Thursday, December 30, 2010

Side-stepped by Shakespeare!

Happy New Year, fellow lovers of words!

“Why dost thou pine and suffer dearth/Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?”

With those words, exeunt storyboard, stage left – for the year 2010.

But wait. “Were’t not for laughing, I should pity him.” Perhaps those are much truthful from the bard himself than what storyboard would like to think of himself. In fact, all the pejoratives heard at the Globe Theatre would be more fitting descriptions of and for storyboard. He ain’t that real, is he?

One of the stinging experiences that storyboard recalls of any Shakespearean tragedy is the way a hero, or even a court jester, spends the last few seconds of his life making a speech. There is at once irony and tragedy involved in that.

A clan member in Romeo and Juliet, for example, does not quite know that during a tussle with Romeo and others he had been fatally wounded. He nonetheless embarks on comically expressing an opinion which takes up more than five seconds of dialogue. Then, suddenly, he is rolling down the stairs to lie still at the bottom. Then a cry rings out that he is no more.

How he is wounded happens as quickly as lightning. An actor must be a genius to act that part out. And while the actor is privileged to know what he is presenting to the audience, the character himself does not. It is this character that storyboard is interested in. He is like every one of us. A good director must tell us exactly when and how he was wounded. That much we need to know. But as for the drama itself the character who is fatally wounded does not know that he is dead long before he had begun his final speech. But he does manage to complete that speech, and that in itself is miraculous. Good old Shakespeare.

It is as if the world, which is a stage according to the bard, has denied us that little knowledge. With us being that particular character play along, nevertheless, totally oblivious to the fact that we have been had. In such circumstances it would be wise, if we had the opportunity to decide for ourselves, to merely read the signs of all and sundry that surrounds us and walk away. But nine times out of ten we do not. And that is the most tragic part of our lives.

And all the more tragic if those of us know that our time’s up but that we choose to go on clinging onto this thing we call power.

When once a certain gentleman sensed that his time would be up, that he could lose all, he sought the opinion of the one who knew best, and the advice he received was less encouraging for him than he had expected. Go out and sell everything you own, and with that give your chattel to the poor. Be content with simplicity in living. What did our learned colleague choose? The exact opposite of what he had heard.

It would seem therefore that there is no way out of this dilemma. Either we cling on to power and regret it, or resign our offices and see our families starve.

But there is always a remedy to all this for all Papua New Guineans and that is what storyboard is getting at here. For those who have reached the age think seriously of writing memoirs. Your memoir could be the history of Papua New Guinea as a sovereign state. And it is true that such a memoir could sell.

Perhaps this is one good area of communal activity that we should attend to. Steven Winduo mentioned this at his “window” not long ago. Apparently those to whom the message was directed and who should have been paying attention decided not to. And that is sad.

Virtually all the leaders of the world redeem themselves through the genre of memoirs. The results are usually seen to be encouraging. Let our leaders do likewise. Let this activity be one of their New Year resolutions. It is a better activity than any other enterprise, especially when the clock has struck three pm several hours ago. It is good for the generations which follow to know what had gone on before them. Even good men could lose an opportunity like this one. Notice the opening citation of the bard’s for this article. Surely we all think we are rich, we are good, we are okay, but are we really happy inside, where the soul is? And there you have it.

As for the bard himself he did what was correct. If he were a statesman the option would have been to resign his office, retire to the woods, build a cabin and write poems. Never mind about the worldly luxuries and creature comforts. The sea is full of food and so are the hills and the forests. What more can we ask for in Papua New Guinea?

We stay on in the cities and you guessed it. Things have become astronomically expensive, quite unaffordable for a good few of our country men and women. Notice even how expensive Poet’s Corner has become these days. Thinking even that the item of inspiration would be affordable storyboard discovered quite to his dismay that its costs K56.95 at a local supermarket.

But come away from that shop and concentrate rather on writing the memoir.

