Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Land Echoes History

 
It is challenging to write fiction, based on actual history, than on pure imagination. The challenge is to be as close to history, but aided with literary license to reconstruct a storyline that maps out the narrative. The technique known as fictionalizing history is taken on board to plough the field of history and fiction to make something grow out of it.

Land Echoes (2014) is my first novel based on my grandfather, Holonia Jilaka, whose life inspired this book. Although not a biography the novel’s timeline is based on the part of my grandfather’s history.

I recorded my grandfather’s story on tape when I was a UPNG student many years ago. The part that I was interested in was the part where he went to the Highlands of Papua New Guinea in 1933 as a shepherd boy with the Catholic missionaries. He spent three years (1933-1935) in Simbu area before being discharged as a mission boy. He then joined the police force, taking his training in Rabaul depot under the instructions from Ludwig Somare and a sergeant from Buka. Kiap Jim Taylor recruited him into the police unit to make the historical Hagen Sepik patrol in 1938/1939.

My grandfather told me only part of the story. The rest I had to read and discover for myself. From the transcript I had of his story I began the writing project in December 1994/January 1995. At that time I was studying for my PhD in English at the University of Minnesota, USA. It was winter holidays but I could not return home.

To keep me busy and distracted from homesickness in the middle of Minnesota winter I decided to write five pages a day the early drafts of the novel, Land Echoes. I wrote every day without for two months, completing the first draft of the novel by the time February 1995 came around. I was quite happy with the self-productivity that winter. I think I completed around 500 pages of hand written notes.

I then started the process of typing the manuscript into my laptop.  By the time classes started again I shelved the writing project for my PhD program. From time to time I returned to my manuscript in the next 20 years, even after my doctoral studies. I had some help along the way from colleagues and writers in PNG and Australia. I received documents, manuscripts, and books about the famous Hagen Sepik Patrol that Jim Taylor, John Black, and Pat Walsh, but only as sources of reference to contextualize the history that was made with the help Papua New Guinean policemen like my grandfather.

I was interested in highlighting the life of my grandfather against the early work of the Catholic Church in the Highlands and the Australian government’s administration of the newly discovered highlands region of Papua New Guinea.

The only way I could make sense of this was to delve into history that I was born too late to know. I equipped the writing life with raw imagination to enter into the period beginning late 1920s and 1930s to juxtapose that with periods from 1960s to the 1970s. The challenge with a project such as mine was to make history interesting to read through fictional narrative, while making sure to remain close to actual events in history.

The following books helped me understand history before reconstructing them in this book: The Sky Travellers by Bill Gammage, They Went Out to Sow by Fr. John Nilles, SVD, A Short History of Wewak by Lorna Fleetwood, The Martyrs of Papua New Guinea by Fr. Theo Artes; The Bishop’s Progess: A Historical Ethnography of Catholic Missionary Experience on the Sepik Frontier by Mary Taylor Huber.

Other materials that helped me reconstruct various historical moments in Papua New Guinea are hereby acknowledged: background on Ahuia Ova in PNG History Through Stories: Book 2 by Eric Johns, Sana by Michael Thomas Somare, Kiki: Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime by Albert Maori Kiki, and Murray, J. K., quoted in Downs, L., The Australian Trusteeship: Papua New Guinea 1945-75 (Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra 1980), p.39, cited in John Waiko. Papua New Guinea: A History of Our Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

It is challenging to write books about our pioneer citizens who worked very hard alongside Australians to build this country. Many of them died without being remembered. If an effort is made to remember them they usually are remembered as nameless policemen, teachers, cargo carriers, cooks, shepherd boys, translators, APOs, and ‘haus-boi’. Many of them worked in coconut plantations and mines as labourers. The Papua New Guineans who helped in the administration had no books written about them.

The effort to write about my grandfather is to give some name and place in the early colonial history of Papua New Guinea. For me, writing this book for 20 years has taught me an important lesson: With the passing of every leader, whether of the past or present, a whole history of the person and this society goes with that leader. Papua New Guineans are so busy doing other things, but are not writing the books about Papua New Guineans who deserve to be known or rewarded for their contributions to the development of this modern nation of Papua New Guinea.

Writing a historical fiction challenges a writer to create outside of the comfort zone. I hope I have captured within the pages of the novel Land Echoes (2014) the essence of that challenge. I do hope that Land Echoes (2014) will encourage fellow Papua New Guineans to take up the pen to write the many wonderful histories and life narratives of our people. 

Land Echoes is co-published by the UPNG Press and Manui Publishers and printed in the USA with assistance of Masalai Press in California.  Once the book is launched it will become available to the reading public at the University of Papua New Guinea Bookshop.

