Monday, September 27, 2010

Poetry and Performance

When you have the lights beamed right into your eyes the immediate thoughts are for you to run. The best you could do is move away from those bright lights. You are immediately looking into the darkness. You know there are people there. You cannot retrace your footsteps back. You are the center of focus. Right now you have to say something quick. That was the feeling I had last Saturday at the Waigani Arts Centre during the poetry recital evening.

It was an evening to remember. The poetry recital and musical arrangement from the talents of our students under the watchful eye of our Sanguma , Tony Subam, made the evening memorable. Tony also gave an impromptu recital in the evening to my amazement. The students from MIAC showed the musical talents through their original compositions. The evening jazz set the scene.

I had invited a couple of writers, especially poets living in Port Moresby to turn up for the poetry recital. It turned out that only Nora Vagi Brash and I were the ones reading our works. In between poetry reading we had traditional and classical mix of music played by PNG’s own Edward Gende, the serenading jazzy music of Cowley Laeka played on saxophone, and Gideon Kiyowavadulu’s flute and kuakumba music.

The poetry recital was part of the Port Moresby Arts Extravaganza weeks organized by the Waigani Arts Centre with support from the National Capital District Commission.

Seen anything like this before?
  We did not attract as many people as expected; we understood most people were exhausted in that week of Independence. I had to attend the Independence celebration then the East Sepik Provincial Day at UPNG. It was the most tiring week. Many people were too spent to attend the poetry recital night.

The night was magical for me because this was a performance on stage that had me startled, a little afraid, and nerving in that the darkness all around me made a sense of the existential mood. It was so Becketian that all I could think about was get my lines in order before I exit. Yet, the awareness that in that darkness the appreciative, questioning, curious, and expectant audience held you in the center of their eyes. They are there in the darkness waiting for the next word, the next announcement, the next line, and the performance. Once delivered you have this sense of accomplishment. Then you are ready for the next performance. Within an hour you are done. It is over. You sigh with relief.

I recount these feelings on stage to give readers the feeling of watching live performance theatre and the recitals of poetry. Attending theatre performances and watching life performances are inspirational moments in an individual’s life. The artistic talents and stage craft are special elements in theatre performances.

Another observation that my colleague, Leo Wafiwa, of the journalism program who went along for the recital, made was very apt: “Writers must make time to read their works to the public,” he said. “What good is it if you write a poem that never gets recited? Poets must read their work.”

Indeed, writers must promote their own works and give others the opportunity to know their writings. One can be a good writer, but if that writer does not recite or share their writings using the many mediums of delivery, such as public recitals or collective performance with other artists then their writings will remain in the closet, obscured, and vanish in the lost archives of libraries. I know many Papua New Guinea writers like that who are very brilliant writers, but who never get recognized because their do not get to recite and promote their works in public.

I think the future also of poetry in Papua New Guinea is to work with musicians to develop a kind of PNG version of dub poetry.

Dub poetry is a form of performance poetry of West Indian origin, which evolved out of dub music consisting of spoken word over reggae rhythms in Jamaica in the 1970s.

I remember Benjamin Zappaniah, the British dub poet who visited the country. He was guest in my literature class at UPNG and gave a memorable recital of his poetry to an appreciative audience. Zappaniah was also a musician who performed with the Bob Marley and the Wailers band.

We have many styles of performance in our traditions. We have oratory, chorus, chanting, rhymes, and lullabies in our oral traditions that we can draw from to develop our own unique models of performance. Some of our traditional songs are useful as performance on stage. A good example of that was the performance given by one of the performers during the poetry recital night.

An idea to develop is to get some of our musicians and writers to give a performance that is traditional and contemporary. The performance I am thinking about is something more artistically tuned and performed for a receptive audience such as that we had at the Waigani Arts Centre.

Traditional Central Dancers at UPNG
   The important point that I am making is there is more we can develop in terms of the art and cultures of Papua New Guinea. Let us not lose sight of other forms of arts and culture that our people and country is in no short supply of. Let use develop, support, and harness our arts and culture in a way that makes out people appreciate their identities as Papua New Guinea.

Without culture a nation cannot claim a political identity. Nationalism is a defense of a nation’s cultural inventions. Nationalism vindicates its own inventions by politicizing its culture. A nation is denied of its identity once culture is separated from it.

We know that a culture is, concretely, an open-ended, creative dialogue of subcultures, of insiders and outsiders, of diverse factions that enables continuous reinvention of itself against that which challenges its form.