                                   HAPPY NEW YEAR!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Power and the dangers of linguistic violence

The Arts 1 Building, nowadays known as Kuri Dom Building, once the home of UPNG's Language and Literature Department as much as host to many a linguistic debate on power, hegemony and post-colonial discourse.
One of the pressing dilemmas a young graduate of UPNG can find himself in is when he first tastes the meaning of the word “power”. In his new job as an administrator or simply as an academic the temptations to misinterpret the word are enormous. This is particularly so when he finds himself in a working environment which demands a lot of him by way of qualifications and a good report on leadership skills. In his new appointment he will obviously find a lot of workers who can be many years his senior. He being one of the new breed of graduates who are sent out there to lead will have to be extremely careful with the word power when dealing with his new colleagues.

Sometimes the word is loosely coined in any work environment as “empowerment’, meaning one has the power to take full control of one’s destiny, if that destiny has a lot to do with knowing who you are, where you are, the job you are required to perform and most importantly whom you are given the task of leading. In such a situation and if you are as fresh as inexperience teaches it is always wise to tuck your self-pride away at the back of the mind and concentrate on the demands of the job you are given to perform. Ensure you understand the job thoroughly, meaning you know what the interpretations of its duty statement exactly are.

Your other colleagues, a good number of whom are your seniors by so many years of experience, will be the ones whose very performance under your leadership will help determine whether you are a good leader or not. Seek advice from them before embarking on a decision on what is to be done about whom or what. But if you take one quick peek at your qualifications, compare that to your colleagues’ moments of lifetime deficiency of sorts, and subsequently fall for making a fast decision without consulting anyone else in your work environment can have drastic consequences. Sooner or later someone from somewhere, not necessarily from your own office or within the company you are working for, will be obliged to approach you with precautionary measures albeit friendly advice on how far you have strayed as a leader. The Waigani campus as we all know usually churns out the best there is by way of manpower in leadership market potentials.
The word power is one of those quiet little animals that get stuck to our backs whenever we find ourselves in a position of responsibility. It is a word that needs to be attended to in the manner that we brush our teeth each morning. It means we have to value the word as a precious possession for which others look at us with respect and admiration. And it does not matter how old we are when we possess this little creature: we can be as fresh as 23 years old or as veteran as 60. That is the value of the word power. All around us are people who help us nurture the little creature with care and diligence. We become unkind to the little animal and away it goes, snarling and gnashing its teeth at anything in its path.

Now storyboard chose to talk about this word power here considering the way his younger colleagues at a certain organizational meeting recently decided to throw him overboard as a member of the board of directors, so-called. One even went as far as asking when storyboard was dying so that he would take over as the board’s chair of consultants and advisors. Storyboard rather than feel insulted thought it was his duty to remind the youngster that his question could be considered invalid as the meeting had barely begun. At this point the young man realized his mistake and had to put up with the stares that surrounded him for the rest of that afternoon’s session. As the meeting progressed, and at the back of his mind, storyboard could merely recall the words of Simon and Grafunkel’s Elcondor Pasa which ran “I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet...”

Thenceforth storyboard reminded his young entourage of advisors and educators where they were all coming from. Our country is in a bad way, we can see that. But it is not for us to panic, go for the emergency buttons, and that sort of thing. I think we have retained our position of respectability and credibility for so much in so many years. There is no need as yet to start revolutionizing ourselves here and there. Moreover, there is no need to bring the impeding woes of a bad parliamentary session at Waigani upon ourselves – least of all to places like ours here. We have a targeted audience given to us by our duty statements to cater for, and that is the generation that we are now teaching to become leaders tomorrow. That generation, and its parents of generations before it and those to come, knows who we are, what we are and where we are coming from. We don’t want even to change their minds about us and our conduct, do we now? That much duty we have; that much power we have.

At this point, the youngest of the younger colleagues present in that meeting, asked politely if everyone was aware of the word power and the sort of linguistic violence it would carry with it in given situations. In response to which, a senior colleague pointed out that teachers of languages, in particular teachers of English, should be wary of certain implications imminent in their choice of vocabulary – even in the least of susceptible remarks uttered or written about themselves and others.