For further information regarding the book you can contact the author: swinduo@gmail.com

A Return to Blogging in 2015


Dear Readers,

I have been absent from my blog for over a year. I will return to the blog as of this year 2015. Several reasons have made it difficult for me to be consistent. The most important of all is the accessibility to the internet at where I am located. I think this problem is now solved. I will have full access to the internet this year.

I have a year of articles that I will post on this blog. I thank you for visiting the blog as regularly as you have been. I promise to post new exciting and stimulating articles for your consumption in the next few days and onwards.

I hope you will spread the news that I am back on the blog. Invite your friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and other internet beings to visit this exciting blog.

I have decided to change the name of the blog to Land Echoes. I am not sure if you like that. If not please leave a comment for me to consider.

I value your visits to the blog. I hope to link up with you again soon.

Have a productive 2015 year.

Steven Winduo

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reach for the Stars

First publlished in Steven's Window, The National Newspaper early this year. Thanks.

A death happened in the hamlet right after ours in the village. That was soon after Christmas that the relatives had to set up the ‘house cry’ right up the first week of New Year 2014. The deceased was a woman of standing in the community that when her body arrived on Monday afternoon a lot of the surrounding community members paid their last respects that evening.

The night went smoothly for most of the mourners until the morning when a commotion began with some of the relatives accusing others of using sorcery.  The problem was that instead of participating in the laments and mourning in the night some of the youths decided to drink ‘steam’ in the night.

My father who had gone over early for the burial returned dismayed that there was a fight early in the morning.  He asked me if I can help him with some money to sort out the customary restrictions that the relatives of the deceased had imposed that morning.

I realized that village ways and customs remain intact among many of our people. I assisted my father participate in the funeral customs of our community. In no way am I to stand in the way of ignore the importance customs plays in the lives of many of our people in Papua New Guinea.

Many like myself are educated in Western classrooms and knowledge but return home from time to time to be with our families who live pretty much same way for many years. I have always seen this unique element of Papua New Guineans to be a source of strength and inspiration to many generations.

Last year the debate on whose culture was important began with the removal of the artifact and totems poles in the National Parliament by the Speaker of the House, Mr. Theodore Zurrenuouc, and his supporters. The debate raised the awareness that Papua New Guineans must treat their cultures and customs with sensitivity and respect. No one has the right to force one’s culture on another.

It was also a important defining moment for the birth of cultural consciousness among many educated Papua New Guineans. The question that most felt needed answer was whether to privilege the introduced Western cultures and ideologies such as Christianity and other plastic material arts and culture.

There is a post-colonial theory that espouses the condition that most formerly colonized nations go through. It is the theory of mimicry and imitation of the former colonizer’s habits, customs, belief systems, ideologies, and exact replication of the former colonizer’s attitude to the colonized people. Imitation and mimicry are behavior patterns that promotes a copycat of the original colonial behavior and ideas, much to the detriment of the colonized.

One of the negative effects of this process of mimicry is the cultural denigration that most formerly colonized societies go through even many years after Independence, often driven from with the national elites and sectorial conclaves. It is never encompassing of the whole, but driven purely from a minor groups of individuals, with absolute access to the seed of power and control.

That in the Marxian superstructure would translate as the political elite and the political state apparatuses of government, education, and even church. Once given legitimation within the state apparatuses that becomes an ‘official’ sanction on cultural expressions and collective bargaining power. Political theorists like to describe this activity as socialism initiate with the production machine itself.

So what do you get out of a political condition such as this as exemplified in the PNG case? Is it about culture or about political power? It cannot be about cultural power? It is about political power fashioned by the individuals with access to power and resources to manipulate collective pubic consciousness to the point of inserting their belief system on others unwilling to participate in their activity. History in the world has ample similarities to compare outcropping of such ideological emergence.

But to return to the story reported in the beginning of this article I am often troubled with the observation of many funeral and haus krais in our communities. Some of our people no longer observe haus krais and respect the departed relatives with proper laments and traditional mourning rituals. In some communities of the East Sepik province people no longer have post-mortuary feasts to mark the passing of fellow tribesmen and women. People have become individualistic and removed from their cultural frameworks of social-cultural psychology.

Yet in some parts of Papua New Guinea garden food and store goods are brought together with pigs to mark such a time. People are properly given respect and assured their relationships with those who mourn. A continuity of life is given meaning within the cultural traditions that brought people together in the first place.

The challenge that Papua New Guinea faces is that mortuary and post-mortuary practices are not the same everywhere. It is difficult for one cultural group to impose their cultures on another without creating any form of conflict in the act.

The point I want to make here is that Papua New Guineans acknowledge that following a cultural purists path is self-negating and self-defeating, but acknowledging national unity through cultural diversity is the way forward.

