed Lady Gaesasara stressing the point that the border issue was the problem of the government. The Prime Minister should visit the Oro and Milne Bay province borders as soon as possible before all else escalated into another Bougainville crisis.

"I did vote for you," chuckled the numwaya, then added somewhat mournfully, "she isn't a politician like you, Ronald. She's a lawyer."

"Lawyers or whatever not," smiled the deputy governor, running a finger over a freshly shaven chin, "we all end up in parliament eventually. Which is why I am saying she's making a grave error more than already isolating herself from her associates like that."

"She made the right decision sacking that company," said the numwaya looking somewhat annoyed. "It's the government not keeping its end of the bargain. What's wrong with you fat politicians nowadays?"

"Oh, I'm not fat," said Roland, taking his cup of tea from Rita. "I think the government made the right move last few days. That company is overall important. I'm sure it was all short-sightedness on the part of Lady Gaesasara."

"Short-sightedness," snorted the numwaya. "Good thing she went ahead and sacked that monster company without the advice of her associates - if it is the Nokondi you're referring to. Look what they did to Brazil. Or to Indonesia. What good would the company do to Nokondi - or the Highlands bloc or the rest of Papua New Guinea, for that matter?"

"I still envisage she made the gravest of errors. We underestimate the Highlanders but they still enable us all to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

"Over-dependence is what you all envisage at the end of the tunnel," said the numwaya with a short laugh. "Sack your employer and you're unemployed. An argument most men would like to take on."

Rita suppressed an unwanted laugh by quickly getting herself busy with the files on her desk. Ronald pretended he did not hear. He looked at Rita but changed his mind about what he wanted the secretary to do in the next few minutes. The tea tasted good. As usual Rita put honey in the tea. The pleasantries of distraction from Samalae women, he thought with annoyance. He was thinking of getting rid of Numawaya Nathalie sooner from his office.

"The girls will be all right, Nathalie," he now spoke cheerfully. "How many did you say were on that dinghy?"

"Well, there are the girls, Foroga and Mimi, Mr and Mrs Goldberg or Dan and Amie, Doboro Fjord and the boy Diko."

"They should be all right," said Ronald. "That Foroga, she does wonders when it comes to rough weather."

"I am hoping she does, Ronald. I am so hoping she does."

"Oh, I never doubt Foroga, my good numwaya. Rita, you've been up north coast way on a couple of trips with Foroga... you'd know..."

"Yes, sir," said Rita, her eyes dropping to the floor. "One time we ran into a storm. It was night, pitch dark. We couldn't see nothing all around us. It was total blank like. I was scared. Sitting there, clutching on whatever I could hold onto, I cried for my parents, I cried for dear life. I prayed and I prayed. But Foroga, she just told us not to fear. She told us she could feel the current and tide beneath us. They were friendly, she said, even though the waves got rougher and angrier, and even at night we could see them mounting high and big like this building we sitting in..."

Thursday, February 12, 2015



As slected by Russell Soaba, Soaba's Storyboard and The Anuki Country Press

The best novel in the English language is not judged by its popularity, by its sense of timelessness nor by word of praise from its immediate locale but by its ready appeal to the willing consciousness of the modern world at large. A renowned critic may by and by remind us that The Great Gatsby or Ullysses ought to be included on our list but that to some degree would be an outdated kind of notion, if not suggestion. Times have changed considerably and so has the intellect of those great thinkers of the world who, particulary at a time when the globe itself seems to be in a vulnerable position of losing its status as a comfortable place to live in, believe that what mankind writes must answer some of the most pressing questions about narrative, and story telling, by not only the present generation by those yet to come. The best novel is therefore considered to be such by this very lot of intellectuals and critics, many of whom are quite ordinary people like us who care more about the state of the planet we live on than the cleverness of one who picks up the pen to write.

Counting from the top, number one, to the bottom, number ten, here are our 10 best novels written in English.

1. Retaining its significance for over five decades as an anti-colonial narrative and despite its sense of provinciality, the very quality that substantiates its sense of greatness as a novel, Things Fall Apart is a must read for the serious scholar and student of literature in our times. Written at a time when one part of the world was beginning to doubt itself about its own power and influence across the globe. W.B. Yeats did not waste his time with those pre-conceived, pre-civil war meditations on the shape of things to come and Chinua Achebe well understood that.

2. Considered by a segment of Third World countries as the worst of narratives as far as aesthetics go, Heart of Darkness will retain its reputation as the most important moment of narrative in the annals of modern world fiction. Powerful in descriptions of landscape and imagery it is the sort of novel lavishly treasured by the serious student of civilizations, race, class and gender. Joseph Conrad's (or more precisely, the novella's) worst critic has been Achebe himself. But the rest of the Third World and the whole world at large thinks otherwise.

3. Seldom does an Aristotelian tragic hero get comfortably nestled into the religious consciousness of a larger culture (such as that in the Western world) but in The Power and the Glory the "whisky priest" does. At the end of the novel we cannot, looking up from a tea cup, resist asking why Graham Greene would consider an alcoholic as a protagonist. Aside from Conrad's and others', this novel will remain one of the finest pieces of writing in the English language.

4. The notion of a novelist from one culture getting into the conscioussness of another can prove troublesome as much as risky at times. Not many succeed in this area of literary enterprise - "the art of jumping into the skin of another" as the novelists Tevor Shearston and Russell Soaba put it. But Randolf Stow does in this fine novel, Visitants. Though written entirely in the English language it surprises the native English speaker by making itself be read in the Kiriwina language of the Trobriand Islands - the islands closely asssociated with Bronislaw Malinowski, the anthropologist.

5. What is greatness in story telling but that which opts for liberal simplicity in its approach to complex subject matter? Human sentiment can easily overcome what we naively term as common sense, especially when that "common sense" happens to be lateral through and through. Somewhere in a turn of phrase, in dialogue or in character, Alan Paton knew that one day an embodiment of his passion in writing a novel would come in the person of Nelson Mandela. The apartheid policy has been the most difficult of phenomena in human calculation and the whole world needed Cry, the Beloved Country to break the chain of bondage this very policy had created.