This article is written especially for those young UPNG graduates anxious to wield power and influence wherever they go. It serves as a reminder that a UPNG degree certificate is a conferral of power upon and unto itself. It becomes a privilege, an expression of social status. It must not, therefore, be mistaken as a weapon to do what we all enjoy doing, and that is asking our next door neighbor to bow before us each morning we wake up to stretch and yawn. Power is a wonderful gift. Only a bad gesture and miscalculated use of language corrupts it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How to write the best short story

Photo showing Makawana, the setting of Maiba.
The best short story you read, once in your lifetime, is not the one written by Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver. Rather, it is the one you yourself have written without telling your potential reader what that story might be about.

In the beginning, this is how your short story begins to take shape. An idea hits you. You feel excited about it. You become restless. And when you finally pick up the pen to start writing that idea down you notice you are trembling. So you drop the pen and stare into space for a long time. And still you have not written a word.

When you feel completely overwhelmed by such an emotion (for creative writing is indeed an act of expressing emotions) you can be sure that you are actually in the process of writing the best there is in short fiction – even though, again, you have not yet written a word down.

Your best shot at the short story, therefore, and as Raymond Carver would have it, is the result of watching fish roe swim in the milt of the human brain, before it gets written down. And just what does that mean? It means you spend the initial stages of that act of writing in just thinking: thinking, thinking and thinking. This will take days, weeks – even months. But when the actual writing begins – there you go. You need only transfer all that imaginative brilliance from the mind onto paper.

Those several days, even weeks and months of pondering, wondering, and wandering, without writing anything down on paper, is crucial in the process of creating your short story. In your mind, this is what is happening: you are visualizing your subject matter; setting the mood of the subject matter; and placing that subject matter in its proper place of what is considered as “subjectivity”, of which more later. This is important: you must never let your subject matter stray from where you want it to be. You are the author: you must be in full control of your subject matter.

What follows thenceforth is having all that translated and transmitted into the mind of your reader.

Do you want your reader to laugh, to cry or get angry and come after you? The choice is yours. But even that choice has to be controlled.

After having placed your subject matter where you want it to be you can then start worrying about the shape of the short story itself. Here, you are looking at the technicalities of story-telling.

The first thing you must be mindful of is time and space. Your story should run for 800 words or within your sponsor’s budget. In those 800 words you must be selective with the following: a brief description of scenery; the number of characters involved; choice of words in scenes, character description and dialogue; and the significance of “beacons” as markers in narrative. By “beacons” as markers in narrative, we mean simply that the first sentence of your story must be as catchy and memorable as your last, and these become key proponents or pointers. Without these pointers it is quite likely your story will turn out bland.

Finally, and as far as technicalities go, your story must carry with it an important moral lesson. What great moral lesson do you feel you have to teach the world – without, mind you, meaning to.

All that said, we get back to this funny word, subjectivity. Being subjective in story-telling means that although the story you write is based on your own thoughts and opinions, including your own personal experiences, you do not pass judgment on it. Yes, sir, this is one trapping that many writers, even the best of them, fall into. That means, precisely, refraining from overtly didactic and explanatory art. You quit blubbering about how tragic your story is, how many have ended up in hospital and all that. Let your reader do the judging. From your reader’s point of view you can then be able to tell whether your story is good or bad, resourceful or wanting. Your best judge is not the one who says, “This is good,” but the one who says, “You almost got it right this time.”

That brings us to the point of greatness in creative literature: when is your story good or bad? For lessons on this, refer to our other article, “Sensing greatness in creativity.” 
Tubuga Bay, as in the novel Maiba.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kulele: the pulse and beat of tourism

We often take it for granted that traditional music, particularly those that fall into the category of ancient poetry and opera, are those favourite past times relished only by the old and elderly – something to keep them occupied while the young go about attending to the chores of gardening, fishing and hunting.

