Friday, August 6, 2010

Matane Factor in PNG Books

I made an honest mistake last week. I said this year was the 20th year of celebrating the National Book Week. An email message from the Governor General of Papua New Guinea gave my head a little jolt. My immediate thought was that His Excellency, the Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane, our Governor General was about to summon me for making the mistake. I should have written it is now 30 years of celebrating the National Book Week.

Sir Paulias Matane is the Patron of the National Book Week and a Board Member of the National Libraries and Archives Board.

It is appropriate for me to share in this week’s column my admiration for Sir Paulias’ untiring role in promoting a book culture in Papua New Guinea. Sir Paulias has written more than 42 books. Over the years he has helped many Papua New Guineans to publish their books.

Kum Tumun of Minj (1964?) and My Childhood in New Guinea (1972) were the first books His Excellency published. The publication of these books encouraged the Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane to write and publish more books than anyone in Papua New Guinea. The transformative power of books that His Excellency counted on had done wonders in his life and in many people who admire his writings and life as a role model statesman.


Sir Paulias began reading and writing at the age of 17. He counted on books to take him from the jungles of East New Britain Province to the Government House at Konedobu. The illustrious writing life of Sir Paulias Matane began in 1957 as a teacher at his former Tauran Primary School in New Britain. He became the headmaster of the school between 1958 and 1961, before returning to school in 1962. He became a school inspector for three years (1963-1966) in Minj Sub-district of Western Highlands Province.

Sir Paulias is a connoisseur of books and anything to do with books, reading, writing, and libraries. The admiration and respect I have of Sir Paulias as a prolific writer comes no where near to the record number of books published by one single author in Papua New Guinea. Sir Paulias began publishing fiction in the late 1970s before moving into publishing non-fiction books ranging from autobiographies, travel narratives, family histories, cultural dialogues, and motivational works. Most of his later works were published India and circulated around the world.

Sir Paulias Matane has two new books coming out soon. The first one had the ubiquitous title: From Jungle House to State House. The two new books will bring out the experiences of making the journey from his beloved Viviran village to serving as the Governor General of Papua New Guinea for two terms. I have always admired the vivacity and tenacity of his Excellency when it comes to writing, reading, and publishing books. Whether it is a conversation on books or just talking about books Sir Paulias has that unstoppable passion that many of us wish we have.

The celebrations this week around the country have come to an end, but not the writing life of His Excellency. He writes every day as revealed to me during a video interview I had with him for a video project I am working on. He still keeps the diaries he kept as a young man finding his path in the world.

His Excellency is also a very religious man with values that are measurable by any Christian standards. In the last chapter of Ripples in the South Pacific Ocean, we recall Aimbe’s speech to his family and people:

“I believe in most of the teachings in the Bible. The Bible is the best book you can find in the world. It is a good guide to our everyday lives. If we live by the words in it, the kind of lives we will lead will be different—we will be full of love, consideration for others, happiness, and all the good things. Wouldn’t it be nice for us to live like true Christians? If everybody in the world lived like this we would have no problems—lawlessness. We would live in peace and love each other. We would become brothers in the true sense of the world.”


It is refreshing and assuring that Sir Paulias too lives a life of serving others before his own family or tribe. His leadership, wisdom, solid experiences as a public servant and statesman, and his disciplined time management is exemplary to many Papua New Guineans. His Excellency is now serving his second term in office as the Governor General of Papua New Guinea.

In this column, I salute Sir Paulias Matane for continuing to write more books that young Papua New Guineans can count on to become good citizens. I say this with conviction because many students who passed through the Literature program at the University of Papua New Guinea had to read Aimbe, the Pastor or Ripples in the South Pacific Ocean, as a required text for their degree program.


In his own words Sir Paulias invites Papua New Guineans to participate in the book culture development:

“Because of the experiences some of us have gained in writing and having our books published, we urge all Papua New Guineans to write. There are many things to write about like cultures, history of families, clans etc. Books could be factual or novels.”

What a better way of ending the National Book Week this year with such words of wisdom. This column shares Sir Paulias’ encouraging view expressed above.

We have many things to write about. We have many books to write. So let us write thousands of books that represent our unique experiences as Papua New Guineans.

Email: sewinduo@gmail.com

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