6. Things that come to the human senses as rustic in nature are often frowned upon by the demands of high powered metropolitan intellectualism. There is much manouever for room in this regard, much pushing and shoving, as it were, all in the name of the survival of the fittest. Yet the rural setting, the rustic sentiment, the provincial sense of pride remains safely intact in its quiet corner of timelessness. We all are peasants at heart whether we like it or not. John Steinbeck teaches us that in East of Eden.

7. All novels are monumental in their own right. But there are those that actually build monuments worth mulling over in our consciousness. All art pertaining to pastoral scenery, all imagery pertaining to memorable depiction and all narrative concerning what is most valuable to humankind are ever present in novels such as this that the serious scholar, the serious student of literature searches for. Metonymous use of language itself becomes the order of the day. Thus, Patrick White's monumental The Tree Of Man.

8. Not often does a critic, editor or essayist choose to write a novel. When that happens the result or product of the effort is met with mixed feeings and thought. That is because the challenges are too conspicuous to ignore, as conspicuous as an English speaking reader from one part of the globe exclaiming: "What the heck is Ulysses about? Translation, please!" It all boils down to asking, quite properly, what the subect matter of a novel is. When Drusilla Modjeska set out to write The Mountain she half suspected she would be treading on unfriendly territory. Her readership would be small, she realized, limited only to Papua New Guinea and Australia. But her belief in the novel as a plausible venue for a good argument got her home safely.

9. The English language is the most difficult of entities for anyone, particularly a non-native English speaker, to adapt to or even tame and domesticate. For over four decades Russell Soaba, to whom English is a sixth or seventh language, did just that: tame the language - so much so that "one can hear the pulse and beat of one's own language in English". His novels best speak for themselves in that regard. Maiba finds itself a place in this selection and has so far been translated into Italian and French.

10. Finally, great novels albeit the very best, are those that cross vast cultural boundaries for no other purpose than to remind us once all over again that all humanity matters. They need not teach nor explain things but leave them as they are: unnamed, invisible; allowing only their narrative to flow on without a hint of who will read them along the way, who will bother to pay attention to them, yet leaving a significant amount of impression on those who come across them, even by chance. There is where humanity finds its sense of identity. There is where we all find ourselves. In our moments of invisibility, in our deepest sense of anonymity, we know we have arrived. We feel complete, we become one with Ralph Ellison. And so it is with the novel, Invisible Man.

So there you have it: our selection of the 10 best novels in English.

Things Fall Apart; Heart of Darkness; The Power and the Glory; Visitants; Cry, the Beloved Country; East of Eden; The Tree of Man; The Mountain; Maiba; Invisible Man

There are other great titles in the world today. But unfortnately for most of us these were never, originally, fashioned and made available to us in the English language. 

Monday, January 26, 2015



Some updates on the novel FINAL ISLANDS IN THE SUN (working title)

Retracing the narrative of the novel - in real life
On the 12th December 2014 I set out on a holiday trip that turned out to be a retrace of the novel's aging protagonist's journey into the Great Anuki Country, Milne Bay Province. I wanted to witness again the sort of wild country inhabited by the characters, prominent among them and excluding the protagonist would be an elderly anthropology couple from the US, a visitor from Norway, several high school students and youngsters from Alotau town and, of course, the ever loyal guide and protege of the protagonist, Tomwaya. The following are brief day to day accounts of that holiday trip.
12th Dec. Left Port Moresby for Alotau at 10am arriving there at 10:55am. Signed in at the Saugere Guest House for K80 a night. It was a lovely guest house of the Kwato Missions with quiet and peaceful surrounds. In the novel the protagonist appears at a similar tourist lodge but does not spend the night there even though he had paid K500 in advance for room and board. Saugere is a mile and half out of town. I went for a bus ride to town, visited the famous sites such as the markets, shopping areas and the beautiful waterfront of Sanderson Bay. Couldn't do much the next two days, Saturday and Sunday, as the main shopping centres were closed for the weekend. Even the ATM was closed. Went to Sunday service at the Anglican Resurrection Church.
Monday 15th Dec did a quick shopping - provisions to last me 3 weeks or so. Negotiated with a dinghy crew for transportation from Awaiama to Tototo. Also struck up a deal with a tomwaya (sounds familiar?) for the highway journey from Alotau town to Awaiama. We settled for K200, both parties happy. As for the dinghy I offered K500, but they wanted more, so we finally settled for K700. That's expensive. A total rip-off, to be precise. Nonetheless we all were able to travel to Awaiama that same day. Signed out at Saugere at noon, went back to town and did some more shopping as finishing touches on provisions. Left Alotau town at about 2:50pm arriving at Awaiama at 4pm. The dinghy crew said the weather was fine for further travel so we said goodbye to tomwaya to drive back to Alotau as we set out from Awaiama soon after 4pm.
It was calm all around Goodenough Bay and the sailing proved to be pleasant well into the evening. Soon it was nightfall in mid ocean and lights began appearing one by one as we drew closer to Cape Vogel. We arrived at Rausewa at 8.43pm. Spent the night in that village.
In the novel, the characters go on a dinghy trip to Samarai Island, but upon returning to Alotau late in the afternoon run out of zoom. They are stranded. They float in mid ocean. Night falls and there's a storm. They drift and drift towards Cape Vogel... etc.
Tuesday 16th Dec. We left Rausewa in the morning around 8am, went around to historical Mukawa and thence sailed on to the Great Anuki Country. We arrived at Besima at 9:15am. Had tea at Kaibara. And later walked down to Tototo.
Wednesday 17th Dec. First day at Tototo. Interesting conversations. Yet intriguing. For the next few weeks and well into Christmas and New Year I shall stay at this village, mulling over its 107 years of history - its contact with the Anglican Church and its struggles to maintain itself as a place the protagonist of our novel calls home. It is a wild country, but the stuff of dreams found in every novel - its mystery of being itself a home, of resisting all material temptations that the Western world offers and its very struggle to retain its own dignity as a replica of those ancient civilizations gone by.
There where the excitement of the human passion is, there where much drama is, where the human soul is - there is where truly our novel is set... away from the buzz and hackling of the cities, away from metropolitan quarrels and debates...
...there where the human heart, mind and soul walks through each forest, each kwamra and gubura in search of light and the open sea... out there, from the mouth of Tototo's estuary leading to Posa Posa Habour with so many of its islands in the stream...there is where our novel is...

