Friday, February 25, 2011

The Kaiwatara mines in folk literature

The Kaiwatara mines lie in the remote and higher altitudes of Cape Vogel called Kukuyaland, once a province or district of the Great Anuki Country, ruled by the Warakouta aristocrats of Ribua. Not only is the region remote and wild, but its terrain remains equally tyrannical for those who may dare to venture into its fringes and hinterland.
How a Queensland-based company managed to move the heavy American-made mining equipment from the coastal regions of Giwa (south coast of Cape Vogel) into that wild and dangerously precipitous terrain remains a mystery. But local folk literatures mention the use of horses and donkeys along with long lines of human labourers to move the heavy machinery which were as large and hardly transportable looking as those found at the abandoned Purari Delta mines, the Wau-Bulolo goldfields, the Woodlark Island mine sites and others throughout Papua New Guinea.
But of course with the Wau-Bulolo goldfields modern transport modes such as air planes had helped in transporting pieces of equipment such as dredges and then assembling these pieces upon arrival. With those at Kaiwatara mines none of these modes were available aside from sea transport so think of the amount of human and domestic animal labour expended in transporting such heavy equipment. All this happened during the 1920s.
The pipe end shown here goes almost a mile down.
The Kaiwatara mines are said to have been flourishing as they existed during the 1920s the economically boom period at the global level. Workers to the mines came from virtually all over the world local folk literatures report, but just as any other oil and gold mine in the country such an economic boom would come to a close as suddenly as it had started.
The impact that these mines had had on the social fabrics of local populations was enormous and as we all know at once positive and negative. A new era of borrowed Western type of trade began to take place among the local populations along with unceasing migration of people from other parts of the then British Papua. But again these would cease as suddenly as they had begun.
What then remains of these abandoned mines are the replicas of equipment left to rust away but at the same time serve as sources of inspiration for the mind that is creative. Thanks to the Kaiwatara mines and what remains of it today so many traditional songs, operas, orals histories and contemporary compositions such as poroga have be composed and are still sung today in as many as eight different languages of Cape Vogel. Among these compositions are the classic nipogana (traditional epics) Dobodobo, Menaga, Bonubonu and Kiara, storyboard’s favourites and as sung by the Anuki greats Doboro Tupotupo and Doboro John Bill – equivalents we could say of Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti, respectively, in the Western world.
The Kaiwatara mines have long been the source of inspiration for storyboard himself, having published a book of poems in 2000 in which this region of Cape Vogel is mention through a long elegy titled “Siapa.” The elegy is based on storyboard’s two years of education at the ages of 6 and 7 and under the care of his grandmother, Kwabura Sylvia Kawakoka. The region is also talked about in the last chapter of Bishop David Hand’s remarkable book, MODAWA: Papua New Guinea and Me 1946-2002. In that book Bishop David’s contemporary, Bishop Blake Kerina, merely talks about the winding up of the company from 1931 to 1934.
Sometime last year, storyboard found himself talking about the Kaiwatara mines with a colleague, Vincent Kewibu, of the archaeology section of the Anthropology & Sociology Department at the University of Papua New Guinea. Since both men are from Cape Vogel they often refer to the mine site as the “King Solomon’s Mines” of the whole of Cape Vogel Basin. Over the Christmas-New Year break, Vincent did visit the Kaiwatara site. The following is a brief report of his visit to the Kukuyaland:

“It takes about a day’s walk to Kaiwatara from Giwa and Didiwa. Kaiwatara is one of the early sites of oil and gas prospecting projects established in the late 1920s. By the early 1930s operations ceased.
A Queensland-based company held the licence to prospect for oil and gas at Kaiwatara. The remains of the pipes, machinery (rusting away) and well are still there. The machinery was supplied by the Buda Company of Illinois and Armstrong MFG Company of Waterloo, USA.
The well is located at the end of the grassland about 5 metres from the cliff-face (30-40m up from the water) of the Kuuru Creek. Kuuru Creek is a tributary of Kwipa River which joins the Awitapu River. Remains of materials related to the prospecting activities are located in the grassland nearby.
Kaiwatara is located within the territory of the Kukuya people. Today the people are settled at Kiiyagha on the plain near the Kwipa River. It is within the Giwa ward of the Makamaka LLG.”
 There are several explanations to the mine’s sudden closure. 
First, folk literature explains the sort of negative impact such mining industries can have on local populations. These include excessive and random migrations to other areas of a country or province. They also contribute largely to the breakdown of traditional family units and social systems. Of this latter explanation, the Anuki folk literature is full of it. Fearful that their traditional system of government would disintegrate rapidly the Warakouta aristocrats advised their wise counsellors to cast a spell of ibumutu upon the mining company, hence its sudden closure.
Second, an argument erupted between the two partners of the mine. The Kukuya folk literature reports a kind of high noon showdown (American fashion) imminent between the two who might have been brothers. Thus, the sudden closure.
Thirdly, some scientific as well as economic explanations reveal that the 1920s were economically the boom period of the Western world, particularly its imperial powers. Hence, the desire there was to claim extra territory and set up mining industries throughout the world. All this came and went as suddenly as the appearance of the economic depression of the 1930s just around the corner. That would in turn leave the Kaiwatara mines as desolate as any other mine site in Papua New Guinea.
We bring you this story with special regard to the sort of mining industry activities we experience through LNG and similar large scale projects in our country today. We hope they shed some light on how best we can handle certain social problems deriving from these. 
You can learn more about the Kaiwatara mines from Vincent Kewibu at this email address:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Don't look down

