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