Friday, July 6, 2012

Lasitewa Remembered

Lasitewa Dormitory

I was 21 years old when I lived in Lasitewa dormitory during my second year of studies at the University of Papua New Guinea. It was a time I had to decide what I wanted to do in my life. I was struggling with myself to understand whether I should pursue the vocation of Marist Brotherhood as it became clearer that soon my superiors would be asking for me to take my vows of celebacy. It was the most difficult of decisions for a 21-years old, with no family members in Port Moresby that I can talk to about the decision. That was 1985, a year after Pope John Paul’s first visit to Papua New Guinea. That visit was fresh as we had celebrated mass at the Sir Hubert Murray Stadium.

I was also struggling to make the decision between studying political science and public administration or to pursue the study of philosophy. I opted for the study of philosophy instead. I found myself developing an interest in the field of literature. As it turned out in later years, those subjects appealed to me not for their vocational attributes, but because of their intellectual and scholarly appeal to me. All my cohorts ended up with a definite job and position in the government or private sector. I trudged on to thrive and excel in the academic environment. 

The decision I made at that time to focus on literature came much more later in 1986 when I was in my third year of studies. It was also the time I set my goals to pursue an overseas masters and a doctorate in English.
I am reflecting on this personal journey because of the sentimental value I have of Lasitewa dormitory, which was destroyed by fire at the end of June 2012. The dormitory had provided me the space to deal with the critical decisions I had to do that would change my life for what it is today. 

In the year I stayed in Lasitewa dormitory Papua New Guinea celebrated the 10th Anniversay of Independence. I was one of the student volunteers in the official celebrations. I was the Liasion Officer for the PNG government and the Indonesian Government, responsible for the cultural dance troupe from Bali, who had come to celebrate our Independence.  The whole week of celebration I had the responsibility to make sure our visitors were properly looked after. Knowing I was contributing something to my country at the time of celebrating ten years of Independence was more important to me. At least as a student I had participated in a meaningful way as a proud citizen in an Independent nation. 

Now that I think of it some of the prominent leaders in our country today were students at that time. Most of us from that generation have developed a keen sense of what it meant to be a respectable citizen. Some of us from that generation ended up becoming successful in our individual paths before turning to politics in later years. 

As we begin the second semester at UPNG main campus I am a bit depressed at the way things turned out last semester. There was so much destruction to Central Administration, the Bookshop and the Library, and now the burning down of the Lasitewa dormitory. I am not blaming anyone for the fire that gutted the dormitory, but dormitories in UPNG had stood the test of time until this generation.  I am appealing to the students to respect the properties of the state that others coming after them will benefit from. My generation has looked after the buildings that this generation now benefits from, so must they for the next generation. 

UPNG administration must wake up to a certain trend that has taken hold of the campus. In the 21 years I have been teaching at UPNG I have not seen one building falling on its own. Even though many of the buildings were built in the 1960s and 1970s with consistent electrical faults they were generally been tolerated. 

Having said that I must add that the Kuri Dom Building is one of the most neglected building on campus. Several classrooms, staff offices, and general offices have leaking roofs, wet floors, exposed telephone cables, and old fans, lights, and powerpoints. Our requests for urgent maintenance work on the leaking roof, poor electrical connections, and aircondition units have been never received considerations as one would have expected. From the way things are this building poses more health and fire hazard at this time. I think the Kuri Dom building has gone passed its use-by date. 

I think UPNG administration must now consider expanding the campus through a rehabilitation program of old buildings and build new classrooms because of the increased number of students every year. It is no longer a joke to see students hanging outside of the door during lectures because the lecture and tutorial rooms are too small.  Where is the multipurpose hall we have been hearing about over years? The Arts Lecture Theatre (ALT) is a disaster when there are constant power outages, let alone with no internet connection for online lectures. The ALT has become too small for large class sizes, especially for the first and second year courses. 

I think we should not wait for an existing building to be burnt down before we think about rebuilding a new one in its place. It is important to exercise some sense of growth in building infrastructure, releasing heavily used spaces, and giving room for people to live, study, and work in stress. Most of us who have been working here for more than tweny years know we have to deal with small office spaces and poor conditions of some of the classrooms we teach in such as those L Rooms and in the Kuri Dom Building.  

I hope the day when someone sues UPNG for ignoring its duty of care responsibilities as a statutory organization will never come. Right now we are fine.

Rait Long Tokpisin

Spoken Tokpisin is second nature to most Papua New Guineans. We use it without worrying about how it forms, sounds, or about its variants. We also use it with zest and pride without needing to be grammatically correct. Tokpisin has come to be our main language of communication.

