Thursday, May 26, 2011

Poetry of elegance and continuity

Literary nuptials Melissa and Simon.
No parent in Papua New Guinea would be more proud of his or her children than a Mr. and Mrs. Aigilo and Mr. and Mrs. Sete, last Saturday (21/05/11). Indeed the Aigilos and the Setes had every reason in the world to feel so much elevated that day. Their children Melissa Aigilo and Simon Sete were blessed at the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony with Father John Mitarda presiding, at the Holy Spirit Seminary Diocesan Chapel of the Catholic Theological Institute at Bomana.

In that predominantly disciplinarian albeit military atmosphere poetry, we note, was allowed to dictate its stance of prowess, elegance and class. Even in their own closing remarks towards the end of the day neither Mr. Aigilo nor Mr. Sete realized how much eloquence they both possess when it comes to poetry.  But they said their piece for their children. Melissa and Simon both represent that atmosphere of elegance and class, even though they both said nothing throughout the proceedings of that wedding ceremony. And this remark their contemporaries, meaning those of their generation today who know them in one way or another, will agree with.
At this wedding ceremony the organizers, particularly the MC of the occasion, took every trouble to point out the who and who of the invited guests and the crowd present. A good number, senior in rank of both disciplinary forces, including a handful of VIPs representing the higher strata of our society, was present; and an informal mention of these would include the former Police Commissioner along with Mr. Jerry Singirok whose words of advice and wisdom on the newly-wed couple were those of encouragement for their future, Justice Kathy Davani and her family, notable personalities of various business houses around town, and a handful of academics, laymen and friends and relatives of the Aigilo and Sete families.
The blessing part of the ceremony, consisting of the wedding and Holy Communion, took place at Holy Spirit Chapel, upon a hill overlooking the rest of that part of Bomana renowned for its idyllic setting and rows and groves of eaglewood trees. That place becomes the type of atmosphere where poetry can be written, the sort of poetry betraying evidence of much rumination, pondering and deep thought.  Those students of literature and creative writing who are familiar with Melissa Aigilo’s writing will now know where all that poetry was coming from. But it is a sanctuary, a kind of retreat that virtually all Church denominations would want to go to for some quiet moments of prayer and fasting. And it became quite a fitting place for the Aigilo and Sete families to observe their children’s wedding, as both Melissa and Simon are, unlike their fathers perhaps, very quiet people.
After the wedding service the guests took a walk down from the Chapel, past seminary blocks and houses, including various chapels and retreats, but always through walkways lined with eagle wood and other prized trees, and down to an open field where the overall ceremony was observed. There were several tents erected, one for the MC’s personnel and equipment, another for the VIPs, and two more for catering services. It was a well-organized military type of service and ceremony and well that it should be, and so efficiently planned and executed a guest would simply say, “Yes, this is Peter Aigilo’s work.” A former UPNG classmate of Melissa’s, present at the occasion, remarked to storyboard: “You know, Mr Aigilo took half a day to plan all this; whereas with us non military people this could take months.” Several adjoining tables were placed for gifts and these were filled with wedding presents some of which were placed on the grass for want of space.
But food surpassed all, what with two large catering houses hired from town to take care of all that, including beverages of various choices and tastes. Guest queued up at their respective tents to be served and towards sunset the lines became longer as the shadows grew longer and still there was plenty to eat as well as take home. And by nightfall, when all this was drawing to a close, and when the mothers have enjoyed their dancing out in the field, there were seen bands of youth milling about in order to do the cleaning up sooner after the guests have left, so that by Sunday morning the entire open field would still look green and fresh and as clean as ever. Such are the remnants of what one usually means by the term elegance of poetry. Even a military setting has its own language of poetry, and those familiar with classical literary criticism will recall the name Horace.
Way to go, eh?
At this point the reader will probably guess what storyboard is getting at. And that is the amount of planning done by parents, either for their children’s education or observance of nuptials such as this one of Melissa’s and Simon’s. There is so much devotion put into this and the result is what the children themselves have to show to and for their parents. Sometimes things get toughened up, times get bad, but being Papua New Guineans, we do our best. As poetry is eternal so are our moments of striving towards those higher stations in life that spell grandeur, splendour and eloquence.
Here, storyboard would like to say a little about Melissa as a poet, and this the reader as a parent might find valuable. When Melissa enrolled as a literature student at UPNG in 2000 that was the time she and her generation of new intakes brought glamour, fashion and class to an otherwise dismal looking academic environment – particularly the literature class rooms. The years previously saw little excitement in this academic discipline and there were stories doing the rounds that anyone studying literature would be lucky to get a job after graduation. Our enrolments figures prior to 2000 read as two or three literature majors. But today all that has changed thanks to young people of Melissa’s calibre, with herself as the leader and role model. In each class we have figures soaring from ten and upwards to fifty, not to mention our compulsory Literature and Politics course which averages fifty students a year. Are there jobs for this lot out there? Yes, declares storyboard, there are jobs, and they are plenty. If the world out there lacks jobs create new ones for yourselves. Literature is about creativity, about life, about doing something positive in our lifetime.
Finally, congratulations and thanks to Simon and Melissa for a wonderful day last Saturday. And now a reminder to parents that applications for enrolment for continuing students in 2012 are open at UPNG. Start planning now. Don’t leave everything to the last minute so that you come bothering poor nakimi or cousin for late registrations until before you know it the poor nakimi or cousin could lose his/her job trying to help you.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tea at Alice Wedega's

What is it in an autobiography that makes us want to go back and revisit: certain settings, turn of events or simply family set-ups that we find fascinating?

