This review was done before the unexpected passing of the late Dr. Regis Stella on last Wednesday 18th April, 2012. He was looking forward to this review to mark the launching of the book on Thursday. I remember him at this time of losing one of Papua New Guinea's robust, dynamic, and original writer scholar. May his legacy live on....
Now a new book on reading Papua New Guinean literature is out. It is a collection of critical essays published over the years in various international and local journals. The essays are brought together under one title: Unfolding Petals: Readings in Modern Papua New Guinean Literature (2012). It is compiled and edited by Regis Tove Stella of the Literature and English and Communication Studies program of the University of Papua New Guinea. The book is published by the UPNG Press and Bookshop.
A number of leading authorities in Papua New Guinean literature are represented in this book. The book looks at the beginning of Papua New Guinean literature, the development of a critical voice, and analysis of particular works of literature. Some of the early critical perspectives published are now made available in this book. Papua New Guinean writer scholar, Apisai Enos, who was a member of the teaching staff of the Literature Department in the 1970s wrote the piece “Niugini Literature” in defence of the kind of writings Papua New Guineans were producing. In some sense the attempt here was to define the place of literature in Papua New Guinea, but more specifically to point out that Papua New Guinean writers were creatures of their cultures and society as reflected in their writings. The influence of oral tradition is evident in the writings produced in that period, which no doubt has continued to the present.
Elton Brash, a literature specialist, who later became the Vice Chancellor of the University of Papua New Guinea in early 1980s wrote about creative writing and self-expression in Papua New Guinea. This essay was written to argue for the place of literature in the education of Papua New Guineans. WilliamMcGaw took a step further with his essay on the role of literature in a newly independent country. The title for this book came from Nigel Kraught’s essay “Unfolding like Petals: The Developing Defintion of the Writer’s Role in Modern Papua New Guinean Literature.” The essay is based on the first Independent Papua New Guinea Writers’ Conference between July 1-4, 1976 and published in ACLALS Bulletin in 1978. In summarizing the literary development of the earlier era, Krauth has this to say:
“The first phase, usually in the time immediately before Independence, has as its impetus a desire to “set the record straight”. In this phase the conflicts between traditional village life and Western religion and colonization are reexamined and reassesed. On the other hand the rich oral traditions of myth and folklore are reestablished, on the other bitter memories of racial injustic are purged.The centre of focus is the erosion of the indigenous culture. The Crocodile [by Vincent Eri] and “The Ungrateful Daighter,”[by Leo Hannet] are part of this phase. In the years immediately following independence, there usually ensues a second and broader phases in which themese are deepened and clarified. It is a period of consolidation. The centre of focus may transfer from cultural erosion to the new and modernized world in which it finds itself.”
The next group of essays in the book consider the development of a critical voice in Papua New Guinea. Critical voice refers to critical analysis made about Papua New Guinean literature. The essays in the order of apperance in this book include the following: William McGaw’s “Th Sense of the Past in Pre-independence Papua New Guinea Poetry,” Gillian Gorle’s “Writing in English: Freedom or Frustration? SomeViews from PapuaNew Guinea,” Russell Soaba’s “The Writer’s Place in a Different Society,” Steven Winduo’s “Unwriting Oceania: The Repositioning of the Pacific Writer Scholars Within a Folk Narrative Space,”, Regis Stella’s “Papua New Guinea Literature at the Crossroads: Islands, Languages and Culture,” and Ganga Powell’s “Looking Thru Those Eyeholes: The Dilemma of the Papua New Guinean Writer in the ‘80s.” Each of these publications has shed much light to the way literature has been developing in Papua New Guinea. In particular these essays helped developed the critical tradition, which was absent in the earlier phase of the literary culture in PNG. Papua New Guinea literature, in Regis Stella’s words, is “at the crossroads of islands, culture, and language” and “is about negotiating a political and cultural space within the spectrum of disciplines, in situations, and new configurations of power. It is through the medium of writing that such a negotiation can best occur, because in writing, the “gulfs of silence”, which exist between languages, islands, and cultures are traversed through the integration and reincription of indigenous cultural experience.”
The discussions generated from these essays helped readers of Papua New Guinean literature understand the role writers played in representations of cultural and national identities in nation formations. Our attention is directed to the need for critical self-evaluation as a people, culture, and nation. The call to read the literature and writings penned by our own writers seemed to have taken over the preoccupations of the 1990s and beyond. This is reflected in the last group of essays, which focus on particular texts of Papua New Guinean writers.
Bill Ashcroft, a leading theorist of postcolonial theory and practices, accords a critical treatment of Russell Soaba’s second novel, Maiba (1985). Stella Inimgba highlights the need for a unique theatre and drama that is Papua New Guinea. She analyzes Voices from the Ridge, a play written by Peter Kama Kerpie. France Devlin-Glass and Steven Winduo provide a critical reading of The Crocodile by Vincent Eri. A rare contribution by Evelyn Ellerman on the biographical responses to decolonization in Papua New Guinea completes the book.
“The fact that no other publiations of such material exists up to now is itself indicative not only of the need for such anthologies but also of the state of criticism of modern Papua New Guinean literature. As that literature becomes more and more an object of serious and systematic study, the need for critical material and for greater accessibility of such material as exists, is being sharply felt,” Regis Stella.
The book is available at the UPNG Booshop for anyone interested in it.