But if we look carefully at the structure of virtually all the civilized cultures of the world including our own, we will notice that ancient poetry and opera form the very backbone of the fabrics that make up human society or community. These little ingredients enable a human society or community to exist, to be recognized and identified as a culture. They become the thing that distinguishes one communal set up from another.

Yet we tend to ignore them.

For over four decades, the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies has been doing otherwise. Through the hard work of research and careful record preservation by men such as Don Niles, we begin to value and appreciate how much traditional music means to us. Mr. Niles went about his work collecting as many traditional musical items as he could, including collections of transcriptions done by researchers in languages such as German and various others. There have been and still are today numerous dissertations written on this subject alone.

And still, we Papua New Guineans, proud as we always take ourselves to be, sit back and snigger, “Traditional music? Sene anedia? What relevance does that have to us?” Boy oh boy, have we missed so much in our very lifetime!

The preservation of such musical material has been done by IPNGS not only through tape recorders, DVDs and CDs and similar digital apparatus but also through that remarkable publication called Kulele, a journal consisting of occasional papers on musical ethnography and ethnomusicology, not excepting various dance formats and theatre set ups. Contributors to this journal consist of a crowd that is international as much as local in flavour, all of which deals with the traditional music of Papua New Guinea and the rest of the Pacific. Each contribution is highly valuable as it delves deep into the structure and composition of an item, and in most instances contains records of special notations in music quite apart from the Western ones. That is, like asking not how do we copy and read the 5th sonata in the Western sense but rather what would be the character equivalents if we were to record or jot down our music using our own systems of symbols. This may sound a little difficult to grasp, but if we read each volume of Kulele, we will realize how significant all this exercise can be. In his preface and introduction to this publication, Don Niles discusses at length examples of such “substitute musical systems” provided by the researchers Hugo Zemp and Christian Kaufmann from out of their work on the Kwoma people of the East Sepik Province.

An encouraging thing to note about this publication is its enthusiasm in maintaining its own sense of survival and continuity. Good old IPNGS! As with any other cultural department or institution funds are those rare luxuries to come by. We ask and ask, and after two or three decades someone cares to listen. Subsequently, Kulele itself has had its share of soliciting funds year after year without much success, and it is only recently that IPNGS managed to eke out just enough to come out with a 4th issue in 40 or so years! Each volume so far took about ten years to produce. That is sad.
But at the book launch celebrating the survival of Kulele on Wednesday 17th November, things began to look a little brighter. That 4th volume was officially launched by Marianna Ellingson, Director-General of the Office of Tourism, Arts and Culture. She was able to promise IPNGS that her organization, aside from existing as a policy-making body or part of that network, would ensure that publications like Kulele were supported. She went on to stress that culture and all its ingredients such as musical ethnography and ethnomusicology, including myths and legends, dances and traditional operas, and literature (!), formed the back bone of those things we have and which provide a potentially viable tourist market. Publications such as Kulele become the pulse and beat of tourism in our country.

Ms Ellingson’s remark implies that we are not quite exempt from vigorous competition observed at global level regrading tourism. But ours, she pointed out, could boast of a certain advantage other countries do not readily have, and that is diversity. This idea of diversity then draws the potential tourist crowd which would want to, for example, and at one time or another, know what Kulele itself is all about.

Kulele? The name sounds like ukulele. But listen. Listen to how Don Niles explains it. Kulele is that very handsome dancer who appears at night and dances so well the maidens become speechless with admiration. Soon, a little before day break, one decides to follow Kulele and there she sees how the young man puts his dancing gear away and dons his old Sipoma skin to return to the village. The secret is thus discovered, she marries the young man, but not before learning that her Kulele is none other than Sipoma, the kid next door.

