Saturday, April 27, 2013

Knowledge & Wealth

Professor Frank Griffin, Executive Dean of School of  Natural and Physical Sciences, reading our names of graduates in 2013 UPNG Graduation ceremony.
Getting a job in Port Moresby is a very competitive experience. A new graduate will need to take the advice that the degree or diploma is only the starting point, but having additional personal skills, marketable qualities, and highly motivational skills developed through one’s life can make getting a job easier.

The NCD Governor Honorable Powes Parkop, who was the keynote speaker in the afternoon session of the 2013 UPNG Graduation Day drove home a very powerful message of great wisdom and the direction taken by the current regime of O’Neill-Dion led government.

Governor Parkop said something like this: “Let’s not be a nation of job seekers; let’s be wealth creators and employment creators. Go back to the rural areas where land is and use the knowledge you gained to create wealth. The government is putting the money back in to rural areas for the purpose of creating wealth.”  Think about it.

It is time now for many of us to re-strategize our plans to find economic freedom and create wealth. Maybe we have been looking or heading in the wrong direction? In our rural communities there are many opportunities. I also think that starting technical and vocation colleges in our rural communities can drive such developmental agenda.

Governor Parkop’s UPNG graduation address touched on the very notion of growing wealth in our societies. Among the many things he said was that graduates must return to their villages and rural communities to put to good use the knowledge gained from their sixteen to seventeen years of study, culminating in the award of a degree from a recognized university. He said the degrees are only good if they are put to use in creating wealth.  

If their degree is only good for seeking jobs, then it is a tough and long road. It is important to move away from the job seekers mentality. Such mindsets have not served us well. We need to develop a mind of becoming millionaires through the creation of wealth in our communities. The good Governor was spot on.  

Professor Albert Mellam, UPNG Vice Chancellor sounded off a similar a note in his speech as well by challenging graduates to become responsible and productive citizens who will make their parents, families, communities, and country proud. Very appropriate challenge for any UPNG graduates during the graduation day. The Vice Chancellor’s speech was made with full knowledge that UPNG has produced some of the current crop of top leaders, who at one point were the student leaders of UPNG.
It is no surprise that the current Prime Minister Honorable Peter O’Neill, NCD Governor Honorable Powes Parkop, Defence Minister Honorable Fabian Pok, the Vice Chancellor Professor Albert Melllam, Honorable Kerenga Kua, Attorney General & Justice Minister, and Honorable Tommy Tomscoll, the Minister for Agriculture and Livestock are of the same cohort in their UPNG days.

Being part of the convocation of the University of Papua New Guinea I felt a certain moment of pride. Our cohort had come through with the promise that was had in the decade after Independence of the nation.

What marvels me is the witness of a triumphant journey of young people of this land trudging along, often presented with challenges, necessary and unnecessary, in their formative schooling years, through guts, sheer pride, and love of themselves, their families, and tribe. In whatever event, great or small they were faced with, the young people of our remarkable country often respond with unlimited enthusiasm to learn all they can and sponge the experience for the future of this country.

The hope that we as a nation have in our young people rests in what we have done to prepare, mentor, guide, shape, and lead them on to the platform of greatness. If we had done our part in the formation of our people to lead the nation in future then we can rest easy, but if we have not, then what can we do to bring them up that extra mile that many of us often expect from them. Often such expectations and criticisms, (of our graduates’ performance out in the real world), are made up by those who have not contributed to their growth and development as young people.

Attending every UPNG graduation is important to me. First it is part of my duties and responsibilities as an academic of the institution. Second it is the pride of my life as the institution that prepared me to be the person I am today. Third reason is that I am always proud to see my students graduate on that day because I know I have done my part in preparing them to go out there and contribute to the development of our beautiful country.  Being a witness to their moment of triumph, moment of glory, and moment of achievement brings me to the realization that I had given them a helping hand along the way here.

Celebrating with the tribe as it is good for the community.
I know the pride the family and tribe have on seeing one child graduate with a degree from the University of Papua New Guinea. Every graduation is a crowded affair with so many people turning up to witness the turning point in their child, relative, and tribesman’s journey. It is a moment of celebration. I sometimes think back to my own graduation only to hold back tears because I had only one cousin who attended my graduation because I was the only one and the first in my family and village to graduate from any university. All my people were too poor and could not afford to travel to witness my graduation.

