Friday, July 15, 2011

Election Fever – A Rower’s Song revisited

“Elections in Paradise
Beer, rice and tinpis
The vote enticer”

Steven Winduo summarises election fever in Papua New Guinea in that one stanza. The stanza gives me a flashback to the last General Election, where in my village, maverick campaign managers came around with packets of rice and sugar to buy votes. The image of one such maverick manager comes to my mind so clearly. He was one of those villagers who disappeared from village-life years on end and spawned around at times when you only began to miss them. This campaign manager gave my mother packets of rice and sugar. I remember him now all these years later because he had such a skill justifying his bribery.

He said the goods were not bribes; rather they were gifts and even before Mother could say something he added that rejection of these “gifts” would adversely affect what I’ll now term as social and cultural efficacy. His reason was that every other household in our clan of houses had accepted the “gifts” and for my mother not to do so would cause scandal and possibly conflict. He spoke of the latter so tactfully it was impressive rather than apprehensive. The proposition as a whole was clever. My mother at the end accepted the gifts, and indeed we all saw them as gifts rather than bribes.
The poem Elections in Paradise is taken from A Rower’s Song, which is Dr. Winduo’s third book of poems. It is just 1 of 104 poems in the book which were written between 2000 and 2009 and capture the essence of this period in Papua New Guinea’s history. It was a period of deconstructing hopelessness that had become so structural in nature, and in our endeavours to do so our country entered “once more into the breach”, as Shakespeare would’ve put it.

The book carries in its poems stories of life in Port Moresby. Stories of settlements and villages like the one I lived in last election, of city suburbs and betel nut markets, and of those who long for the light, ideologically even literally (yes, city blackouts).

The characters in the poems are the characters of Port Moresby. These are Betel nut vendors, second-hand clothing merchants, charismatic street preachers, vulgar-tongued drunkards, church-going mothers and hangover fathers and little street seller kids.

The poems have that essence of contemporary Papua New Guinean society that everyday Papua New Guineans, especially those of us in Port Moresby live in. The cacophony and the stillness of these poems are moving because they are distinctly Papua New Guinean and Melanesian. Few pieces of Western literature come close to capturing this essence. Sir V.S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street is one novel I know that does.

Succession and destiny is one of the over-arching themes you’ll find in A Rower’s Song. In Little Star, a father wonders if his son could be the next leader. In Beggar, a tale of Papua New Guinean election culture is told. In One Nation, familiar laments of everyday Papua New Guinean are echoed. One particularly moving line in One Nation goes,

“Stand up for your future
The ones your children and mine
Will Judge
In their own time”

Next year is election year in Papua New Guinea. The Storyboard revisits A Rower’s Song by Dr. Steven Winduo and reminds everyone that whatever happens to this country, we can be sure of two things; firstly, we will only have ourselves to blame as voters of Public Office and secondly,
Papua New Guinea’s literary artists will document the moods, the emotions and the stories of the times in their work.

To that effect, we can say there arises a third certainty; that whenever such work is published, we at the Storyboard will discuss and dissect it for you.

Whatever happens and whoever you vote in Election year 2012, let us remember the last stanza of Elections in Paradise:

“Election is on everyone’s lips
As if politicians are the only ones
Who build a country?”
By Nou Vada
The writer is a keen follower/guest writer of the storyboard and is a second year Law major at the University of Papua New Guinea.