A lot of novelists have a fair idea of who their audiences are. Many cite E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel and the notions of story and plot, the most suitable of places as their settings, the type of characters, round or flat, that they set out to deal with; and the rhythm and flow of narrative. And yet others dream of being Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Graham Greene, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or other, in their endeavour to write a good novel. Some simply shrug and say, "I write to please myself."
But for this novelist the attention of the future generation and those yet to come matters more.
And here is why our novelist, the author of FINAL ISLANDS IN THE SUN, thinks that the attention of future generations matters more. He subscribes that children catch up faster and far more so with diligence to new thoughts and aspirations than older people. They are more attentive in the sense that the language they acquire as they grow up with gives them more of that opportunity to discover and know themselves. Now comparatively speaking children in the strictly rural or rustic or provinciale setting respond far more readily to pure human thought and utterance than those in towns and cities. Everything they hear coming out of the mouths of adults, and particularly in the language that they know, speak and understand better, is poetry, is wisdom and truth. Even they, the children, far removed from comics, far removed from the world of video cartoons and games - which are indeed terribly distracting in the process of their growth from childhood to adolescence - speak like adults. They think like adults. And most important of all they meditate as adults would. This is why our novelist envisages that all good novels, particularly the Papua New Guinean novel, are best placed in the hands of the children. MAIBA wasn't written for nothing, one dares to say! And by this lot of children we mean the rural child, the rustic child, the provincial child. After what this child goes through by the very experience of growing up in a rural setting the chances of seeing the whole world better are enormous. What this child dreams of is that which spells out splendor, the grandiose, the marvelous, the wonder and beauty of the world itself. Thus, if in our novel, FINAL ISALNDS IN THE SUN, we note that the whole world appears in twofold - the rural and the metropolitan - they, the rural children, see it better. They know what it is all about. They know what the old protagonist wants. They know what Lady Gaesasara of the cities is fighting for and defending. These characters represent their well being. Without them they will perish. And so we continue to write this novel. We continue to dream with them, these rural children. We continue shaping and moulding, honing and chiseling, each word, each phrase, each paragraph, each chapter, in their favour. And we watch how they respond as we go along.                      


Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Chapter 8

    “Miss Caswell. Miss Caswell please! Wake up!”

    It was the boy rousing her up. She sat up from the couch with a start. She must have been so tired the previous evening she went to sleep in the living room with the lights still on. The clock on the wall read 4.30am.

    “You was dreaming, Miss Caswell,” the boy said, cautiously taking a step back.

    “No, child,” she corrected the boy. “I was having a nightmare.”

    “I – I sorry to wake you up,” stammered the boy. “But you was screaming and screaming…”

    “I know…”

    “I wake you two times already but you was screaming so I was afraid…’


    “Yes, one time at one o’clock. Another time at three o’clock. And still you screaming and say go away so I go back to my room…”

    “Oh, my goodness.”

     The boy walked over to her. He took off the over-sized dressing gown he was wearing and wrapped it around her. She felt warm and comfortable.

    “And you hit me again,” he said in a slight whisper.

    Caswell was shocked.

    “I hit you?” she said. “Again?”

    The boy nodded.

    She was fully awake now.

    “Oh my God, oh my God, I hit you again?”

    “Yes, but not hard like before, like near the school…”

    “My God! Where, child? Show me.”

    “Here, on the shoulder. But never mind.”

    He sat down beside her on the couch. Then gently, “What you was nightmaring about, Neina?”

    At this she laughed.

    “Neina?” she then said, looking puzzled.

     “It means ‘mother’ in my language,” said the boy. “Remember? My mother tell you about it yesterday.”

     Then it all came back to her: the previous day’s happenings – when the district court gave her custody of the boy and Sergeant Mata Hanai herding them into his police van to drive them to the boy’s parents’ home.

    The mother, the large woman and informal trader, looked cheerful then as they drove to Hohola, Tokarara and thence to the settlement. Caswell was wondering why the large woman was in good spirits instead of hating her because the magistrate looked serious when issuing the order that she should be the boy’s temporary guardian or alternative parent. Though she herself felt reasonably prepared in the way of the courts this particular hearing went so fast that she had barely time nor sense to respond to the ruling that she, at twenty-four, having barely worked her way comfortably to the Bar, would become, formally speaking, a mother or parent to an eleven year-old boy. Only the plodding from Kedu Sarah made her nod in agreement before the magistrate. Now she was not sure and Kedu Sarah was not there with them for her to ask questions about her role as a mother. When she leaned over to the large woman for some guidance they’d already arrived at the tin shack where they met the boy’s father. The father looked dusty, skinny and somewhat menacing and that, thought Caswell, explained why the large woman might have wanted her son to be given away to someone else’s care. He now confronted them as they disembarked. He looked quite agitated. The crowd of men who had accompanied him earlier that very morning to storm the gate of the Writer’s Villa was not there with him. They must have realized that their leader’s cause was a lost one and had subsequently abandoned him to visit their gardens upon the ridges that surrounded the settlement, or simply stole away to the heart of the city to beg, borrow, gamble excessively and get drunk. He was now fuming and eyeing Caswell from head to toe. Sergeant Mata Hanai gave him the lareva greeting and that calmed him down.