It seems to me that the appeal issued by the NCD Governor for graduates to return to their villages to create wealth is worth every pint of salt now then before.

Educated members must return to their land with some business plans to plough, irrigate, and grow wealth on it.

It is not literarily about agriculture, but about using the land as the foundation for other wealth creation opportunities. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Responsible PNG Ways

So many issues and ideas seem to fly by, waiting for me to catch them in their flight, as if it’s a battle of ideas for me? Whatever it is I need to write down such ideas for the sake of making sense of the confusing random ideas that flood my world almost every second.

I have already settled for something to begin this discussion. I have decided to write about the burden of responsibilities. We owe it to our families, our communities, and our nation for shouldering our burdens. Our society has instilled in us the values of responsibility and responsible behavior expected of us in our daily lives. The most demanding of these is that we must take on the responsibility of leadership.

Many of us take on the burden of responsibility as a result of the social, political, and economic environment we are in at the present time. Taking on the responsibility means to deal with a situation that no one else would. It also means that the decision to take on responsibility goes with the risk of losing anonymity.

The importance of responsibility is that others are dependent on the decisions and actions of the person tasked with the responsibility to deliver whatever goods or services to increase the happiness and joy of the society. It is an abstract notion, but once translated into concrete situations the appearance of responsibility is anything, but a direct impact of a leader’s responsible behavior, actions, and decisions regarding a particular issue.

In thinking about the importance of responsibility in a Papua New Guinea context I am immediately drawn to the discussions that the late Bernard M. Narokobi had many years ago as a lawyer, philosopher, leader, parliamentarian, judge, and ambassador. In Foundations for Nationhood (2010) Narokobi expounds on the notion of Papua New Guineans Ways. How can we be responsible for the up-keep of Papua New Guinea ways?

“The basic principle of this goal,” Narokobi argues “is that Papua New Guineans are a people. They are a race, a nation. From the star, our ways are what our people find worthwhile to pursue. An emphasis of Papua New Guinean ways seeks to give encouragement to the discovering genius of our people” (2010: 35).

Are you responsible for the burden of Papua New Guinea Ways? Yes, we are responsible to our societies. We are creatures of our own societies. We belong to our society. We must take responsibility to enable our societies continue to uphold Papua New Guinean ways. It is easy losing Papua New Guinean Ways.

“Where we do not have an answer, we will find an answer by searching in the right direction. Where an answer exists, that answer should be preferred. One can isolate many facets of our ways. The fact that we have many ethnic groups is in itself a Papua New Guineans way. Development should consolidate that community living through which loneliness and despair can be eliminated. Community living should replace the senseless urban individualistic living that flourishes in big cities,” writes Narokobi (2010: 35).

The appeal here for us to return to the simple, basic, and fundamental Papua New Guinea ways is to acknowledge the collective responsibility we have as a unique group of people in the world.

“Cooperation, consensus, democracy blossom in small-scale communities,” writes Narokobi. “Participation and involvement are most effective in a small community. Sharing of good things and bad things is inevitable in small communities. Spontaneous culture and religious worship flourish in communities that know and feel their needs, their strengths and their weaknesses.  We must promote our cultures and reject some foreign cultural practices. We must discard some foreign practices such as alcoholic consumption to absurd excesses. Mothers should be able to take their babies to work instead of placing them in nurseries.” (2010: 35).

On the same page Narokobi continues to drum home the point: “By recognizing our ways, we give-due dignity to our lives. After this we are free to adapt our lives to the modern world, to accept some ways of other peoples and ignore others. After this we begin a critical look at our values and discard harmful practices. This leads us to maturity.”

Furthermore the responsibility we have to ourselves is to do some of the things right. We must stop giving excuses after excuses for doing stupid things that lower our standards as decent, self-respecting, and honorable people. We must stop justifying for all the wrongs to make them become normal part of our lives. We must stop gambling our lives away. We must stop littering our streets and neighborhoods with empty cans, thrash, and unnecessary gathering of peoples. We must ask ourselves what is it that we are doing that is not in sync with the rest of society.

