Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Collaborative research in literary partnerships

They will never stop writing. From left, Storyboard, Nora Vagi Brash and Peter Trist.

We have now come upon the month of September and as we all know this is, aside from the usual preparations for independence celebrations and the Hiri Moale Festival within the National Capital District, our book hunting season. The production of both new and old titles abound.
Through the University bookshop you have been given titles and also those of the Institute of Business Studies’ publications program. That denotes that the latter part of the month of August saw a good number of books in circulation, among them re-prints of Allan Natachee’s Aia poems of the Papua Pocket Poets fame and, of course, Michael Somare’s autobiography, Sana. Everything else you wanted to know about books has been covered.

What we need to do right now is actually go out and find these books so that we can buy them to create our own libraries at home; we can send some away as gifts to those who need them; and, further, establish a reading culture of our own. This last point is important. So let us do that during this month so that in the years to come September will be regarded as our book hunting season. Someone, like those at the national events council, if it is still in existence, should take particular note of this.

While on the subject of observing September as our book hunting season, there is something else that we need to be aware of. And that is the amount of time spent on writing these books, which people do the job of research and write-ups of these books, and for what purpose. It means going backstage to find out more. Of course, there are many people involved in this. But there are certain people within this crowd that need to be observed closely in order for us to answer the simple questions: “Writing? What is it all about? And to what end?”

Papua New Guinea has established itself as certainly the most unique country in the world through its literature. It has become the envy of other nations through the very management of its own experiences of imperial subjugation and colonialism, its bid for political independence and its aspirations towards the goal of developing its own literature. But such achievements did not come about without the input seen from both sides of the coin. In every successful piece of literature read today there is the presence of both entities at work, meaning the coloniser and the colonized. Neither one can do without the other. The empire does not merely write back, nor does the colonized whimper itself to total oblivion.

Occasionally you hear of words and phrases such as “Wanpis”, “Which Way, Big Man?”, “Double Consciousness without the power to liberate,” “A dichotomy of themes in literary research”, “Contemporaneous judgment in literary consciousness” and so on. What do they mean?

In an attempt to answer this question, among others, we look at the thematic aspects of PNG Literature and how those evolved over the years. Again there are many themes to consider, but this one of storyboard’s choice needs careful study. It begins with the word “Wanpis”. When this word was first read in print in 1977, Nora Vagi Brash was the first to respond to it through her play “Which Way, Big Man?” Others followed suit by way of reviews, treatises and dissertations which in turn earned them higher degrees at various universities throughout the world. What was actually happening then was that these different groups of people were responding to a certain forum set up by the novel Wanpis. They became involved, as it were, and that sentiment of involvement got everyone participating in one way or another.

Now Wanpis is not quite a “good” novel in the true sense of the word “good.” But it got everyone worked up, so to speak. (And it even does today considering the persistent call from various university conference rooms and conventions for its reprint or re-publication.) It got everyone wearing masks or not wearing them, everyone getting painted up or simply walking into the arena to join the dance, everyone writing and reading poems or directing and performing plays, and even spitting and swearing at each other. But that is what the novel set out to do.

Thematically speaking, that would be typical of its author and his uncanny craftsmanship as a writer. He did not want to think alone as the colonized but that the colonizer too should find some sentiment of involvement in all this. Here, names such as Krauth, Stow, Kolia, Trist, Boden, Nora Vagi Brash, Steven Winduo and Trevor Shearston come to mind, as people who look at the phenomenon of post-colonial literature not so much as those isolated subject matter that need critiquing as something more than that.  If it meant opting for dichotomy in literary research, then this was it.

Thus, when you see a tourist paint one side of his face with dance decorations and leave the other that reveals his true identity and nationality – that is the influence of “Wanpis” at work. The moral of which is quite simple: no matter how much you claim ownership of your own identity you are still part and parcel of someone and something else.

And so, to come straight to the point of this article, a Papua New Guinean writer today is not quite the product of his/her own society but rather a conglomerate of both his/her society and colonial past. The same can be said of the Australian writer. In fact, much of Australian writing today tends to look towards Europe or America for economic salvation only to discover its own sense of isolation. But we do have our own group of Australian writers coming back and will continue to do so – a bosoming gesture that we should say hats off to. It has been discovered at the Waigani seminar recently that indeed there is a new crop of Australian writers emerging consisting of those who were born in Papua New Guinea. Aside from that, a well respected Australian author has recently asked storyboard if both would collaborate in writing a novel. A grand idea. But this, in essence, is precisely what storyboard is getting at when he talks about partnerships in literary research and creativity. We must take that up. It is honourable that we do

Monday, August 16, 2010

The ethics of business and research

So what are the good sides of every LNG project and its endeavour to see equal revenue distribution to the landowners? And what are the bad sides to all that? What is it about tourism in PNG that enables it to thrive one moment as an industry and then loses it value the next? And what are the shortcomings of a good HIV/AIDS program in a predominantly busy industrial environment?