Contents of Kulele 4

Don Niles, as editor, sums up each contributor’s concerns as follows:

Bruce Hooley and Vida Chenoweth of Summer Institute of Linguistics consider various aspects of Buang music. Naomi Faik-Simet (IPNGS) discusses a traditional Gulf mask dance and weather cultural festivals do maintain such forms. Nigel Champion (University of Auckland, New Zealand) explores some of the inequities that remain in the Pacific despite the revolution in digital technologies. Champion was involved in training the institute’s (IPNGS) music technician, Balthazar Moriguba in 2008 so it also appropriate that Moriguba discusses his work in audio visual digitisation and its relation to the preservation of Papua New Guinea’s rich heritage in sound. Hugo Zemp and Christian Kaufmann present a detailed consideration of garamut signals in the Kwoma area of the East Sepik. Edward Gende (IPNGS) discusses how messages are sent in an area that lacks garamuts, in this case using the owa call language used by Kuman speakers in Chimbu. Neil Coulter (SIL) concludes the volume by reviewing two books on music in Papua New Guinea.

Visit the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies today, at Angau Drive, Boroko. See for yourself the enormous amount of cultural wealth that our country has and which is preserved faithfully by this little place. Otherwise, email:
Photos, top, from left: Edward Genede, Naomi Faik-Simet, Marianna Ellingson and Don Niles.
Mid-page, title of publication.
Bottom, Don Niles and Marianna Ellingson at the book launch with women dancers from the Paia Kange Cultural Group of Mt Hagen.

All photos courtesy of Ketsin Robert, Office of Tourism, Arts and Culture.                                                  

Friday, November 12, 2010

They are assets, not liablities

Where the ocean meets the sky... Rod Stewart

Our children are assets, not liabilities.

The moment they know the way that leads them to their destiny.

That is what Rylene Potuku Gubag believed in and made sure of during the last 27 years of her life as a secretary of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at UPNG. During those years she had watched thousands of young Papua New Guineans enrol, strive through their courses and graduate at the Waigani campus. To her, all this traffic of young generations, year after year, became a thrilling experience and this she shared with her colleagues, her husband and children.

As her husband, Kevin, explained as part of the family’s eulogy at the funeral service on Tuesday: “To Rylene, life was made up of enrolment forms, school fee receipts, exams, GPAs and university degrees, plus going out to the world to get jobs.”

The very life that Rylene led deserves more than commendation, more than praise and words of gratitude. It is a story about commitment to work, seeing things through despite difficulties. Even on crutches she took time out to catch buses to Able Computing, Daltron or Theodist to get quotations for staff and various stationary items for the school. She did not depend on the University’s transport system to do all that. Whenever a typing needed to be done before deadlines, she looked as if she were taking her time about it, but comes 4.06pm and she’s knocking on your door to deliver the finished work. Even in great pain from the effects of her diabetes a smile never left her face when she delivered a lecturer’s finished work while supporting herself on crutches.

Her colleagues, mainly those at the main office of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences referred to her as Ray, Mama Ray or “Sugar Babe”. She was inspirational, according Ali Vele. She had a passion for hard work and was a lovable person. But above all she lived and worked for her children. They were her assets.

She was very professional in her approach to work, Ali Vele maintains as a fellow typist and secretary. And she was very Manus in how she tackled each job. If things got into a snag she eased a tensed situation through a joke and everyone was back to work, smiling or laughing.

Ali Vele continued at Tuesday’s funeral service, in the presence of university administrative and academic staff: “an unforgettable thing about Rylene was her motherly and loving nature. She loved bringing cooked food from her house to share with everyone. Her favourite was boiled bananas (with skin) and tinned fish or meat. She made sure all had a share of that food. Rose, Hipak, Idau, Jenny, Natalie, Fa’afo Pat and I never missed out on what she brought. She treated us more like her younger sisters and children than colleagues.

“Besides, her concern was for all to share. Not only with us but also with those she considered as important – our cleaners. Nipo, our cleaner, was always invited. Eh lusim sampela bilo Nipo or Tokim Nipo kam yumi kaikai wantaem. She indeed had a big heart that extended out from her favourite corner where the photocopy machine is and further out to the lecturers’ rooms in the other buildings. She invited all – whoever happened to be around where we were at lunch time.

