Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Well Done! Nora

Melanesian writers: Regis Tove Stella (PNG), Nora Vagi Brash (PNG),
Sam Alasia (Solomon Islands), USP Fiji campus, 1999.

  One of the outstanding playwright and poet to emerge in Papua New Guinea is Nora Vagi Brash. She remains the foremost and the only Papua New Guinean female playwright. Nora was involved with acting in amateur theatre, radio plays, and street theatre in early 1970s.

Her exposure to the world of theatre in England inspired her to write her own plays on her return to Papua New Guinea. The National Arts School employed Nora as an assistant lecturer in puppetry, dance, and drama. She then moved on to become one of the two artistic directors with the National Theatre Company. Nora wrote her own scripts for the puppets using tradional stories of Papua New Guinea.

The National Theatre Company toured local villages and performed in the streets. They went to the Pacific Arts Festival in Rotorua and Wellington, New Zealand. They also danced in Point Venus in Tahiti and a small group went to the Black Arts Festival in Nigeria.

In 1978 Nora resigned from the National Theatre Company to take up studies for her BA degree at the University of Papua New Guinea. She maintained her interests in theatre and wrote several of plays. Nora joined the National Broadcasting Commission in 1980. She also became the deputy chairperson of the National Cultural Council and a member of the Board of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies.

Two of Nora’s plays that I admire so much and read many times are Taurama and Which Way Big Man? Both are important plays depicting the post-independence experiences of Papua New Guineans.

Taurama is based on an actual historical event that occurred in a Motuan society about five centuries ago. The cultural hero is Kevau Dagora, the only survivor of the terrible Taurama Massacre revenges on the Lakwaharus (Tubuserea) who caused the massacre. Kevau Dagora grows up in exile at Badihagwa, under the protection of an old couple. He is treated as an outsider, but through courage and the process of reconciliation gains confidence of the Motu people. He marries the daughter of the woman who caused the massacre. In a twist of fate he releases the haunting spirits of Taurama to establish peace among the Motu people through a marriage feast. The play gave Nora the opportunity to use oral history of her own people to tell a contemporary history unfolding in the postcolonial Papua New Guinea.

Nora Vagi Brash’s aim is to conserve the oral traditions of the Motuan society. The publication and performance of Taurama is a landmark in modern history of drama in Papua New Guinea. Through stage art and careful usage of written historical records and oral versions of the Taurama massacre, Nora reconstructed a local history of her society on stage.

The Taurama massacre in Motuan history remains important to its people. Nora assumes the traditional role of individual storyteller by telling the story of Taurama using the genre of drama. As a result of her western knowledge and her inheritance of the finest oratory skills learned from her traditional culture Nora has re-enacted the story of Taurama in a medium many people saw and appreciated. She is an artist with remarkable artistic skills, able to fuse two cultures—her own culture and the written Western culture to create a new perspective and vision of the society she inhabits as well.

Taurama epitomizes the art of retelling historical accounts in a new way. The play was intended at the time of its performance for the celebration of Papua New Guinea’s Ten Anniversary of Independence. The play was a success in many ways. It carried the message of peace, reconciliation, and unity among tribes and different groups of people in Papua New Guinea. Its performance was the highlight of the Independence week. Several performances were held. The play contributed in a significant way to the written culture of Papua New Guinea.

Nora Brash’s understanding of her society’s history and the dilemma it faces in the changing times of Papua New Guinea are transmitted through her plays. All her plays address a particular dilemma in contemporary Papua New Guinea. Nora Brash satirizes Papua New Guinea in her other plays, but in Taurama she veers from the hilarious, comical, and satirical tone.

Her plays Which Way Big Man, High Cost of Living Differently, and Black Market Buai reflect Nora’s preoccupation with poking fun at, rebuking, or shaming Papua New Guineans steering off the course in their lives in contemporary times. The characters in these plays are modern educated Papua New Guineans with manners that are at odds with traditional values and ways of doing things. Nora picks on their attitudes, behaviours, mannerisms, and affluent styles that are pretentious and hypocritcal.

The message Nora Vagi Brash wants to covey to Papua New Guineans is that a conscious re-evaluation of the new values inherited through the process of change is needed. Without doing so, as Nora thinks, PNG is on the road to abandonment of important traditional values for the false masquerade of postmodern superficial values.

Nora is about to launch her new book of poems co-published by the UPNG Press and Bookshop and Tanorama. The book is part of a new series called Buai (Books, Useful Articles and Information) Series, aimed at promoting new writings by Papua New Guineans. This is a second book by Nora Vagi Brash in addition to her popular plays. Her book is the first in the Buai Series.

Intriquing is the poem: “Power Poles”:

Candidate posted on power poles
Greasy poles
Slippery slogan
Campaigning balloons
Catchy T-shirts
Knockout competition
It’s on again
This four yearly
For really
Political play
With PPP versus PAP
And Pangu up PB
Guess how many peas in a battle
In the scrabble scramble for power
This passing paper chases
It’s on again
The winner takes all.

Nora Brash had published some of these poems in literary journals here and overseas. I first heard Nora read some of these poems at the Port Moresby Arts Theatre in 2010. Well done, Nora!


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