    A crowd of mothers and scruffy looking children gathered at the tin shack. They began chanting “Big Mama Dee!” as the large woman took the boy and Miss Caswell by the hand and led them to the front of the shack. A couple of boys brought empty four gallon kerosene drums for Caswell and Sergeant Mata Hanai to use as seats. The boy’s father stood momentarily undecided then began gathering wood to place them over a smoldering fire. He ordered those standing around to fill up a kettle and bring it over. Caswell noticing the poor man’s troubles brought out a ten kina note and gave it to the large woman who in turn gave it to a tubercular looking boy and ordered him to run down to the settlement shops for sugar, tea and biscuits. The boy shot off running, followed by several cackling little boys and girls.

    Two girls began clearing a patapata full of pots and dishes until they found a kettle and this they took over to the taps to fill in. The patapata was constructed right next to the doorway of the tin shack, perhaps conveniently placed there so food could be served from there to those in the hut during rainy seasons. There were no other patapata around the tin shack which made Caswell and Sergeant Mata Hanai conclude that this family was very poor. The girls returned with the kettle and placed it over the fire which the man built. He stood back, looked at the kettle and smiled with satisfaction. At least he made himself look useful that day. He walked over now and shook hands with Sergeant Mata Hanai. He extended the same hand to Caswell, hesitated, then said, “What the heck,” and shook her hand vigorously.

    “You love my boy, don’t you?” he said in Motu, not letting her hand go, swinging it from side to side all the while. “Enhh? Girl, you know my son’s handsome, you didn’t want to lose him to another…”

    This brought laughter from the crowd around them. Parts of Caswell’s face turned visibly red but she managed a smile nevertheless. She felt comfortable, however, when the man turned to Sergeant Mata Hanai and told the old policeman to stop eyeing his poor wife as she was too old to court any more. The sergeant smiled, began fanning himself with the court papers and that made the crowd know that they had to leave, make room for the family to reach some kind of resolution with the young woman they had heard so much about on EMTV news as Miss Caswell. The large woman looked reprovingly at her skinny husband and he sat down on a coconut scraper beside them. Their son sat next to Caswell, his head bowed. Sergeant Mata Hanai then explained to the parents the nature of the court proceedings and where their son would be placed, adding that if the young girl, Caswell, was at fault then this would be a fairer way for her to make peace with the family. The boy’s parents nodded and said they had nothing to say against Magistrate Dickson’s rulings, adding that they knew the “judge” very well and that his words were always wise.

    The tubercular looking boy sent to the shops returned with the sugar, tea and biscuits and the girls minding the kettle at the fireplace quickly prepared the tea in tin cups and passed them around. The large woman took a packet of biscuits and gave it to Caswell and the old policeman to share. She gave one to the boy and his father. She distributed the rest among the two girls at the fireplace and the scruffy looking ones sitting nearby. She herself settled for just the tea and then began speaking to her son so softly that Caswell and the old sergeant remained still for quite some time. She is young, they heard her tell her son; yes, the Samarai woman is young but she will be your Neina from now on. You hear what I’m saying? The boy nodded. And so had they all, those sitting around her, in a circle, sitting around a large woman; they heard her speak softly to her son; those sitting around her, they heard her, the large woman, the woman they called Mama Dee, but whose real name they knew was Divasire. And they heard Mama Divasire speak softly to her son, her eleven year-old son called Vani Garuga; and they heard her speak also of her husband, the funny and skinny looking old man called Gere. Her voice was like the pulse of the earth, the heartbeat of the earth, on which they sat, on which they all sat around in a circle and listened, and listened, but heard a voice so soft they could barely hear. You hear what I’m saying? The boy nodded. She is your Neina from now on, for her house is a gift, her house is full of wisdom, full of all those good things that we seek but find hard to reach and have. She herself will tell you the secrets of her house. She will tell you who you are for her house is full of knowledge. She will tell you of your mother and your father, of your bubus and those before them; she will tell you your own secrets, deep as the ocean itself that hits the land, gentle as the sea sighs along the coastline. She is your Neina, she will hold you by the hand and lead you to many places; you will meet many people; many tribes and clans and say they are your own, like the Rearea, like the Isu, like the Idumava, like the Mavara Vamaga, like the Mavara Laurina, like the Botai, like the Korina; and she will show you all those that are your people; and she will tell you about them in so gentle a voice that you will find it hard to hear; a gentle voice; a soft song; a very, very quiet Efona…

    “That’s it!” she said suddenly, flicking a finger, rising from the couch, letting the dressing gown fall in a way a mythical cassowary sloughs her skin. “Efona. The quiet voice. The very, very soft song of the voice. The gentle voice.”

    “It’s a old, old song that old people in the village they sing it,” said the boy quietly, looking at her and smiling. “It’s a sad song. Sometimes when you hear it you will cry. They sing it for very long time. They start at sunset and they sing and sing it until the sun come up again.”  

    “Efona,” said Caswell, testing the word in her mouth, clicking her tongue and smiling.

    “Efona,” said the boy.

    The clock on the wall read 4.53am.

    “Goodness me,” exclaimed Caswell, “aren’t we late!”

    They both rushed over to the louvers and opened the curtains to check if Kedu Sarah was awake. She was indeed. Her lights were on. Lady Gaesasara would be out on the porch, jogging and checking her timer while waiting for Caswell.

    “Come on then, Vani Garuga,” she told the boy, quickly getting into a track suit. “Into the bathroom. Now. Make sure you are helping Kedu Sarah with the breakfast when we get back.”

     She was out of the bungalow, running up the cement blocks serving as stairs to the Writer’s Villa where she noticed Lady Gaesasara waiting for her. Jogging in the early mornings would now become a routine for Caswell. Both women ran down to the gates. The security opened one side of the gates and they were off, Lady Gaesasara reminding Caswell that they had less than twenty minutes of running to do.  

    “I heard you screaming last night,” she said to the younger woman. “Mightn’t we talk about it?”

    “I can’t see why not.”

    “Go on, then.”

    “The boy was grown into a man. I can’t remember where we were. But the swimming part was the cause of the screams you heard.”

    “Oh dear. Were you drowning?”

    “Drowning, no. But I really was struggling as if I didn’t know how to swim.”

    “And the boy?”

    “The man.”