For a nation to differentiate itself from others it often relies on its cultural foundations to do so.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Constitution and Independence


35th Independence Anniversary celebrations at UPNG 16 September 2010

 The celebration of nationhood is one moment in our lives when we celebrate our Independence from our former colonizers. We think of Independence as a political event that changed the political landscape in Papua New Guinea. We also think of Independence as an act of orchestrated collective will to free ourselves from the shackles of colonialism. In every celebration we renew our strength and vision to be a progressive and free nation. Our sense of nationhood is refreshed, revitalized, and re-energized in such a way that whatever we do we resolve to abide by the Constitution that holds us together.

The Constitution of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea is the single most powerful document in this nation. It is the source of law, state, politics, and the foundation upon which the visions of the nation was engraved in. Since Independence in 1975, one would think by now the Constitution should become available to every citizen of Papua New Guinea.

UPNG student celebrates 36 years of  PNG Independence

Every Papua New Guinean is entitled to a copy of the Constitution. It is important for Papua New Guineans to have the Constitution in whatever form or format. Some of the money earned from developing the natural resources of Papua New Guinea must be used to reproduce the Constitution in different forms and formats for all Papua New Guineans read, hear, or use in their daily lives.

After 35 years of Independence the people of this diverse nation must renew their belief in the nation. The nation as a concept is in need of some serious rethinking and reframing. It is to the best interests of a nation to have its people know the foundations on which the nation is founded on. It is to the benefit of the people of this nation that the Constitution is made available in different forms, formats, and languages. Every Papua New Guinea has the right to read, see, hear, and use the Constitution to develop and prosper as a proud, informed, and free person.

The Constitution is the voice of the people of Papua New Guinea. The Constitution speaks from time to time when its foundations are challenged, tested, and hijacked. It remains the most powerful document in this heterogeneous society with a thousand tribes. If every citizen has the right to know the Constitution then it means the government must do everything possible for its people to have a copy of the constitution.
Center of performance at UPNG
If the Constitution is a single most important document in our nation we must also observe one day in a year as the Constitution Day. Since the fifth and final draft of the Constitution was adopted on 15 August 1975 we should observe that date as the Constitution Day. Such a day will insert in the minds of people the importance of the Constitution. It will also be a day for us to remember those who founded the Constitution.
Many young people in schools are familiar with a portion of the Preamble made as a national pledge, but the full Preamble is never known to many people. Then there are the National Goals and Directive Principles: (1) Integral Human Development, (2) Equality and Participation, (3) National Sovereignty and Self-Reliance, (4) Natural Resources and Environment, and (5) Papua New Guinean Way. Our performance in each of the category is good, but we need to do more. There are specific areas that need more work.

UPNG students celebrate their cultural dances during 35th Independence Anniversary

Our Basic Rights or the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, we enjoy as citizens also form the Preamble of the Constitution. We observe the following rights and freedoms:

(a) life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law; and

(b) the right to take part in political activities; and

(c) freedom from inhuman treatment and forced labour; and

(d) freedom of conscience, of expression, of information and of assembly and association; and
(e) freedom of employment and freedom of movement; and
(f) protection for the privacy of their homes and other property and from unjust deprivation of property.

UPNG  Oro Student celebrates Independence
At this time we need to ask how many times we have stretched these rights for our own individualistic, political, social, cultural, and economic inconveniences. We also have the Basic Social Obligations to fulfill:

 (a) to respect, and to act in the spirit of, this Constitution; and

 (b) to recognize that they can fully develop their capabilities and advance their true interests only by active participation in the development of the national community as a whole; and

(c) to exercise the rights guaranteed or conferred by this Constitution, and to use the opportunities made available to them under it to participate fully in the government of the Nation; and

 (d) to protect Papua New Guinea and to safeguard the national wealth, resources and environment in the interests not only of the present generation but also of future generations; and

 (e) to work according to their talents in socially useful employment, and if necessary to create for themselves legitimate opportunities for such employment; and

(f) to respect the rights and freedoms of others, and to co-operate fully with others in the interests of interdependence and solidarity; and

(g) to contribute, as required by law, according to their means to the revenues required for the advancement of the Nation and the purposes of Papua New Guinea; and

(h) in the case of parents, to support, assist and educate their children (whether born in or out of wedlock), and in particular to give them a true understanding of their basic rights and obligations and of the National Goals and Directive Principles; and

 (i) in the case of the children, to respect their parents.

All citizens have an obligation to themselves and their descendants, to each other and to the Nation to use profits from economic activities in the advancement of our country and our people, and that the law may impose a similar obligation on non-citizens carrying on economic activities in or from our country.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reframing Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous knowledge systems in PNG embodies our way of life, our belief systems, our cultural practices and the very social political foundations that weld our relationships to one another.