Perhaps it is more of that family scenery than anything else. The Kikis, the Kilages, the Wedegas, the Kidus , the Mama Kumas and so on. Indeed the Papua New Guinea autobiography is quite often family-oriented, but more striking in that it enormously influences the political thought of the times it was written in.

Thus, Kiki’s is closely associated with PNG’s struggle towards political independence, Kilage’s with the first-contact experiences and missionary influences in the central Highlands, Kidu’s with the notion of cross-cultural ventures and sentiments, Wedega’s with the vision of the young learning the art of “listening” to the heart beat of their country and Mama Kuma’s with the necessity of embarking on tireless journeys back to one’s roots.

All these works, simple sounding though they may be, and no matter how much time they spend around family or bese circles, constitute Papua New Guinea’s very search for self-discovery.

“Papua New Guinea will never be a country without problems, but it could be known for the way we get over them,” declares Alice Wedega in her autobiography, Listen, My Country.

In fact, the first thing that comes to storyboard’s mind when he tries to “listen” to that work by Dame Alice Wedega is the smell and taste of hot buns and scones, even fresh bread, from a 44 gallon drum oven. In those times gone by, usually around the Korobosea area, it was nice to drop by at Alice’s for tea and hot buns for some. Life was never meant to be hard and complex. That would be so because Alice always made things easier in any given situation.

Last Saturday, storyboard went down to Vabukori for tea at Alice Wedega’s. Well, not quite the same sort of set-up that Alice’s many friends would remember around Korobosea. This tea gathering was special because one of Alice’s descendants had recently graduated in political science at UPNG and it was quite fitting for the bese to hold a feast in her honour. All the more fascinating was the sort of struggle this young graduand would go through during the course of her last four years of academia. These achievements Alice would certainly feel most proud of as she herself in her autobiography speaks with special care and attention to the need for young Milne Bay as much as Papua New Guinean women to strive for higher goals in their lifetime.
Emmar, right, cutting and distributing the cake with Mum assisting.
But for Emmar Daure, the descendant and graduand, life was not as easy as many of us can expect or imagine. For her going to school meant waking up before 5 am to prepare catching 3 or 4 different buses just to reach the school grounds which were usually at the other end of the city, including the University of Papua New Guinea. The routine alone of those hours spent on road travel would make many young people give up easily, what with so much pushing and shoving, screaming and shouting for room or space. But Emmar seemed to have managed that for various reasons, among them her size and the fact that she is Alice’s great grandniece. “You forget, Sir, that we Milne Bays are very small people. We can weave our way around through crowds,” she would explain to storyboard at times, but too modest to add that with a great grand aunt like Wedega at the back of your mind you should not even contemplate giving up.

Added to the woes of transport difficulties (sometimes the buses not turning up at all at Vabukori the students of Emmar’s generation would walk to Badili or Koki to catch buses there) there was the problem of soaring school fees at all levels of school throughout the country. For families who could afford to meet these costs that was fine. But a great majority we must realize simply struggle with these. So then, when on the day that Emmar’s mother would collect mail from the post office looking suspicious like it contained some good news from UPNG, the family had nothing in the kitchen for dinner. That did not matter. They all wanted Emmar to open the envelope and see what was inside. Sure enough, it was a letter of congratulations on her achievements in completing the BA program; plus a request for her presence at the graduation ceremony of 29th April 2011.

In essence, storyboard wanted to witness the spirit of perseverance in young people once relished by women leaders such as Alice Wedega. He went down to Vabukori to speak in praise of Emmar and be reminded once again that our pioneer greats certainly did not waste their time in writing those autobiographies. What they have achieved we shall continue to achieve.

Emmar’s big uncle and leader of the Keia Sere clan, Willie Moses, acknowledged the young woman’s academic achievement with wonderful words of prayers and blessing. Other guests spoke as well in praise of her at the feast. And Emmar herself, in expressing her gratitude, echoed the words of her Vice-Chancellor and those of Dame Carol Kidu of the necessity there is in young people of her generation and calibre to strive and achieve the best in order that the bese which they represent will feel proud of them. Nothing comes easy; but difficult situations are often overcome through perseverance.

The food at Emmar’s feast, or should we rather say, the tea at Alice Wedega’s was so profoundly delicious storyboard in spite of himself had to ask for a second helping. Shame on him; coupled, of course, with an additional request for a bahu wrapping for him to take home. Food prepared came from both sides of the graduand’s respective families. This is a wonderful family. So quiet yet highly dignified.

In fact, when we think of Alice Wedega and all her influences we are listening with her to the heart beat of our country. And all that starts at family level. Alice herself never married and never had children of her own. But everywhere she went she was surrounded by children eager to learn, eager to obey her stern rules and eager to feast at the end of the day. Among these are today men and women of renown and spread all over Papua New Guinea.