     “The man. Where was he?”

     “Somewhere on what looked like a jetty or wharf. He was standing there, looking down at me struggling.”

     “Did you call up to him for help?”

    “That I am not sure.”

    Lady Gaesasara slowed down to a jog.

     “The boy needs you,” she said.

     “I think that’s what his mother was trying to tell me yesterday.”

    Both women stopped jogging. They started now walking back to the Writer’s Villa.

    "It is an island, is it not?" asked Lady Gaesasara.

    Caswell stopped walking. She looked at the other curiously.

    "An island?" she then asked. "I'm afraid I don't understand."

    Lady Gaesasara, too, stopped walking.

    "Where the boy comes from, I mean," she then said.

    "I should think so," said Caswell. "I shall have to ask Mama Divasire that."

    "It is an island," said Lady Gaesasara finally. "Come on, then. I'll race you back to the villa."

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Chapter 7

It was dusk when Tomwaya eased down his four-wheel drive to a halt. He turned on the high beam for a closer look and saw what appeared to be a road block.

   “Probably a fallen tree,” said his passenger. “We can drive around it, can’t we?”

   “I’m not sure,” said Tomwaya and revved the engine to drive up closer.

   It wasn’t a fallen tree, they realized. Someone cut down several trees to make the road block look complete. They couldn’t drive around it. Tomwaya cut the engine and the lights went dead. Darkness was fast approaching. The cicadas let out their shrill chirping and both men wondered who could have devised a plan such as this and for what. All else around them was silent.

    “You can turn and drive back to town,” said the old passenger from the cities. “I’ll walk the rest of the way from here.”

    Tomwaya was annoyed. He felt he was being dismissed sooner than business required. He still needed to collect the rest of his fees.

   “Will you be all right then?” he asked the passenger instead.

   “Yes, I’ll be fine.”

    “I believe you will be,” said Tomwaya, disliking the idea of driving back to Alotau at night. “Anyway, this is Milne Bay, peaceful country…”

   The passenger placed the pack, his only luggage, over a shoulder and began walking towards the pile of wood and branches that formed the road block. Barely had he taken five steps when they heard an engine and what sounded like a chorus of war chants. A light from the oncoming vehicle lit up the pile of wood and branches then drove around it, swerving up fast to Tomwaya and his passenger. About ten youth jumped down from the vehicle and surrounded them. They were carrying high powered rifles such as Tomwaya and his passenger had never seen before. One walked over swiftly with a tramontina and paced the blade next to the old traveller’s neck. Tomwaya screamed in protest. The leader of the youth jumped down from the vehicle and ordered the boy to withdraw the knife. He asked for a flash light and was given one. He shone the light on the faces of the two elderly men.

    “Not the material they want,” said the leader, walking away to inspect Tomwaya’s four wheel drive.

    There wasn’t much cargo or luggage in the vehicle. But the leader seemed to like the vehicle. It looked new, powerful, like the ones he used to drive up the highway from Lae to Goroka to Hagen and Kundiawa. He walked back to the elderly men. He demanded to see what was inside the bag the old passenger was carrying. One of the boys snatched it from the old man and ripped it open on the ground. Books. Nothing but books and stationery. The leader held out a book to the light. Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime. He took out another. Wanpis. And then several more, examining each carefully and with a look of amusement by the flash light. The Crocodile.  Maiba. My Mother Calls Me Yaltep. He burst out laughing when he took out a booklet titled Naked Thoughts.

    “What’s the big deal?” he then said, more or less talking to himself or, rather, thinking aloud. Then, turning to look over the old passenger from head to toe, said, “I majored in political science. No big deal there either.”

    “Who are you people?” Tomwaya spoke suddenly, causing the others to lift rifle butts menacingly at him.

    “We are soldiers, hasol,” chorused the youth, surrounding him fast.

    “His name is Mr. Tomwaya,” put in the old passenger, stepping forward.

    A boy threw a backhander at the old passenger which Tomwaya caught in time.

    “All right, all right, take it easy,” said their leader. “The two old men are harmless – you can bloody well see that. Think of them as your grandfather, your father or your uncle. Be good to them. We are taking them in, though. Area command might want to interview them.”

    He led Tomwaya and the old passenger back to the four wheel drive.

    “Tommy, Figah,” he continued barking out orders, “come with me. You, too, Gabby. Now the rest of you mind the utility. Drive after us. Tommy and Gabby, jumped on the back. Figah, stick with me, na boskru lo mi. I’m driving. Tupela lapun ba sindaun lo baksaid. Now you hear me, men?”

    “Yoohh!” came the war cry.

    “All right, let’s go!”

    They drove away quickly, letting out wild yelps of war cries. A firefly flew in, did a few winks around Tomwaya and the old passenger and flew out gain. Tomwaya nudged his old companion and said all would be well. The other looked out at the coastal villages they were speeding past, each house lit up by Tilley and hurricane lamps, but appearing abandoned somewhat. He saw a little village with two or three hamlets lit up by solar powered tubes and guessed that would have been Topura. Dogura would be about sixteen miles ahead of them and where he was hoping to catch a dinghy to Cape Vogel, once upon a time known as the great Baniara District.   

     “So you boys are not raskols from around here after all?” said Tomwaya, addressing the leader of the youth who had now taken over his double cab four wheel drive.

     “You are very observant, old man,” said the leader. “And yes, if we were your so-called raskols you’d both be dead by now.”

    “I can see that,” said Tomwaya. “You sound intelligent, though, highly educated. And some of your boys are carrying some high powered weapons, too, the sort that neither the army nor police force can afford nowadays. So do tell us, young man, who are you people – what are you, really?”

     “We are the caretakers spilled over from Collingwood Bay,” came the prompt reply. “And don’t tell us you two old men, wise looking as you are, never heard of that place before…”

     “I see,” said Tomwaya and the old passenger at once.    

     “So can this mean we’ve stumbled into some kind of civil unrest like Bougainville and right here in the Milne Bay Province?” asked Tomwaya, somewhat testily. “A large scale civil war in the making… er, that is, judging from the type of uniform you’re all wearing…?”

