Friday, March 2, 2012

Freedom From Oppression

The threat of international intervention and involvement of Sandline mercenaries in the Bougainville Crisis was sabotaged by a military faction. On the economic front the Papua New Guinea Kina was devalued, government’s external reserve was depleted, and a slow decline in economic growth began. Social conditions and lifestyles of people changed: increased rural urban drift, overcrowding and overpopulation in urban centres, increased law and order challenges, uneven development between major centres and districts, and the increased number of young people out of school without formal employment.

This social political canvas served as the context for my colleague, Dr. Regis Stella, a Bougainvillean, to write Gutsini Posa or Rough Seas, his first novel.

Dr. Regis Stella completed the book through a writer’s fellowship at the famous University of Iowa Writing School in USA. The Institute of Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji, published the book in 1999. Since its publication few people have access to this wonderful novel with many lessons on contemporary undercurrents in PNG.

Gutsini Posa in the Banoni language of Bougainville means rough seas. Far from its existential value, Gutsini Posa is a novel that has two achievements: First, Gutsini Posa is an important literary representation of the struggle of the Bougainville people to come to terms with the crisis that had completely devastated their moral and physical strength. The backdrop of the book is the Bougainville conflict between the state of Papua New Guinea and one of its provinces, the then North Solomons province. Many lives were sacrificed on both sides of the conflict.

Though peace had settled the conflict continues to haunt everyone involved directly or indirectly with the conflict. The crippling condition of a society is a sadness that cannot be washed away by tears or with organized guerrilla resistance, but with strategic negotiations. Rape, senseless killing, and torture are not only violence on human rights but mark the wounds of conflict in the lives of those who have to live through crisis.

The reminder is that with divine intervention hope comes after a people prove that collectively their spirit has not been broken, but is consolidated. Stella represents precisely this experience by the use of a volcano metaphor, a force mightier and devastating to both the oppressed and the oppressor. The relationship between human’s ability to destroy themselves and yet can also be destroyed by a force greater, in the form of natural disasters, is an inevitable reality that Stella impresses upon the reader of Gutsini Posa.

Second, despite the differences in the characters of the book, they all have ideological strengths, which keep them intact from fragmentation. As the colonel of the Southern Command on Torogegai reminds Jamila and her response indicates, there is a deep-rooted sense of belonging to place that is seen as an ideology.

An important inference made by Stella in Gutsini Posa is to highlight the novelistic discourse enabling the author to address a number of issues. First, the heterogeneity in which the lives of Papua New Guineans are constructed allows dialogics to feature as a prominent factor in recognizing a common destiny. The destiny is freedom from all kinds of oppressive conditions, be it state sponsored or epistemologically instituted. Second, in the fight to liberate oneself from the onslaught of negative influences one must be willing to insert oneself in the mental construct and structures of the oppressor.

In Gutsini Posa we see this clearly represented by Captain Gawi and Jamila, who are willing to fight for a cause that they believe in, no matter where and how it is staged. Captain Gawi, together with a few loyal soldiers plot a coup code named “Operation Electric Shock” against the government. In his support for the resistance he recruits Jamila, a native daughter of Torogegai. Jamila in her own right is boldly radical, but through a misunderstood personal relationship with Penagi to playing a leading role in the struggle of liberation on Torogegai she earns her reputation of being a “Tsinara”.

These two characters are willing to forgo even the personal relationships for the sake of a collective struggle. Jamila becomes the heroine of the resistance and Captain Gawi becomes the sacrificial lamp—an interplay of the onto-theological conclusions, realized only in the climax of the crisis. Perhaps also in that expression peace comes at a price, attained through both strategic negotiations and consensus. Gutsini Posa is a novel of hope within a society bend on destabilizing itself: “Fine, people can be defeated but not conquered.” (95)

Stella’s exploration of the theme of journey is consistent with other Papua New Guinea writings. The journeys out and of return to the village, old ways and customs are in both spiritual and physical terms. The factors that drive such peregrination have to do with cultures and roots---the birthplace always remains the point of return.

In Gutsini Posa both Penagi and Jamila must return in order for them to find each other, a strategic ploy suggested by the author. Strategic it is since the reclaiming of what is lost is only possible when individuals pursue such commitments. Stella is perhaps suggesting that the only way to secure lost identity is to retrace the journey to the beginning where it all began.

I read Gutsini Posa as a metaphor of a society fragmented by its own internal conflicts, torn by its own differences in the use of economic resources, democratic governance and social equality and on which is a need of ideological repair since nationalism has demised itself as exaggerated sentiments and political fleecing by its constitutionally elected representatives.

The metaphor of the rough seas is to me a representation of the times of turmoil, conflict and contradictions in a Pacific nation’s status where full-blown conflicts are the result of lack of consultation, consensus and negotiations. Stella observes: “Greed, dishonesty and hypocrisy by leaders are suffocating the nation.” (94).

Stella’s voice is stunning, yet controlled by the demands of the book to be as readable, enjoyed, and provocative.

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