Monday, March 12, 2012

The first PNG Writer: Hosea Linge

With so much going on around us we tend to forget about important foundations of our history. I could not get out of my mind the much neglected discussion on the first Papua New Guinean writer. Every now and then we need to acknowledge the important parts of our history as we move forward.

I would like to acknowledge the first Papua New Guinean to write a book in the 1930s. A New Irelander by name of Ligeremaluoga wrote and published his book under the title The Erstwhile Savage: An Account of the Life of Ligeremaluoga in 1932. Ligeremaluoga is from Kono village in New Ireland Province.

Ligeremaluoga’s book is by all accounts the first written account by a South Pacific Islander. Most of what we know as Pacific writing is dated to the 1960s and 1970s. Last month I presented a paper at the University of Hawaii to discuss another early Papua New Guinean writer by name of Ahuia Ova of Hanuabada, who published his memoirs in 1939, six years after Ligeremaluoga’s autobiography.

Both writers wrote their books in the lingua franca rather than in English. Ligeremaluoga wrote his book in Kuanua and Ahuia Ova wrote in Motu. Ligeremaluoga’s book was translated into English by Ella Collins, an Australian missionary teacher. In Ahuia Ova’s case a Hanuabadan clerk, Igo Arua, translated the memoires, which were published in The Journal of Royal Anthropoiogical Institute in 1939. Both men were influenced by the early missionaries in their education.

This week I talk about Ligeremaluoga’s extraordinary life and books. Next week I will look at Ahuia Ova’s life and memoirs.

Without the availability of the original books I had to rely on secondary sources to paint a picture of these early PNG writers. For my discussion of Ligeremaluoga I draw from a beautiful little book: Ligeremaluga of Kono (Hosea Linge) by Eric Johns.

Ligeremaluoga was born around the 1890s. He was destined to be a chief of his tribe. With the arrival of the Methodists missionaries, led by Reverend George Brown, at Port Hunter in the Duke of York Islands in 1875, Ligeremaluoga’s life soon took on a dramatic change. Ligeremaluoga became one of the early converts and follower. He attended the school village school at Pinikidu on the east coast.

According to Eric Johns, Ligeremaluoga “was baptised in September 1911 by the Methodist, and given a new name, Osea, in memory of his Fijian teacher, Osea Naivalu, who had recently died. From then on, Ligeremaluoga was known as Osea or Hosea Linge.”

Hosea attended the George Brown College in the Duke of York Islands for another five years after passing through Pinikidu school. George Brown College began in 1900 and by 1927 it moved to Vunairima on New Britain.

Hosea became a teacher after graduation from George Brown College. He was posted to Omo where he met his first wife, Anasain Pisig, whom he married in 1921. After several years as a teacher Hosea returned to George Brown College at Watnabara as an instructor.

Hosea lost his beloved wife, Anasain, in 1930 when she died in the new Methodist Hospital during an operation. Anasain’s death forced Hosea into a deep depression. To deal with it he took advice from an Australian missionary, Ella Collins, and began writing as a therapy. In his autobiography he wrote about his life in Kono and mission experience. Most of all he wrote about himself as a villager, student, and teacher. Within one and a half year Hosea’s autobiography was translated and published as Erstwhile Savage: An Account of the Life of Ligeremaluoga in 1932.

The book was published in Melbourne by F. E. Cheshire—the same publisher that would publish Albert Maori Kiki’s autobiography, Kiki: Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime in 1968.

From what we know Hosea Linge lived his life, committed to the church and education, until his death in 1975. He had lived through the Rabaul volcanic eruption of 29th May 1937 and the war years between 1942 and 1945. He survived through these difficult times and wrote about those experiences in his second book, An Offering Fit for a King, translated by N. Trelfall and published in 1978 by Toksave Buk of Rabaul. The second book was written three years before Hosea’s passing.

Hosea remarried his second wife, Rodi Mangin, in 1938. The couple lived together for the rest of their lives. Hosea had reached the second highest position as second-in-charge at the George Brown College in October 1946. In January 1957 a new head station church in Kimadan was officially named as the Reverend Hosea Linge Church. In 1961 Hosea Linge retired from his full time duties and left a large footprint on the sand for his children and others to follow.

Ligeremaluoga’s legacy lives on through his son, David Linge, who took the challenge to go further from where his father left off. David Linge entered the University of Papua New Guinea when it was established in 1965. David Linge studied Biology and became the first Papua New Guinean to earn a PhD in Biological sciences. After several years of teaching Biology at the University of Papua New Guinea, Dr. Linge decided to pursue a career in Medicine. He returned to the classroom as a student at the Medical School, graduating years later with a Bachelor degree, a Masters degree, and PhD in Medicine. Dr. Linge now teaches medicine sciences at the Medical School of UPNG.

Autobiograhical writings leave footprints for others to follow. Such writings have valuable lessons for everyone who cares to read. I am sure the leadership and strength of character Hosea Linge provided to his people and family are qualities and values others could learn from. History is like a flowing river. We can never step in it twice, but we can learn how to cross the river by reading what others have written before us.

I do hope that Ligeremaluoga or Hosea Linge’s two books are reprinted and made available for others to read.


  1. Thanks for the interesting article, Steven. I didn't know that PNG writing went that far back. While searching for more information on Ligeremaluoga, I came across an exermpt from a 1971 article in The Hudson Review titled "Literature in New Guinea". The author (Ulli Beier) critiques Ligeremaluoga for his "total repudiation of his tribal customs". That's kind of sad to hear, but I can't say I'm surprised. I guess he was a product of his times, just as we all are.

  2. You are right every writer is a product of his/her time. The interest I have in Ligeremaluoga is partly to do with my research on tracing the emergence of literary development in PNG. I am particularly interested in answering the question why it took so long for PNGians to write when the exposure to writing and print technologies had been introduced with the arrival of Europeans in PNG.

  3. Very interesting Steven, thank you. I am re-blogging on my site:

  4. Thank J for reblogging this essay and also for featuring my own work in your blog. Very appreciative. Steven

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