      “Look, if you have any more questions reserve them for the area command at Dogura,” said the youth leader. “But for your information Tufi and Collingwood Bay have now become our stronghold, our headquarters. We believe our country has had enough of corrupt leaders. It needs a complete overhaul. We are here to ensure that happens…”

    “Then you must be salvation for PNG then…?”

    “Again, you reserve that opinion for the area command at Dogura. But I’ll tell you both now that if it wasn’t for that witch lawyer they call Lady Gaesasara nothing of what you see now and what you will see throughout the country tomorrow onwards would have happened.”

     Tomwaya was alarmed.

     “How on earth has this come about? She’s a great lawyer. She is all for Papua New Guinea!”

    “Not any more. At least not until she sacked the biggest multi-billion benefactor company there ever was operating in Papua New Guinea.”

    “What company?” Tomwaya demanded to know, sounding more alarmed than ever.

    “That,” said the leader with impatience, “is what you ask the area command at Dogura. Now, do you want me to pull over, get out and give you a lecture on this – or, should we be driving on?”

    “Drive on,” said the old passenger.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Chapter 6 

    Mimi lifted the long bamboo steering pole high in the air and was about to whack it across Diko’s back when Foroga burst out laughing.
    “That Labiadogha again,” Foroga kept laughing. “The hunchback got us fooled yet again.”
    “Who is Labiadoga?” said Amy, rousing herself up from a slight snooze.
    “Labiadogha, that old spastic from town,” said Diko.
    “You are the long long,” said Mimi, lifting the bamboo pole again. “If it wasn’t for your stupidity we wouldn’t be having this.”
    Diko cringed, leapt over the luggage and dived for cover between Dan and Amy.
    Mimi was muttering curses.
    “That retard got you outwitted again, Diko,” she said. “And he knows he’s had you. He’s laughing at us right this minute. When will you ever wake up to that?”
   “I was in a hurry,” said Diko. “I didn’t know, I didn’t know.”
  Mimi dropped the bamboo pole and threw up her arms in despair.
    Foroga explained to the guests that Labiadogha was a colorful personality in Alotau town. He had a way of drawing large crowds with his old homemade guitar and singing suggestive songs that brought laughter from all. Though a comic he had a way with women especially when they could sense his talents in making a lot of money. His exploits, further explained Foroga, included loading cartons of lager beer on a truck then selling these as wholesale items to unwary trade store owners. When rural beer drinkers bought these cartons, travelled to their villages and opened them up they found bottles filled with fresh water. His version of a four gallon zoom was one such pastime of deceit which Diko failed to remember or realize. Instead of petrol he used salt water and mixed that with thick oil to produce his version of the zoom. Now they had run of zoom and the only plastic container they were relying on to take them back to Alotau was what Labiadogha sold to Diko for fifty-nine kina.
    The southerlies were picking up rapidly and the surface of water all around them began breaking into swirls. Mimi brought out a long paddle and maneuvered the vessel to point shoreward which they realized was too far off. Foroga upon leaving Samarai Island decided to take the dinghy out into the open so that the flight into the bay and Alotau town from there would be swift. Little did she know that she would be denied just one plastic of zoom to complete that impressive turn in her talents of seafaring. To many of her contemporaries around Alotau town she was the best of the best, the “smoothest of smooth operators”. She’d surf the rough seas, they’d boast about her, and let her dinghy glide when the waves got roughest. Her passengers never felt safer when she was in charge. Now she could only stand at her post and laugh at the trick Labiadogha played on her and her crew.
   “Clever old bugger,” she kept shaking her head.
    Then they all realized they were floating in silence.
    It was the sudden whistle of a dying engine minutes earlier that woke those who were dozing off. Dan stood up to look around, stretched and yawned. Doboro Fjords, too, stood up to stretch himself and then jokingly asked for a fishing line to cast over the sea. It was at this point that Mimi lifted the bamboo pole to go after Diko when also Foroga tilted the plastic of zoom to let the salt water out, shaking her head in dismay. She stood up now and began assuring the guests that they would be fine and that help would be along the way as there were many dinghies sailing to and from Samarai. There were left over salmon sandwiches in the cooler so they need not worry about food, she said.
   “Those in need of visiting the loo may jump overboard and come up again when done,” offered Diko.
   “Oh, shut up,” said Mimi, reaching for the bamboo pole again.
    Foroga ordered the two to stop fooling around and hoist a canvas to serve as a sail. They found one that covered the luggage and using the bamboo pole fashioned a sail and stood it up. There was a slight breeze coming from the outer ocean and the canvas billowed a bit. They waited but it seemed a strong wind would be needed to get them closer to the shores. The southerlies that rose earlier seemed to have gone further northward with their ripples and swirls.
    Diko went through the luggage compartment of the dinghy and came out with a couple of sheets. These he tied to the bamboo pole and two of the dinghy’s paddles, after which had them suspended forming a shade for the guests. The sun was fast travelling towards the western horizon but the heat at this time of the day could become unbearable for the tourists, both he and the two girls were mindful of that. Anything that went amiss with the guests would be their responsibility, warned numwaya Nathalie.
    Foroga scooped up some sea water in her palms and tasted it. She told the others the weather would be kind to them but only for so long.
    “How long?” asked Amy, assisting Diko with the shade.
    “There’s a southerly swell heading this way,” said Foroga. “It should get us to the shores by nightfall.”
    “Will there be rain?” asked Doboro Fjords. “Might there be a storm?”
    “What do the clouds say?” asked Foroga.
    “I can’t see any,” said Doboro Fjords. “But the sky’s clear as the blue of the sea.”
    He didn’t appear enthusiastic about that remark. Weather around Alotau area, he knew as much as his fellow dinghy travellers, wasn’t at all predictable. He looked at Foroga and noticed a slight trace of smile. He was being tested. There was going to be a storm late that afternoon, while they were out floating in the open sea. Dan and Mimi rummaged through the luggage compartment for anything they could find. There was a first aid kit in one of the boxes, along with diving equipment which they could probably need later. A small tool box was found together with flash lights and emergency flares. The sail they hoisted looked humbly set. The shade looked fantastic, accommodating enough. The sea all around them looked exceptionally calm all of a sudden and this worried them a bit. So they all turned to Foroga, as if awaiting further advice or instructions from her.
     She moved about the dinghy from head to tail, probably wondering how it was that Labiadogha got them screwed up like this. The sun was setting behind the western horizon and she knew that wouldn’t be much comfort for all aboard. She didn’t want to blame Diko or Mimi, her little cousins, for that.  She knew she was responsible for all of them there and then. Numwaya Nathalie had told them so. And numwaya’s word was her word. But most of all she loved her dinghy. A 22 footer running on a 40 horse power engine: and she wondered, wondered: could this have been that popular product from Samarai Plastics known all over the world as the “Banana Boat” and carefully crafted and modeled by those old missionaries and local tradesmen of long ago to be entirely seaworthy come what may and which might have traveled as far across the seas as possible under the British flag to unknown lands and islands such as the West Indies? Who could tell, who could tell? Who could tell how far abroad little vessels such her’s might have traveled in time and history. It was the vessel that made her become known as the smooth operator, the queen of Milne Bay rough waters.