This is not a good story to tell. But we have to tell it anyway due to some unexpected turn of events at various quarters of our academic norms and practice.

One day, storyboard receives a strange phone call. The caller happens to be a very recent appointee at senior level from a certain academic department of the University of Papua New Guinea.

“Yes, sir, this is storyboard speaking. How may I help you?”

“Do you know Mona Lisa?” (Real name withheld.)

“Yes, I do. In fact, Miss Mona Lisa is a very bright student of mine.”

“When you see her today, instruct her to come to my office immediately.”

A little baffled, since the department was far removed from the discipline of literature, storyboard said: “That I can. But begging your pardon, sir, may I ask what this is in regard to?”

Thereupon the caller embarked on a lecture about his status and qualifications as compared to storyboard’s, and should he, storyboard, choose not to heed the caller’s instruction it would go down on record as an act of insubordination. Would storyboard be willing to risk that by questioning the caller’s intent in summoning the said student up to his office?

Of course, storyboard ignored the caller’s threat and decided upon warning Miss Mona Lisa that Dr. So-and-So wanted to see her on matters that might not have been work-related.

To which the student asked what storyboard’s advice would be if she did venture up to the caller’s office out of curiosity. Storyboard, after studying his good student’s smile and the mystery surrounding her eyes, pointed out that the university was a liberal environment as much as any other democratic setting and that as individuals one ought to exercise a certain amount of precaution regarding personal conduct and safety.

Since that incident Mona Lisa went missing from the Waigani campus. The co-supervisor of her honours program along with storyboard went through all worry and trouble trying to find out where she was. Has she gone home to her home province? Has she rather migrated to another country? Relatives from her home province also wanted to know. Even her appointment as a temporary tutor in Literature was beginning to become redundant and subsequently a new wave of honours students came on board to fill up the student’s position.

When Mona Lisa did re-appear some two years later she deposited a three-hour drama script at storyboard’s office, and that play was noted to be revealing – indeed a replica of a very intelligent young woman who had for one reason or other decided to take an existential type of departure that only creative literature itself might best explain the stress and worry she might have encountered during her brief sojourn as an honours student.

What storyboard failed to realize there and then was the unscrupulous attitude of the caller albeit appointee as a departmental head. Within a matter of semesters, not years, that caller would lose his position and in the following year become jobless. What followed thenceforth was that the university could barely manage human tolerance in having him re-instated somewhat but this time as a lecturer like storyboard. But even that position seems too small today to fill the incumbent’s shoes. So what does he do? He starts pushing and shoving, staging coup after coup to get into power – an activity hardly fitting for an academic environment where oratory, research and publication, including churning out the very best of manpower for the nation count more.

At this stage we must point out that where there is a threat apparent to place the reputation of a tertiary institution in jeopardy, such individuals must be dealt with accordingly through the media. Storyboard is only too glad to do so here on behalf of his well-meaning and highly respected colleagues, who no doubt have exercised that human sentiment of tolerance so much even that human quality can get well and truly expended.

Looking at this particular aspect of human conduct from a philosophical point of view reveals to us that what we are looking at is indeed the story of human failure in the raw. We all strive for that ultimate state of perfection in our lives but very few of us reach the top eventually. Those who succeed turn around and start mentoring the young who come after them. They become models worthy of following. But it is sad for this lot that fails even with such academic decorations as PhDs. What they mentor turns out ruthless and violent as evident in the life of our incumbent in question.

Now when parents spend thousands of kina to send their children along to us, they have in mind people who will nurture their young in the best way possible. But when these generations of young people are entrusted quite unwittingly by parents to the care of such unscrupulous individuals who revel in power more than human values, we are indeed staring at the face of social decadence point blank.

Even parents themselves must become actively involved in the workings of a tertiary institution, not just their terms as committee members at high school level only. The likelihood of our young walking away into oblivion without any hope of getting a job after four years of academia is enormous and needs to be quelled with the parents’ vigilance as well. As the song by B.B. King has it: “better not look down, if you want to keep on flying; put the hammer down, keep it full speed ahead; better not look back, or you might just wind up crying; you can keep it moving, if you don't look down.”