To have a sense of what indigenous knowledge is we turn to a new PNG book: Reframing Indigenous Knowledge: Cultural Knowledge and Practices in Papua New Guinea. The book was released last month, even though it took five years to have it published after a conference organized by the Melanesian and Pacific Studies (MAPS) of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences , University of Papua New Guinea in 2004. The following people had their papers published in the book.

Peter Baki, then Secretary of the Department of Education opened the conference with his challenge on promoting indigenous education in Papua New Guinea. Baki discusses the reform school curriculum, which considers indigenous knowledge systems, and ways of doing things in Papua New Guinean. He challenges tertiary institutions to use indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies to make decisions and policies to transform Papua New Guinea from the old to the new.

Dr. Linus Yamuna of the University of Goroka discusses the role of the Centre for Melanesian Studies. Institutional structures must be developed to enable the process of indigenous studies to be institutionalized. It also enables the institutions to become sites of indigenous knowledge repositories.

Julie Forster considers the challenges of operating as an indigenous scholar within dominant cultural boundaries. Forster attempts to situate the problematics of having to negotiate multiple identities in multiple sites of cultural contestations as the coordinator of the BA program in Aboriginal and Islander Studies at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. As an indigenous scholar with identities that are coexistent as an Aboriginal and Papua New Guinean, her struggles are often multiple, given the situation that negotiating all these identities are never that easy.

The late Paschal Waisi discusses the epistemological systems of the Lau’um people of Lumi district, in the West Sepik Province. Most people talk about knowledge as something that is already given. The question of how knowledge is produced must be addressed before other epistemic questions are considered. Waisi identifies the Lau’um term for wisdom called pingis and demonstrates how knowledge or wisdom is produced in the Lau’um society.

Sam Kaima discusses dispute settlement and avoiding retribution in the Wantoat area of Morobe province. Kaima draws from his own experiences and observations during the time he was able to move in and out of his own society.

Multiple ways of knowing and versions of ‘sik’ in Modilon General Hospital is the subject of Alice Street’s paper. Street, from Cambridge University, was at that time doing research in Madang. Street presented an anthropological account, which recognizes the multiple constitutions of reality in Madang General Hospital—that gives form to the image she began her paper with, without reducing it to a singular narrative.

Tom Hukahu, at that time a postgraduate student at UPNG, discusses traditional astronomy used by islanders in the East Sepik Province. Hukahu discusses the importance of learning the knowledge systems of a society through listening to stories told by elders and knowledge experts in a given indigenous community.

Sauka Pauka discusses his research on teaching of traditional scientific knowledge in high schools. The primary purpose of the research was to investigate the sources of explanations and understanding of natural phenomena in terms of their cultural and school science experiences.

A database on indigenous traditional medicine in Papua New Guinea was created in Papua New Guinea. The Pharmacy program of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Papua New Guinea and the Department of Health were responsible for this project. Prem Rai and Simon Saulei discuss this development.

The inextricable link between language and environmental knowledge is the concern of Sakarepe Kamene. In his paper he discusses the interdependence and co-existence of language, culture, and environmental knowledge of the Zia of Morobe, Papua New Guinea. The discussions given by Kamene reflect his long term developmental research activities developed within in his own Waria society or the Zia language group of Morobe Province.
Linguistic research and development of community awareness in a Madang village is the subject of Catherine Levy, then from the Divine Word University. Levy discusses her involvement in developing information and community awareness program in the language group that she worked with in Madang. Indigenous communities can use their own knowledge systems to develop tools and skills they can use to understand the modern world.

Naomi Simet of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies (IPNGS) discusses traditional dances as a form of constructed knowledge. Dance is an important form of indigenous knowledge system embedded in the ethnic cultures of the indigenous peoples. This knowledge is owned by elders of a particular ethnic group and is passed on to the younger generation. This knowledge is maintained and manifested in dance performances. Simet discusses the Pikinamp dance of the Chambri people in the East Sepik Province.

Don Niles of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies (IPNGS) discusses his research on the study of chanted tales from the highlands of Papua New Guinea. In parts of Western Highlands, Enga, and Southern Highlands provinces, there are extraordinary poetic creations, sometimes referred to as “chanted tales”. These sung stories encapsulate many types of indigenous knowledge: history, people, environment, customs, and music.
Finally, Masio Nidung gave the framework in which to protect indigenous knowledge. She concludes: “The upshot of all this is that PNG needs to have a broader policy on all aspects of intellectual property rights taking into account emerging issues of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore in a coordinated way that we have our own information and resources system set up for a better culturally oriented society.”

Librarians and subject masters in high schools and colleges must have this book in their libraries.