Friday, October 11, 2013





    The informal trader rushed up to the gates demanding to see the boss woman who was harboring the younger woman who bashed up her son. Or so the security personnel thought of her sudden intrusion. So they tried all they could to restrain her.

    She shook the men off, for she herself was largely built, typical of a Motu-Koita mother, and entered the gates, screaming and wailing at the top of her voice. The men instantly jumped clear, mindful of the rules they were tasked to carry out, and those rules said plainly and clearly that they should never lay a hand on a woman, least of all touch her. The woman continued wailing and uttering phrases in Koita.

    It was 5.55am when all this happened, Lady Gaesasara just emerging from the house in a track suit, ready for her routine morning run. The fog of morning light had yet to lift but the noise all around the neighborhood indicated that all was awake to the chores of yet another day. She need not, she felt, take extra precautions in jogging out to the gates when the noise coming from there forced her to stop. She waited a while, listening and checking the timer on her wrist. The early morning rays of the sun started hitting the surrounding burnt sienna hills by now and the valley where the Writer’s Villa kept itself comfortably nestled began to lighten up. In a little while all visibility became clear and she could easily see the wailing woman stumbling into the courtyard.   

    The woman quieted down upon seeing Lady Gaesasara, took a couple of steps forward but paused, casting a questioning glance at the security officers. They in turn nodded her forward. Then of course they had to control the crowd that followed the woman. There were men, women and children, shouting out for vengeance, it seemed. The men in particular were demanding compensation for wounds inflicted on their little boy.

    As if adding punctuation marks to all that shouting the large woman quickly fell to her knees and blurted out: “Aiyoi… Tanobada isuka da miare, di magi oro mave se magi gumage na ore na goi gore nu? Ege daki ai oroi ma.”

    There was a sudden hush outside the gates.

    The crowd began leaving, each to his or her own, until there was no one left for the security guards to argue with. The guards too must have felt the impact of what the large woman was moaning about and perhaps thought it was too much for the human heart to contend with. Only a handful of men could be heard mumbling over the shoulder but they too left as quickly as they had come.

    Bright sunshine flooded the valley.

    Lady Gaesasara descended from the steps.

    “Orogo no…” she beckoned the informal trader. “We must sit down and talk.”

    She led the large woman a few terraces up the side of the house from which vantage point they could have a better view of the whole valley. This valley was once a hunting ground of the Motu-Koita people, she explained. The Motu and Koita would decide upon a month and camp here for days. At the given signal and depending on weather and direction of winds, the kunai you see all around us would be set alight. Whatever game that lay down there, at the bottom, where the streets are now, would be at the mercy of hunters waiting in a ring around the valley.  The game caught would be enough to feed large clans and families around the coastal villages not far from here.

   The informal trader looked puzzled. She did not come here to listen to fables and oral histories. But that would be Lady Gaesasara’s way of soothing the nerves of unexpected visitors, or more precisely trespassers, who might need time to calm down a bit before speaking their minds truthfully. When they reached a higher terrace where there was a spare hut that looked like a yam house, and a chair offered her, the large woman stood very still, not knowing what to do or say.

    “Please sit,” said Lady Gaesasara.

    The woman sat down stiffly.

    “I came after my son,” she then said suddenly. “He was beaten up badly by one of your’s. My heart aches to know why.”

    “And so mine,” said Lady Gaesasara taking a chair next to her. “Children are hard to control these days. And it is always the parents to blame for their wrongs.”

     The woman did not feel any anger when she heard this. She agreed parents played an enormous role on the welfare of their children. She wanted then to explain that she was in the village when her boy got into trouble coming home from school. And anyhow, her husband was such a drunk and gambler he never did much for the boy… But she thought better of that and decided to apologize for waking the lady lawyer up and disturbing the neighborhood.

    Lady Gaesasara told the woman there was nothing to apologize for and that she could do all she could to help her boy. And anyhow, she said, it was worth the while talking with her rather than rushing out there to stomp about from one end of the valley to the other.

    “And you hid one little secret from me in our talk,” said the woman, looking at the younger woman straight in the eye.

    “I did?”

    “Those hunters: they were not up along the sides of these hills around us. It would be too dangerous up there. They were all standing in wait at both ends of this valley, down there, at the gullies, as the fires scorched the earth. The game tried to escape through the gullies, not uphill.”

    “You are a Koita woman,” smiled Lady Gaesasara. “Koita mothers are wise.”

     From where they were the Writer’s Villa became the centre of the valley. All around were hills that remained scorched the year round by kunai fires, enabling the valley to resemble a curled up spotted tiger at rest. But it was haven enough for the noble mind, most of the residents of the valley would boast, conveniently removed from the noise of the city. Very few private homes could be found here, and the few that could be spotted have sprung up sporadically as fringe low cost houses fencing in the entire valley. It was from these fringe houses that the informal trader had come to express her grievances.