Thus, entertaining such unscrupulous individuals to the point of taking full power to control our lives can be tantamount not only to B.B. King’s idea of bringing ourselves down to their level but also as Shakespeare would put it: “anything from the neck up is heaven; anything from the neck down is hell.” 
Photos above by Ekar Keapu of The National newspaper showing over 1,000 new intakes of undergraduates during orientation week at the University of Papua New Guinea. A majority of these will be streamed into the School of Humanities and Social Sciences which houses the Literature and English Communication department.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Signs of our times

The arrow in this photo seems to be pointing to the National Parliament, the law-making premises of Papua New Guinea.

It is always a nice thing to be prepared. Not that anything great can happen in our ordinary and simple lives but that it is wise to stay prepared.

And we do so by looking at the signs that surround us.

Overgrown grass that needs cutting, weeds about the fence, fibro walls rotting away, foot paths unswept and in many instances once lovable thoroughfares left littered and neglected. Sometimes a familiar and oft visited habitat looks as abandoned as ever, and gives us the impression that may haps no one cares any more about so many little things that surround us.

But the lesson of such instances of negligence startles us suddenly when Eda Ranu drops by to cut our water or PNG Power removes certain wires that used to supply us with electricity. And when we do look around in search of the source of all our woes and worries we notice it all, loud and clear and right at our doorsteps.

We have not been mindful about our bills.

And moreover, we have not been attentive to the voice that kept prompting us over the years: “Let the fig tree teach you a lesson. When its branches become green and tender and it starts putting out leaves, you know that summer is near.”

How negligent then have we become, especially in this day and age when modern technology has taken over all manner of human chores. Once, a messenger designated as a clerical assistant knew all that was recovered of him in order to get a certain job done for a department. Nowadays such entities are obsolete. You can email your boss as freely and as carelessly as protocol itself chooses to be absent in our consciousness. And a simple clerk, of all people, can transfer vast sums of money from one point of contact to another simply because modern technology allows that to happen.
Not so, thinks Eda Ranu which comes around to disconnect our taps, technology or not we were not paying our bills and that’s that. And Eda Ranu’s explanation: “Where is there documentary evidence that you were paying for sewerage and water all these years?” So we show them our pay slips and the amounts that were deducted from our pay to them and what do we get for an answer? That ain’t official by way of evidence. We know you have had that amount deducted from your pay, but look here, worthy and learned colleagues, we have not been receiving a penny of your so-called “deductions”. So what say you now?

Thus, if a company is said to be on the verge of liquidation, and this is what storyboard is getting at, let us not be alarmed, but rather go back to our diaries and try to pin point the date when all this moment of negligence first started. Sure enough, we will see it. If it was in 1995 that we stopped paying our bills to Eda Ranu through our clerk at the buttons of the computer, then perhaps the answer lies in the area of our good clerk not taking the trouble to actually deliver the money to Eda Ranu. Yet our pay slips show that certain amounts were deducted to Eda Ranu, as simply as that. Do we reprimand the clerk? We should rather not. Because in the beginning we did not let him know that we knew what he would be thinking and that we would certainly know he would know what we were thinking. That way he would, physically, remember to deliver the cash to Eda Ranu and not to an alter ego somewhere at BSP.

That little amount accumulated over the years sends awkward sound waves by way of signs to how easily man can go wrong even with his own inventions of which he should very much be in control. We have forgotten to consult nature. We cannot read the signs any more. We become so shut in that what we do indoors accumulates over the years until someone from somewhere else comes along and starts pointing out the loopholes of our own self-management apparatuses.
Shaken, we panic; and in panicking we find ourselves cleaning up our yards while in fact we should be welcoming our guests now beginning to flock in upon the so-called given hour.

Of course, stories such as these have very little in them when we first hear them. Eda Ranu must excuse us for using them as an example here, but storyboard has a good mind to suggest they be thankful as this serves as good publicity.

Examples aside, these are good stories to tell. To the one who listens these stories often turn out to be big stories in their own right. The guest is the most important personality in our lives. That is why we talk about signs and being prepared at all times. Our guest must be entertained. So being reputable people that we are, we get down to the traditional ritual of welcoming them. In most Melanesian societies it is an absolute must that a guest is well taken care of. We welcome him with familiar gifts, firstly, such as betel nuts and drinks. Then there is the ritual of traditional dishes: besa, if one is doing the monamona; or leu (almost pronounced theu in Wedau), a special dish consisting of baby taro leaves, coconut oil and mashed taro for important guests.

Our guest becomes our final judge of what we are as a community, as a government department or a school, college and institution of learning. He is the one who has the power, we might say, to assess whether our very act of existing and functioning as such is justifiable after all. Thus, if he says we ain’t paying our bills, we must listen.
The opinions expressed here are very much general and should not serve as “pointing fingers at” certain organizations in our society. But lessons learnt in this article are very much for the benefit of all of us.   
Last minute clean-up activity at the Waigani Campus.