The understanding that we all share is that we respect each other cultures and differences and work hard at finding a common path, a common currency, and common purpose for our visions as a nation of heterogeneous cultures and  cultural diversity, which we allow to blend with the introduced ones and those we adopted at Independence, much like some of our national laws that we follow in the country apart from the Constitution, the Customary Laws, and other laws made in Papua New Guinea based on the ingredients given above.

The reflection made here highlights the importance we ourselves must make on what is important to us as cultural people proud of who were are and what we make of ourselves.

We must not let someone else decide for us.

Haus Krai

This article was first published in the Stevens' Winduo, The National newspaper earlier this year!

A death happened in the hamlet right after ours in the village. That was soon after Christmas that the relatives had to set up the ‘house cry’ right up the first week of New Year 2014. The deceased was a woman of standing in the community that when her body arrived on Monday afternoon a lot of the surrounding community members paid their last respects that evening.

The night went smoothly for most of the mourners until the morning when a commotion began with some of the relatives accusing others of using sorcery.  The problem was that instead of participating in the laments and mourning in the night some of the youths decided to drink ‘steam’ in the night.

My father who had gone over early for the burial returned dismayed that there was a fight early in the morning.  He asked me if I can help him with some money to sort out the customary restrictions that the relatives of the deceased had imposed that morning.

I realized that village ways and customs remain intact among many of our people. I assisted my father participate in the funeral customs of our community. In no way am I to stand in the way of ignore the importance customs plays in the lives of many of our people in Papua New Guinea.

Many like myself are educated in Western classrooms and knowledge but return home from time to time to be with our families who live pretty much same way for many years. I have always seen this unique element of Papua New Guineans to be a source of strength and inspiration to many generations.

Last year the debate on whose culture was important began with the removal of the artifact and totems poles in the National Parliament by the Speaker of the House, Mr. Theodore Zurrenuouc, and his supporters. The debate raised the awareness that Papua New Guineans must treat their cultures and customs with sensitivity and respect. No one has the right to force one’s culture on another.

It was also a important defining moment for the birth of cultural consciousness among many educated Papua New Guineans. The question that most felt needed answer was whether to privilege the introduced Western cultures and ideologies such as Christianity and other plastic material arts and culture.

There is a post-colonial theory that espouses the condition that most formerly colonized nations go through. It is the theory of mimicry and imitation of the former colonizer’s habits, customs, belief systems, ideologies, and exact replication of the former colonizer’s attitude to the colonized people. Imitation and mimicry are behavior patterns that promotes a copycat of the original colonial behavior and ideas, much to the detriment of the colonized.

One of the negative effects of this process of mimicry is the cultural denigration that most formerly colonized societies go through even many years after Independence, often driven from with the national elites and sectorial conclaves. It is never encompassing of the whole, but driven purely from a minor groups of individuals, with absolute access to the seed of power and control.

That in the Marxian superstructure would translate as the political elite and the political state apparatuses of government, education, and even church. Once given legitimation within the state apparatuses that becomes an ‘official’ sanction on cultural expressions and collective bargaining power. Political theorists like to describe this activity as socialism initiate with the production machine itself.

So what do you get out of a political condition such as this as exemplified in the PNG case? Is it about culture or about political power? It cannot be about cultural power? It is about political power fashioned by the individuals with access to power and resources to manipulate collective pubic consciousness to the point of inserting their belief system on others unwilling to participate in their activity. History in the world has ample similarities to compare outcropping of such ideological emergence.

But to return to the story reported in the beginning of this article I am often troubled with the observation of many funeral and haus krais in our communities. Some of our people no longer observe haus krais and respect the departed relatives with proper laments and traditional mourning rituals. In some communities of the East Sepik province people no longer have post-mortuary feasts to mark the passing of fellow tribesmen and women. People have become individualistic and removed from their cultural frameworks of social-cultural psychology.

Yet in some parts of Papua New Guinea garden food and store goods are brought together with pigs to mark such a time. People are properly given respect and assured their relationships with those who mourn. A continuity of life is given meaning within the cultural traditions that brought people together in the first place.

The challenge that Papua New Guinea faces is that mortuary and post-mortuary practices are not the same everywhere. It is difficult for one cultural group to impose their cultures on another without creating any form of conflict in the act.

The point I want to make here is that Papua New Guineans acknowledge that following a cultural purists path is self-negating and self-defeating, but acknowledging national unity through cultural diversity is the way forward.

The understanding that we all share is that we respect each other cultures and differences and work hard at finding a common path, a common currency, and common purpose for our visions as a nation of heterogeneous cultures and  cultural diversity, which we allow to blend with the introduced ones and those we adopted at Independence, much like some of our national laws that we follow in the country apart from the Constitution, the Customary Laws, and other laws made in Papua New Guinea based on the ingredients given above.

The reflection made here highlights the importance we ourselves must make on what is important to us as cultural people proud of who were are and what we make of ourselves.