    An alarm went off from the Writer’s Villa just below them. It rang louder than it should as that would be Kedu Sarah’s way of reminding Lady Gaesasara that she was spending far too much time entertaining an intruder instead of being back in the house, as she often did from her morning runs, washing up and getting ready for breakfast with her children.

    Lady Gaesasara stood up from her chair, checking the timer on her wrist: “Just about time I got back from that morning run. I say,” she then turned to the woman, “do stay for breakfast with me.”

    The large woman was having difficulty getting up from her chair. Part of her clothing got caught at a side of the chair she was sitting in and in the process of freeing herself she noticed how heavy the chair was. She burst out laughing, surprising Lady Gaesasara.

    “You people are worse than the taukurokuro,” she kept on laughing as she struggled with the chair. “Are these chairs made of iron?”

     “They are indeed,” said Lady Gaesasara joining in with the laughter. “They are what my father collected from Andre Miller’s old Botanical Gardens... a long, long time ago. These white iron chairs and those flower pots you see all around. Quite elaborate in their rococoish design… and, and quite exquisite, wouldn’t you agree so? I’ll tell you more about them… but perhaps another time...  another time…”

     “My, my,” said the woman, reaching out to touch the lady lawyer’s wrist for the first time that morning. “No wonder you are so important.”

    Kedu Sarah, the matron of the Writer’s Villa, was on the verge of lecturing Lady Gaesasara on time management when the two women walked down to the house. She looked disapprovingly at the informal trader then walked down a set of cement blocks to a bungalow next door to rouse Miss Caswell and the little boy up. But on her way up after waking Miss Caswell and ordering her to get the boy ready for breakfast she merely said to the informal trader: “Make yourself comfortable. Breakfast will be served shortly.”

    The breakfast consisting of tapioca bread, pawpaw slices and tea and milk for the children was served under the house. All looked tensed up a little round the table as Kedu Sarah said the Grace, except Lady Gaesasara and her two children. When Miss Caswell walked up from the bungalow with the little boy the mother rose and embraced her son, quietly crying and asking if she had failed as a mother, had she not looked after her little baby well? She studied her son closely and noticed that the only marks visible were but a thin dark lining under the left eye. There were no stitches as she had heard previously from her husband; and there appeared no evidence that her son was hospitalized. Miss Caswell nevertheless appeared remorseful and showed this with a hug for the mother before sitting down at the table. Food usually is the thing that settles the heart in strife.
    "Our hill together!"

    It was Richard, the leader of the security guards, walking up from the gates to announce that Sergeant Mata Hanai had arrived to escort Miss Caswell to the court house. Sergeant Mata Hanai was the old police officer at the Boroko Police Station who had released Miss Caswell to Lady Gaesasara’s custody the day before. 
    "Our hill together," chorused those at the breakfast table.

    “Pity the old boy can’t join us for breakfast, Richard,” said Lady Gaesasara.

    “Yes, a pity,” said Richard, picking up a piece of tapioca bread. “But as it is, Lady Gaesasara, it is the way with the old ones. All your father’s friends will stay away from the villa until the thought of your mother’s passing evaporates completely from their minds. And they won’t visit even when your father’s here.”

    “I know, Richard.”

    Kedu Sarah took Miss Caswell and the boy down to Sergeant Mata Hanai who would be driving them to Boroko. She and the large woman, the boy’s mother, would be following suit in her little station wagon. Richard took Byron and Emily, Lady Gaesasara’s children, to school soon after in the security van. On their way out they saw a well-dressed woman driving in to take Lady Gaesasara to the Waigani court houses. She gave the "our hills together" salute and Richard and the two little ones returned the gesture. When a woman dresses up like that, thought Richard amusedly, we will hear in the six o’clock news of yet another multi-billion dollar rogue of a foreign company sacked by the government.     

    At the Boroko District Court two hours later Magistrate Dickson Weraura looked up from an unusually thick file, as prepared by Sergeant Mata Hanai himself, and asked which one of those present in the room was Miss Caswell.

    “I am, your worship,” said Miss Caswell, rising.

    “You are,” said the Magistrate, and after being sure who the accused was read out the charges.

     A hush fell upon the court room.

    “Miss Caswell, you realize how serious these allegations are: an adult willfully beating up a minor. Do you have anything to say to these allegations?”

    “I deny the allegations, your worship,” said Miss Caswell. “I deny all of the allegations.”

    “You deny the allegations.”

    The magistrate tapped a finger on the file thoughtfully. He turned to the clerk, a young woman of about Miss Caswell’s age, and motioned her to record all that was heard. The clerk in the meantime caught herself watching Miss Caswell intently, with fascination as a matter of fact. Magistrate Dickson pretended he did not see that.

   “And what is your occupation, Miss Caswell?” he then asked.

    “I am a lawyer, your worship.”

    “I see. And how much do you earn a fortnight by way of net salary?”

    Miss Caswell felt Kedu Sarah’s foot on her’s and smiled.

    “Five hundred and eighty-five kina and forty-five toea, your worship,” she answered. “On a graduate salary.”

    “And who are your employers, Miss Caswell?”

    “I have but one employer, your worship. Lady Gaesasara and Associates.”

     The magistrate looked at Miss Caswell for a moment then closed the file, pushing it towards the clerk. He then explained that although the charges were serious some leniency was accorded her upon the understanding that she was acting on impulse and in response to certain usages of language by men that demean women in general. “However, that should not,” continued the magistrate, “rule out the error on your part of attacking a minor, for which this court orders you, Miss Caswell, to pay a fine of one hundred kina and to take into your keep this eleven year-old boy as a minor equivalent of a dependent whereupon all responsibilities pertaining to his welfare including education, health, food, clothing and shelter shall be yours until the authority of this court feels satisfied that he be returned to his rightful parents.”


All chapters subject to re-writes and further editing.