Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Writing Through Independence

Provincial flags outside the National Library, Port Moresby.

What has Independence done to me as a Papua New Guinean, a writer, and scholar of indigenous cultures? Surely, this question must be asked by many conscientious Papua New Guineans.

Papua New Guinea as a postcolonial nation struggles to free itself from a colonized history, more particularly from the neocolonial practices and influences of its former colonizer. Achieving political Independence has never freed Papua New Guinea completely from Australia.

Australian influence in Papua New Guinea is deeper than perceived at the political level. Australia continues to play a major part in the economic, social, and political development of Papua New Guinea. The relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea is often tested, but always maintained through diplomatic dialogues and other political processess.

Early Papua New Guinea writings tackled Australian colonialism with ferment and nationalist fury to the extent of achieving Independence without bloodshed. The literature of that period is fueled by such political necessity.

After Independence Papua New Guinean writers disappeared, except for a few committed ones, who continue to write.  Two notable figures of the period are Russell Soaba and Paulias Matane, who continue to write literary and non literary works beyond the 2000s. Soaba continues to write and teach literature at the University of Papua New Guinea.

Paulias Matane continues to write non fiction works after he moved away from the Aimbe fiction series. His interests in writing led him to publish many non fiction works throughout the years, even after becoming the then Governor General of Papua New Guinea. Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane also assisted many Papua New Guineans to publish their books. He continues to impress all of us.

These gentlemen are, to many of us, the younger generation, embodiment of a legacy that refuses to go away. They used their writing to speak about their conditions before and after Independence. Reading their works helps us to understand our own lives.

The writings of the 1980s to the present are about this neocolonial presence, dependent relationship, as well as about the lack of critical reassessment of the changing experiences in postcolonial Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinean writers are concerned with diverse issues of identity, social change, economic change, cultural change, the movement between village and urban areas, experiences of growing up, adolescence, education, unemployment, wantok systems, and conflicting cultural situations. Their writings are about the contemporary experiences, the traditional cultures and customs, and immediate past they seemed to have lost in the transition from a stone-age culture to one of electronic media networking. The mundane to important events in the lives of Papua New Guineans are concerns of contemporary writers. Literary expressions are inspired from the personal experiences of writers and anecdotes of other Papua New Guineans. This experience of Papua New Guineans is similar to those of other Pacific Islanders as already noted.

Literary culture developed in different phases in Papua New Guinea. The first phase characterizes dissent, protest, and anticolonial resistance. The period between 1968 and 1975 marks this phase. The second phase, between 1980 and 2000, covers the village pastoral and sociological literature. In this phase Papua New Guineans wrote out of the need to assess their conditions of living, of existence, to make sense of the world around them, and to revive the experiences of an earlier era.

Writing struggled to survive against polarized national developmental priorities and civil conformity since Independence. The third phase is a combination of the previous phases and the independent emergence of new voices of a new generation. The third phase, between 1990 and 2000 came about as a result of Papua New Guineans reading the works of earlier writers and seeking out avenues to speak for themselves, about their experiences, and their visions for a democratic society. The later category makes use of new literary structures, both appropriated and experimental in style, to represent their experiences as Papua New Guineans.

Papua New Guineans re-imagined themselves in their writings. They create various discourses about themselves. Papua New Guineans realize the process of rethinking and re-evaluation of some of the inherited values or those created by Papua New Guineans need urgent critical attention. The methods and procedures used for investigating and conducting research of Papua New Guinea cultures need to be reframed so as to produce a balanced critical reading of Papua New Guinea literature. Papua New Guineans need distinctive signposts to navigate through the many inroads created in their lives. All these are politically invested. The localized struggles and their responses to the globalized economy make them more vulnerable than is imagined. Accepting the passive, non active, unquestioning life is a form of conformity and cultural paralysis. Papua New Guineans can articulate their experiences in radical and progressive ways.

Papua New Guinea is a hybridized postcolonial society with a fusion of diverse cultures, modern global influences, and the result of a synthesis of multicultural experiences. Questions of nationalism after Independence are raised every so often, suggesting that, perhaps it has served its purpose at the time of its emergence. Constant internal conflicts, uncontrolled social disorder, cultural conflicts, violence, ethnic differences, stagnant views, and rampant corruptions, poor governance, and massive squandering of royalties from its mineral and natural resources often stun the growth of nationalism. Nationalism, in most cases, is evoked by elites as the self-appointed guardians of their people’s interests. Nationalism is not what it claims to represent in Papua New Guinea as it fails to eliminate the ethnocentricism fueling regionalism within a national boundary.

Literature and politics have a unique relationship to each other. So long as literature continues to be useful to people it maintains its political function. It is difficult to resist viewing the political and ideological overtones present in Papua New Guinea writing. No writers are free of the social, political, economic, and cultural influences of their societies. Writers are creatures of their societies. Hence, a writer’s work carries with it the social and political value and responsibilities of his or her society.

Happy celebration to all Independent Papua New Guineans.

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