The book is now available at the UPNG Bookshop. To order a copy you can email me using the email address given below.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Looking Through Indigenous Lens

Port Moresby Public Art Scene

Often human society is such that a man’s life is celeb rated more after his death. The success and accomplishments of an individual are never talked about much, rewarded, or celebrated in the days that individual is alive. We may feel let down as humans, but that is the way it is since creation.

In our midst and days of our lives the experiences of death, loss, remorse, and haus krai, people have come to develop subculture of pay respects or show your face to the dead for two hours only and forget the experience for the rest of your life. It’s again another of those human frailties we have to live with. We only remember the dead for two hours of respect. No body seems to care after that two hours whether you have lost a loved one or some dear and respected person in your life. That’s what we do as humans, is probably the best comfort one would get when people forget our losses.

I have never forgotten one person, from a list of others long gone in life and in death. That person is the late Paschal Waisi, a student and teacher of Melanesian Philosophy and Indigenous epistemology. The late Waisi taught Melanesian Philosophy at the University of Papua New Guinea until is death in early 2009. He died during his research trip to his beloved Lau’um society in the Lumi District, of Sandaun Province.

This scholar and philosopher of Melanesian epistemology has never waivered in the promise of seeing the study of Melanesian philosophy, a promise he shared with his mentor, the late Bernard Narokobi. Waisi developed a course in Melanesian Philosophy at UPNG and left without seeing a list of graduates who would promote the ideas of Melanesian philosophy. Now a vacuum is left, because both proponents of this Indigenous epistemological system are no longer around. There are few people, I can say, who are passionate true believers and students of Melanesian philosophy as these two men were.

I had the honor of associating with the late Paschal Waisi as a friend and his principle supervisor during the days he studied for his Masters degree at the University of Papua New Guinea. He completed the degree within the time required. On completion of his MA degree he proceeded to prepare the publication of his MA degree thesis. One of his examiners felt that the late Waisi’s MA thesis was more like a PhD work. That encouraged Waisi to approach the UPNG Press and Bookshop to arrange the publication of his MA thesis.

The book was published and released recently. It is entitled Looking Through Ancestors’ Eye-Holes , a title resonating Russell Soaba’s masterpiece poem “Looking Thru Those Eye-Holes”. In his own words Waisi explains that he had written the book about the epistemological system of his own people by looking through Lau’um eye-holes.

“This book is on epistemology, mind-body-spirit, and social ethical forms of the Lau’um people, West Sepik…The aim of the book is to expose the Lau’um epistemology, mind-body-spirit, and ethical forms of life… The study concerns itself on the nature of knowledge in Lau’um… The second issue is about preservation. Modernity entices the hearts and minds of the Lau’um people to move away gradually from their traditions…The book selects and explores the main cultural forms that are influenced by modernity. It discusses the experiences of the Lau’um culture heroes and heroines. It reveals the main elements of Lau’um pingis (wisdom). It reveals the body-mind-spirit and social ethical relationships. The book aims to encourage a productive engagement with the Lau’um epistemologies, spiritual, social, and ethical dimensions of living.”

Waisi’s book is one of the new books published by the UPNG Press and Bookshop under Univentures. The book has 117 pages and is printed in the United States under an arrangement of the UPNG Press in partnership with Masalai Press of California. The cover work is impressive and should catch the eye of the reader.

I know that the late Waisi would have been the happiest man to see his MA thesis converted into a book. In PNG, Waisi is probably one of the few individuals who converted his academic research done as an MA thesis. What if all Papua New Guineans published their MA theses? Would it create a body of knowledge that is indigenous? I left that to the better judgment of our indigenous scholars.

Steven’s Window pays tribute to a friend, colleague, and indigenous scholar who may have left us, but we will continue to remember him because he left us a book to read about his own people and about himself. Even in death the late Waisi is asking us to look through the skull of the dead, the eye-holes of our ancestors, to see the kind of society or world we are carving for ourselves. We need a serious re-evaluation of ourselves, our decisions, and our visions. Are we moving away from PNG or indigenous Melanesian Ways in a radical way on a one way train or are we merely paying our 2 hours of respect to the dead and our ancestors? Whatever it is, one thing is for sure, our people have lived on the Island of New Guinea for more than 50,000 years. We have plenty to write about to teach the world why we have survived for so long.

Looking Through Ancestors’ Eye-Holes (2010) is a post-humous publication. I think the author would have agreed with me, if he was alive, that we need more Papua New Guineans to convert their MA and PhD theses to books for the sake of developing understanding of our Melanesian societies.

More important to this issue is that indigenous scholarship and publications are absent in the discourse about our societies, knowledge systems, and peoples. We need to publish more books written by Papua New Guineans.

One way of developing an enlightened understanding of ourselves is to read the books written through sustained research and scholarship by our own sons and daughters.