Yet when it comes to written Tokpisin we encounter difficulties and fumble our way through. We make so many mistakes and remain unconcerned about the development of written Tokpisin. 

Written Tokpisin is harder for even those who were born speaking Tokpisin. The elements of written Tokpisin are difficult to master.  Translating English to Tokpisin in written expression is even harder or vice versa. 

Many may believe it is easy to translate an expression in English to Tokpisin. The contrary is true. The difficulty arises out of the grammatical principles that govern the operation of each language. English observes the grammatical rule that the subject comes before the verb and object. On the other hand Tokpisin language observes the opposite where the object precedes the verb and the subject. 

Such differences often make it difficult for Tokpisin speakers to express themselves clearly in English. Many Papua New Guineans in their written expressions in English do not realize that the rules they are using for their written expressions are innately grounded in Tokpisin grammatical rules or in their vernacular linguistic upbringing. 

Written literature in Papua New Guinea has yet to fully develop a corpus of Tokpisin works of literature. Apart from Tokpisin writing done in newspapers such as the Wantok newspaper it remains a less explored aspect of our contemporary literary culture. Some of the Tokpisin legends published in the Wantok Niuspepa over the years are now available in Tom Slone’s books such as One Thousand and One Nights and Tumbuna Stories. Slone is also the owner and publisher of Masalai Press, an important publishing partner of PNG books.

UniBooks has recently published Bernard Minol’s book Opisa Pokep, OBE: Laip Bilong Wanpela Polisman. The book is the first book ever written by a Papua New Guinea writer in Tokpisin without English translation. The book has taken many years to reach a publishable form. In the process of writing Dr. Bernard Minol had the expert assistance of Tokpisin scholar Dicks Thomas in the editorial department. This is a difficult book to write, but the writer and editor pulled it off, making it become the first book in Tokpisin published by the UPNG Press.

As a book written in Tokpisin it puts to test the question of which version of Tokpisin is the standard to follow. The writer and editor were at odds sometimes, on deciding which was the ‘correct’ Tokpisin or that Tokpisin that we may characterize as a general Papua New Guinean Tokpisin. Do we have a general Papua New Guinean Tokpisin, especially standardized vocabulary list, spelling, grammar, and word usage? Are there semantic differences that are standandized for use in commercial and public policy documentation? Are there Tokpisin features that are innovative in both written expression and oral usage?

I have observed the use of Tokpisin as a written expression used carelessly without needing to make sure of its standard usage. The need for standard usage as a written expression is far from developed. Dictionaries and written publications in Tokpisin are needed to standardize Tokpisin. It is often held that the Mihalic Dictionary, the Wantok Niuspepa, NBC, and Air Niugini have been the benchmark for standardized Tokpisin. But with the changing technology and the global influences resulting in more exposure to the international world and English language usage many young people use abbreviated forms of language to communicate with each other, resulting in two things. First a new usage of a word is introduced and popularized. Second, an old word takes on a new spelling. The challenge is to ask if we are to standardize written Tokpisin we need to document these linguistic changes constantly and in written form.

I am an advocate for the use of written Tokpisin. I have tried to capture the Tokpisin elements in my poetry.  My latest book of poems is in Tokpisin with English translations. I enjoyed writing in Tokpisin, but when it came to translation into English I had to deal with difficulties of translation from one language to another. What appears natural or amuzing in Tokpisin when translated no longer retains its naturalness or amusement. That is the challenge one has to deal with when translating from English to Tokpisin or from Tokpisin to another language.

Papua New Guineans express themselves using the languages they are comfortable in, but in terms of written literature more is desired. 

We need to retain the original languages so as to maintain the quality of expressions in those languages. In translation writers will lose the vernacular element that holds the power of that expression. The vernacular expressions retain their authority in the original language if they are untranslated. This is evident in Bernard Minol recently published book entitled Opisa Pokep signaling a new direction in PNG writing. Yumi mas raitim moa buk long Tokpisin.

The interplay of multiple languages in my writings or other Pacific writers serves as the artistic brush and paint of the images we produce about ourselves by using the local color, landscapes, feelings, and the local way life.

The best metaphor that encapsulates the reasons for me to write in English is that of a main hull of a canoe supported by two outriggers. English operates as the main hull where the rower and his belongings are held. The supporting outriggers on either side are the lingua franca and the vernaculars of the writer. In my case the outrigger languages are Tokpisin and Nagum Boiken languages. All three languages complement each other, work together, and share the burden of the writer.