“Her straightforwardness and serious attitude to work was something we admired. This speaks volumes. When things were not done in time as expected, she would openly and bluntly tell us what we needed to know. Many times we would not agree with her approach but come the given time when the work would be delivered and it was done... You all have witnessed her on crutches limping to and fro, trying as much as possible, to perform her duties as expected. This is when I stopped and reflected on her life and learnt that she had commitment and love for her work and her children. She really loved her children so much she would not let her disability prevent her from seeing her children become successful and excel in life. Even without transport she staggered to work every day hiring a taxi to work and back or sometimes hitch a ride with Sophie Naime. Sophie will appreciate this. Who would do that just to make ends meet satisfactorily? Rylene taught us this commitment and perseverance. We live here at the UPNG and are not disabled and are able to work every day but Rylene showed us – real commitment even without a vehicle and without strong legs to continue on with life.

“She also had a love for spiritual discussion especially during times when she was down. She had asked me for prayer support and a Bible. I shared with her on several occasions and gave her a Bible which I believe she cherished and depended upon during hard times...

“Her last words to me kept echoing in my ears as I wrote this tribute. As I read her last words to you all I feel a thorn in my throat and heart. I commented that she should go on leave (on medical grounds) and take a break from work until she felt a lot better and could adjust her life again from family and work commitments. Her last and honest response to me humbled my pride and brought me a new perspective I was blind to see. ‘Sugar Babe, I should have gone on leave a long time ago, but see, I have children who still need my support and I want to give them the best even when I am on crutches.’”

Those words from Ali Vele.

Rylene Potuku Gubag originally came from Mbuke Island, the titan south west area, about 3 hours by dinghy from Lorengau town, of the Manus Province. She passed away last Friday and is survived by husband Kevin and five children, one of whom will be graduating with flying colours in Environmental Science at UPNG next year.

Rylene’s body was scheduled to be taken home by a family member and the paramount chief of her tribe and clan, Luke Polangou, this morning (Friday 12th November 2010). She was a fine woman. Whether academics, members of the administrative staff or renowned professors and lecturers, she taught us three great things with her life:

                             Believing in ourselves
                             And knowing that God cares

The School of Humanities and Social Sciences now joins Ali Vele in saying thank you to Rylene in the manner of John 10:27-28 and with these words: aioni, bamahuta, emau, raramani-ekila. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The ever desolate yet vibrant Waigani Campus

 If W.B. Yeats ever visited the Waigani Campus he would most certainly exclaim, “That is no country for old men.” And he would probably continue musing:

… The young
in one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - ….
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

The campus is indeed as desolate as Yeats describes that homage to Byzantium. It must be, at this time of the year. The exams have come and gone. And there are no more students left, apparently, to be seen around.

But its sudden moment of rousing awakening into the bustle and humdrum of academia is equally captivating. Things just happen as suddenly as they vanish. Posters with promises of easier access to education and protection for children, women and youth abound. There is sign of life after all. Who’s suddenly here, one asks in wonder. “The UN workers along with their PNG co-workers.” The whole place becomes abuzz with movement, with speeches being made, traditional dances being performed, and oh, yes, over in one corner, perhaps the Main Lecture Theatre, there is seen and heard the Governor of NCD and his colleague, Lady Carol Kidu. And then, of course, in the midst of packing up to leave for its respective destinations throughout the country the student population renders its support through the PA system with the announcement, “This is your last chance to know what the millennium development goals are for your village. Come and gather as much information as you can before you leave.”

In that short period of time a child from next door Waigani Primary school gathers sufficient information on literacy to enhance better performance in classes next year. Another from Pom Nats gets all that is rich and tantalizing just so as to become a member of this campus within a year or two. And yet another, looking somewhat groomed and dignified in posture, because this is the alma mater most talked about, knows that bringing an employer to the Waigani Campus at this time of the year is, as always, the appropriate thing to do.