We must not let someone else decide for us.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Producing Success


Papua New Guinea has contributed to the world knowledge in science, literature, anthropology, medicine, law, and music, arts, and culture. So often we are slow in acknowledging our intellectual and knowledge contributions to the world, perhaps because we ourselves have been slow in saying so or we just don’t care.

In so far as I am concern we need to acknowledge the contributions our societies and people have made to world knowledge and development of our understanding of the world, as we know it today.

As a Papua New Guinean writer I have such a responsibility to tell the world about Papua New Guinea, its people, its social and cultural way of life, and its knowledge systems. With it comes also the responsibility to make Papua New Guineans become aware of the importance of their own societies and the contributions each society has made to the world.

It is often said that Papua New Guinean societies have been ‘overwritten’ or ‘over-described’ in the books, analogues, and travelogues, and scientific volumes of the world.  It is true our societies have been the subject of rigorous intellectual and scientific investigations, since the arrival of Europeans on our shores. It continues even today.

It fascinates me to participate in that creative dialogue and intellectual stimulations that some of these studies have made to our understanding of ourselves, more so to the point of recognizing how little we ourselves have done to write about ourselves in journals and books.

I was having a writer’s block in the last few weeks, but thanks to Peter Demerath’s book, Producing Success: The Culture of Personal Advancement in an American High School (2009), published by the University of Chicago Press, USA. 

Dr. Demerath is an associate professor in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development at the University of Minnesota, USA.

Dr. Demerath and his family were on their way to Pere village in Manus Province, last year when he presented a copy of his book to me.  It was a wonderful gesture to have the visit of Dr. Demerath, his wife Dr. Ellen, and daughters, Olivia and Sophia since the first time I met them in Minnesota, when I served as a visiting professor in English at the University of Minnesota in 2007-2008.

The Demerath family had also been kind enough to invite my family over to dinner at their home in St. Pauls, in addition to making sure my children got to know their children in that short span of time.

Reading Dr. Demerath’s book, Producing Success, I was struck with the inspiration that a Papua New Guinean society has been the source of inspiration for this impressive book.

In his own words, Dr. Demerath says that the “comparative perspective that runs throughout the book has been generated largely by my ongoing relationship with the people of Manus Province, Papua New Guinea.”

Dr. Demerath adopts a cross-cultural view of his study of the culture of personal advancement in an American High School, with that of his experience in Pere village, Manus Province.

“On the face of it, it would be hard to imagine two societies that have less in common: the inhabitants of Pere are relatively poor subsistence fisherpeople who are struggling to achieve a measure of economic development with little outside support.”

Dr. Demerath knows from his long-term relationship with his adopted family in Manus that Pere village ways and life are so diametrically different to those in a small affluent town in the United States.

I sure admire Dr. Demerath’s honesty and sensitivity in dealing with the difference there is. He writes:

 “However, one of the guiding principles of anthropology is that we know best about something when we can see it in a comparative perspective: comparisons throw the cultural basis of specific belief or actions into sharp relief, thereby enabling us to locate ourselves relative to other groups, and ultimately identify potential prospect for change…It is in this way that anthropologists frequently use comparison to ‘make the familiar strange and interesting again.’”

Dr. Demerath recounts the discussion he had with a young sixteen-year old Pere boy in May 1985. The boy had told Dr. Demerath about how hard it was to be in school in Manus, more particularly about the boy’s anxieties about not getting any employment after school.

“Most likely, he said, he would end up going back to his home village, becoming a subsistence fisherman, and trying to “come up good” so that he could pay back the hard work that his parents had put into raising him. I had heard other students say similar things, and I sympathized and said I understood.”

To his surprise, the boy asked one important question that would have an impact on Dr. Demerath’s perspective forever.

“Then, surprisingly, he looked at me and said, “Peter, what do you want to do with your life when you go back to America?” During the ten months I had been there, none of the students had asked me that. “Well,” I said, “I think I want to teach, and try to get a job at a university, and maybe write a book someday.” “Ah,” he said nodding. “So you want to be somebody.” At first I wasn’t sure what he meant. But then, after reflecting for a few moments, I said, “Yes, I think I do.”

That seems to have remained ingrained in Dr. Demerath’s mind and charted his subsequent journey out of graduate school and into the academic environment of teaching, research, and publications.

In some sense the writing of this book has given Dr. Demerath the opportunity to explain to the world his experiences in Manus and in the United States of America. 

Dr. Demerath acknowledges the inspiration Margaret Mead, who had also done research on childhood, socialization, and social change between 1928 and 1974, had on his own research in Pere village.

Dr. Demerath’s excellent book, Producing Success, is intended for educators, students, and parents, as well as for anthropologists, sociologist, and other social scientists.