These are some of the many ethical questions IBS (Institute of Business Studies) proposes to answer through its new publication, the IBS Journal of Business and Research.

Launched last week at the IBS campus, 6-Mile, the journal runs for 67 pages and is selling at PNGK80, US$80 and AUD$80 (airmail postage included).

There are five main stories represented in this publication, namely Ray Anere’s Governance Issues Relating to Liquefied Natural Gas Project, Joyce Rayel’s Development of Human Capital in Papua New Guinea: A cornerstone for successful tourism and hospitality industry, Ravinda Rena’s Information & Communication Technology Education in Papua New Guinea: Development challenges, Lekshmi Narayana Pillai’s Contemporary Leadership Strategies to Manage Financial Crisis and Sakaya Enopa Botu’s Contemporary Issues in Business: Impact of Culture and HIV/AIDS on employee motivation – a Papua New Guinea perspective.

These five papers invite serious observation from the reader on certain issues affecting both business and developmental strategies in the country. Be those observations ethical in nature or simply based on discerning certain complexities that are found in every MOA signed, every ambitious project launched or every new policy introduced – these call for serious scrutiny and critiquing.

Ray Anere’s essay on governance issues relating to the current LNG project is one such example. How far has the government gone in answering the needs of each landowner faction throughout the country? What are the percentages involved in every MOA agreement signed and do such percentage promises meet the developmental needs of the rural regions containing these landowner populations? On this point the author suggests that policy makers do not turn a blind eye on the arguments of men such as Hon. Mr. Anderson Agiru, or those of the landowner factions from the Gulf and generally the Southern region of the Highlands. An oversight on arguments and proposals such as this, suggests the author, may lead to certain spill over effects that may prove as inevitable as those recently experienced within the Central Province.

Joyce Rayel’s essay on tourism and hospitality industry needs careful study. Questions relating to how Papua New Guinea copes with current projects in place for this industry need re-visiting. More emphasis, argues the writer, needs to be placed on manpower training and development, particularly in the rural settings in order to allow the industry not only to survive but to also successfully meet the challenges of a rapidly growing international market. With an approximate figure of 100,000 or so visitors per year (quite possibly more by this time), that is quite a rich figure to look at. But we must have the necessary and adequately trained manpower in place to meet such a growing demand in the industry. It means simply setting up the right sort of training institutions throughout the country with sufficient amount of well-funded resources to make the whole enterprise workable at all. Papua New Guinea is without doubt a member of the global community and subsequently must live up to that demand.

Being a member of the global community implies also that we improve on our educational programs surrounding advanced technological set ups, particularly in the area of communication. This becomes the next topic of discussion in this IBS publication, as offered by Ravinda Rena. A sufficient educational coverage in this area, argues the author, should give way to information technology systems that increase power and confidence to the skilled work force of the country. It is true much of the country lacks this mode of educational expertise, and it is all the more disheartening if the rural sector in particular is denied access to such educational privileges. But, concludes the author, this aspect of our nation’s development, if properly looked at by the necessary policy makers and if these policies are properly implemented and executed they can in turn give way to a stimulating economic growth that should help alleviate the nation’s impeding poverty.

An article in a September issue of the National Weekender last year by this author (“September is a book hunting season”) ran along the lines that places like IBS would be fitting places where a potential businessmen, rather than devoting much time to dreams about becoming a prophet of Wall Street one day, should sit down and share a thought or two on the workings of global economics and how this might be understood in a PNG business environment. As if in response to that remark this next article by Lekshmi Narayana Pillai reflects on that. It is all about practical modes of managing financial crisis in a PNG business locale. There must be tight control on cash, advises the author, “increase frequency of overall control,” including increasing the same amount of communication with employees in order to maintain their confidence. The article is in two parts: the crisis we hear about at global level, what causes it, it mishaps and remedies; and, of course, in the second part, the author’s suggestions on leadership priorities which should help manage “toxic assets during the hours of economic crisis and uncertainty.”

The last article by Sokaya Enopa Botu looks at possibilities of every employer providing educational and awareness programs on HIV/AIDS for its employees. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that such facilities exist to help curb the spread of the epidemic. Present industrial set ups seem to lack these and that is a discouraging sign. 

Finally, as the tone of the last article suggests, a research publication is a publication indeed. But what is that publication if at the same time it fails to ask some of the crucial ethical questions that surround us today, in our country. Setting up a financial organization or running a business school is fine. But we would prefer to see some of the most important ethical questions that affect us deeply go along with all that. Looking at the world from that perspective IBS as an institution of higher learning in our country has served us well today.
                           Photos courtesy of IBS Corporate

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Literacy projects and rural politics

A gathering of clergy and participants of the Anuki Literacy Project at the launching of their work at Woruka village, in the Cape Vogel area of the Milne Bay province. Photo by Tuula Kaija of the VITAL office, Alotau.
On 27th December, 1995, at Bogaboga village, a little boy of about 12 years old kept stalking storyboard, waiting for an opportunity to speak to him.