Amid all that buzz and excitement is felt the poetic desolation of the place once all over again. Even in the speeches made by dignitaries visiting the campus at this time, there is a call for improvement in virtually all the areas that the academia might have neglected over the year. But that burnt out feeling of having so much left undone during the year becomes as much a concern for the campus community as the nation itself. Papua New Guineans must now begin checking their attitude department, not just their intellectual posture is what the Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences is saying. She could be right. The buildings all around look as sad as ever, each wanting a reasonable looking “face lift”, and this desolate look of abandon becomes a kind of punctuation mark to that remark. But who is there who cares enough to attend to the needs of even the most rundown building on campus. Each building cries out for help.

Of course, when all this is over, and when the student population has left the campus, there will be a few contractors called in to do bits and pieces here and there. But whether our very attitude to what each building represents changes at all depends on what we have to treasure as good in terms of maintenance. The painter plays an important role in this. If a campus looks good then all that splendour in appearance is in turn attributed to the type of dedicated work the painter has done. Most classrooms have white boards that when written on refuse to be wiped clean. Is it the white board marker or the surface of the white board itself? Still the ink does not rub off, and you are using the correct marker, mind you, because our painter forgot to apply the necessary gloss over it. The urge to rush up to the accounts and collect that pay cheque before each Christmas and New Year break comes rather too quickly for our painter to look over the shoulders at the work done. Poor, old Waigani campus! Even the poet feels like guffawing instead of weeping.
And then it all happens. The forum area – once the arena of great oratories of those colonial and neo-colonial times past gone – bursts into life. A crowd gathers: there is much cheering and clapping, much hushed up awe in admiration, as a lone dancer moves in to do a solo with the tamure.

In a moment she becomes one with her art and the crowd that surrounds her.

O sages standing in God's holy fire…
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Little wonder therefore that that place is described, often with authority, as the premier University of the Pacific Region.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Here's the brief review of Maiba

 Maiba by Russell Soaba
Maiba: A Novel of Papua New Guinea* is, you won’t be surprised to hear, my book from PNG for the Read The World challenge. I ordered it second-hand and was surprised to find when it came that it was a print-on-demand edition (I’m sure it’s a second-hand copy rather than one printed for me, btw). Of course POD services — or indeed e-books — are perfect for this kind of niche literature. Because of the challenge, I’ve been browsing around for second-hand copies of obscure books from around the world, and they don’t normally come cheap.
The print quality, for the moment, is noticeably weaker; my Maiba is perfectly adequate but a bit cheaper-looking and more generic than a normal mass-market paperback. But if POD helps keep books available at reasonable prices, then a slight compromise on print quality seems a good trade-off.
I imagine that most of the people ordering copies of Maiba are teaching or studying post-colonial literature, and it does fit fairly neatly into that niche. If I had to identify a central theme I’d say it was about the conflict between traditional Papuan culture and modernity — or change, anyway. The agents of change aren’t actually particularly strongly present in the book; the action takes place in a somewhat remote coastal village where the lifestyle is still fairly traditional (as far as I can judge from my complete lack of knowledge), but the relevance and authority of that tradition is oozing away.
I imagine that tradition vs. change is going to be a frequently recurring theme in the course of this challenge; but then I suppose rapid societal change has been the experience of most of the world’s population for the past century or so. Perhaps it’s just more obvious to me when I’m reading a novel set in PNG than one set in Surrey.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure what to make of it, as a novel. It’s short — only 115 pages — and rather open-ended. But it is well-suited to literary tourism; it has plenty of local detail about landscape, food, local buildings, bits of folklore and custom. And it’s well written. Perhaps my only real problem with it is that I’m not a big fan of short forms of fiction.

* Or at least that’s the title on the cover; inside it’s called Maiba: A Papuan Novel.


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