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.