It does not really matter what language I use as long as it conveys the burden of my experience—a James Baldwinian expression adopted by Chinua Achebe in defence of his written language choice.

Women in Parliament


This national election is important for women of Papua New Guinea. Before the election the parliament rejected the proposal to appoint women into Parliament. The proposal failed to get the vote it needed to become a statutoreeey law enabling women a place in the decision making chambers of parliament. 

That leaves women in Papua New Guinea to challenge their male counterparts in this election. In this year’s election a number of women have taken the call to prove their worth just as the male folks.  

A good number of women are contesting this election against men. Some of these women are contesting as Independent candidates. Others are supported by the political parties. Two woman lead political parties as party leaders. Some of these women have contested in previous elections. Others have just raised their hands to be noticed.

I hope that the results for women in this year’s National Elections will change the political history of this country.  Having more women in Parliament will shift the political culture to another level. It is difficult to see any shift without including our women folks in the Parliament.  Women should be given the opportunity to lead through our votes.

Consider the information on women in parliament presented in Eric Johns’ History Through Stories: Book Two (2006):  “Only one Papua New Guinean woman,  Ana Frank Gaudi, with two Australian woman, stood for the first House of Assembly elections in 1964, and only an Australian woman stood for the second House of Assembly elections in 1968. No women were successful in either elections. Josephine Abaijah was the first women elected to the national parliament, in 1972. When Abaijah, Nahau Rooney, and Waliyato Clowes were successful in 1977, it seemed that a breakthrough had been made for women.  However, in 1982, only Rooney was re-elected and no women were successful in the elections of 1987 and 1992. In 1997, Abaijah was returned, along with Carol Kidu, but in 2002 Kidu was the only woman elected.”


Dame Lady Carol Kidu was re-elected in 2007 until the end of this Parliamentary term. Dame Lady Carol Kidu has retired from active politics to pursue other interests. If no women are elected to parliament in 2012 then parliament will have no women representation, leaning towards a male only parliament.


Over the years the number of women contesting the elections had increased, but the results were against the women folks. In 1972 four women contested, but only one woman (Josephine Abaijah) was elected.  Of the ten women who contested in 1977 only three women (Josephine Abaijah, Nahau Rooney, Waliyato Clowes) were elected. For the 1982 election, only one (Nahau Rooney) of the 17 women who contested was elected.  It seems to have gained more interests around 1987 when 18 women contested, but no one was elected. The same result was produced in 1992 when 17 women contested the national elections. 

With this statistical analysis I am ambivalent about the results in this election. The change in mindset and will to change political culture is needed before any women can be elected into parliament. I also think that women candidates contesting this election needed more than popularity to win. It seems some candidates are contesting in big ponds while others in small ponds where chances are good. Nonetheless their fates lie in the voter psychology and desire for change. 

It can never be argued that candiates who stood before can never win. The cases of Abaijah, Rooney, and Kidu have proven that voters are intelligent enough to want the best person for a leader.

Or it can never be argued that Papua New Guineans are unwilling to change their often too male concentric perspective of women leaders. There is a change, but at a snail’s pace, we observe. 

Eric Johns asked the question that begs to be answered: “Why have so few women been elected? Although conditions are not the same throughout the country, the majority of Papua New Guineans still believe that women should not be leaders or make important decisions because that is the work of men. Many women who have achieved success in the public service, private enterprise, universities and other fields, have come into contact with family or community members who believe that women’s work is the home. There is even more criticism of women who wish to enter the national parliament. Unless these attitudes change, women will continue to find it almost impossible to be elected, thus excluding half of the country’s population from having any say in important decisions that affect everyone.”

Many of us will agree that the women who were elected or nominated to parliament were examplary leaders. Some of them have written their autobiographies that Papua New Guineans have benefited from reading about what makes a great leader.  In her autobiography Listen My Country (1981) we learned Dame Alice Wadega was the first PNG woman knight (1982) to be appointed to the Legislative Council (1961). In Dame Josephine Abaijah’s autobiography A Thousand Coloured Dreams (1981) we learnt that she founded the political party Papua Besena (Hands off Papua), and from Dame Lady Carol Kidu’s we learnt of her courage to marry a young Papua New Guinea lawyer, and making the incredible journey to the land of the unexpected, where she became a political leader and examplary Pacific leader in her own right.

Someone who had formed her own political party was Waliyo Clowes known as Panal (Papuan Alliances) when she was elected to Parliament in 1977. Clowes was quoted as saying: “A lot of men think we are rubbish and take no notice of us.” 

Let’s vote for women for a change.