It was St John’s Day and the village was abuzz with celebrations in honour of the patron saint, starting off with an early morning Mass, followed by a wedding, and later some sports and associated cultural activities that culminated in the observation of a large feast to which came the four main compounds of Bogaboga, namely, Kibirisi, Yarogu, Garogaro and Kopara.

For the whole day the boy had no luck, as storyboard was always in the company of the elders of the Yarogu compound who were also hosts to his family.

It was not that storyboard was rich or famous to make that number of people want to talk to him. It was rather the people’s desire to know more about all that was happening in our country, by way of development, new trends in government policy that affected the rural populations in one way or another, and so on.

Of course, storyboard never had sufficient answers to give to all that was asked of him. What mattered there and then was that the people were genuinely interested in knowing more about what goes on at Waigani and the world at large. Above all, the fact that places such as Bogaboga remain even today as isolated as any of the neighbouring villages of that region of the Milne Bay province, becomes a kind of concern for everyone.

How can we, whether outsiders or natives of such remote areas ever succeed in bringing development to this corner of our country? And where is there an MP, whether from that area or from the resource rich regions of the Highlands and the New Guinea mainland as much as the Islands, ever able to part with just one morsel from the “nation’s dinner table” for the people of Bogaboga and the surrounding villages?

But they, the villagers, seem to know more about our activities in Port Moresby than we them. It was on this day, for example, that storyboard heard a funny story about a certain “politician” called John Kaniku who, having exhausted himself after a long walk of campaigning along the beach lay on the nearest veranda of Yarogu and asked: “Does anyone here know a man called Russell Soaba?”

In response to this, the women preparing tea for him, chorused: “Why, you are sleeping on his veranda. This is his wife’s village.”

That is to say that politics observed at rural level would only be beginning to seep in then. People became familiar about names that were heard over the radio and which they had scantily read about in the newspapers, but it would have been all the more better if these so-called famous names occasioned to drop by at such places like Kaniku at one time or another. Then the villagers would ask as many questions as they would quite to their hearts’ content.

Aside from such questionings there was often felt all around that such isolated places would be in dire need of information and there would be, apart from radio broadcasts, little chance of gaining these sufficiently. While other parts of the country became used to seeing development at large scale such as roads, transport systems, various projects in agriculture – these areas lacked them. Hence, the need there was to ask the storyboard so many questions and hope to be informed.

At least, as the day wore on that day, that seemed to have been the predominant sentiment directed at the storyboard – to which there were no pet answers made readily available. But they were all genuine questions that needed answers.

The next day, in order to avoid large crowds, storyboard woke up at 5am to go the toilets, built over the sea and away from the compounds. Afterwards and as he came down the platform to jump ashore, he was confronted by the twelve year-old previously stalking him. He was taken aback a little in the half-light of the morning, but upon close examination he realized the boy was from Pem, the same area storyboard comes from. The boy was in tattered garments which were secured by what looked like a strand of bush vines.

“How?” asked storyboard.

The boy moved forward and, as if to avoid anyone overhearing him, said: “When you go back to Port Moresby, can you ask my brothers to send me some clothes?”

“Of course,” said storyboard. “But come with me first.”

Back at the Yarogu compound storyboard gathered what he could of two of his boy’s clothing for they were about the same age and gave them to the boy. Then he forgot all about that encounter.

Fifteen years later, when storyboard went back for a book launch of the Anuki Literacy Project at Woruka (July 25, 2010), he came across the same boy, now a man and married with a couple of children. But it was not the same boy he met at Bogaboga. This one had changed so much and had quite a following in the village that storyboard could not help but become simply fascinated.

Perhaps it is well that things should turn out that way.

But what came to storyboard’s mind then was that no community project – literacy, translation, health or other – operates without some degree of influence from even those who are not directly involved in these projects. A certain degree of politics plays a part in these projects as well. So then, the type of questions storyboard was receiving now, in the year 2010, and away from Bogaboga of 1995, had a lot to do with what you have done for your area. What development have you brought? In time storyboard became no longer a simple writer witnessing a literacy project launching at home but rather a Parliamentarian from Waigani come to visit his electorate. And neither was he that man who once gave his children’s clothes away to someone who needed them most.

On Monday morning, July 26, when getting ready to leave Woruka, a cousin of our 1995 prodigy met at Bogaboga and perhaps with his prompting, told the storyboard: “Come; let me take your bag down to the dinghy. They are loading and we are set to travel.” Five hours later, when landing at Awaiama, and when the entire luggage was unloaded from the dinghy, storyboard’s bag was missing.                                              

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Bible in Anuki

Storyboard has recently been to a book launch at Woruka, in the Great Anuki Country of the Milne Bay Province. The event took place on Sunday July 25, from 9.30am to 2.05pm. Read all about it in the forthcoming Weekender of The National newspaper of Papua New Guinea; if you can't get The National Weekender online, go to The Anuki Country Press.