Our failure to be responsible to ourselves leads to a society dealing with a psycho-social indifference to itself. Change has to be both psychological and social in order for a people proud of itself to steer it away from stubborn resistance to necessary quality change any society needs from time to time.

I am encouraged often in my reading of Bernard Narokobi’s writings. He urges us all to be responsible citizens of this Independent country.

“Papua New Guinea ways urge government commissions like the Law Reform Commission, the National Cultural Council [Commission], the Minimum Wages Board, the Courts etc., to discover our good laws and enact them in laws for today and tomorrow. Our lives were governed by norms and dictates, as we relate to other people or other property. These norms must be rediscovered and made use of. Change has to be conceptual as well as structural. As our ideas change, so must our institutions change. Our religious belief, our vision of reality and deity, must be studied and adapted to our Christian teachings.”

Narokobi urges us on: “We must know our ways and go on from them. Christianity must be adapted to some of our traditional forms of worship and celebration”

New Cultural Dialogue

In the last few weeks the issue of understanding ourselves and our ways had dominated the discussions that I had in both my professional life and in this column.

The importance of understanding our ways begin when we return to what we know and lived as Papua New Guineans. Only then, do we begin to make sense of ourselves. Without which we will remain sterile in the fast changing world of global influences through imported cultures, ways, technology, and those things that are the products or results of global cultural movements.

In a small classroom that can fit about 30 students a seminar on cultural studies touches on the importance of framing the problem of Papua New Guinea ways. The discussion is led by two students who are completing their fourth year of studies in Literature at the University of Papua New Guinea. 

Their journey began with an innocent entry into the academic corridors of learning behind grey walls of UPNG’s hard-knock learning environment, where leaders are made and young people are formed into responsible citizens—all contributing to the national development through the various careers that their lives took them to.

The discussion leaders show air of confidence, take up their positions on campus with accorded respect often coming from their junior colleagues, and in their out-of-classroom conversations, they often talk about their important to not-so-important acquaintances in government, public service, private sector, and community.

Who would not be impressed with the two students taking up the challenge to impress their cohorts that serious consideration of their views is expected? Yes, their discussion is on understanding who they are in this world. One would talk about the importance of understanding one’s own kind and the other would talk about the processes for undertaking that important cultural lesson.

They made reference to a book: Reframing Indigenous Knowledge: Cultural Knowledge and Practices in Papua New Guinea that I edited some years ago. The UPNG Melanesian and Pacific Studies published the book after a conference on Reframing Indigenous Knowledge. The idea of reframing indigenous knowledge and methodology was inspired from the work of a Maori scholar, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, whose words open the introduction of the book.

Tuhiwai Smith writes: “Framing ‘the… problem,’ mapping it, describing it in all its different manifestations, trying to get rid of it, laying blame for it, talking about it, writing newspaper columns about it, drawing cartoons about it, teaching about it, researching it, over and over…how many occasions, polite dinner parties and academic conference would be bereft of conversation if ‘indigenous problem’ had not be so problematized?” (1999: 91).

The first student wanted his fellow students to read the book Reframing Indigenous Knowledge as a way of gaining more insights into the various discussions people have on culture in Papua New Guinea. 

The quality of contributors include: Peter Baki’s Promoting Indigenous (Traditional) Knowledge and Skills in the Education System, Lynus Yamuna’s The Vision & Mission for the Centre for Melanesian Studies at the University of Goroka, Julie Foster Smith’s An Accidental Pragmatist: Crossing Boundaries of Dominant Cultural Practice, Paschal Waisi’s Lau’um Pingis (Epistemology), Sam Kaima’s Kwa-ak: Wantoat Witchcraft, Sorcery and Dispute Settlement in Wantoat Morobe Province, Alice Street’s Multiple ways of knowing and versions of sik in Modilong General Hospital, Madang.

As if it was important the student introducing the book broke off to announce: “I have spoken their names aloud I am sad to say the following have passed on: Lynus Yamuna, Paschal Waisi, and Sam Kaima. Their pioneering work will remain important to us for many years to come.”

The same student continued announcing the list of contributors to scholarship on cultural knowledge systems in Papua New Guinea.  Tom Hukahu talks about traditional astronomy in Papua New Guinea, Soikava Pauka discusses the secondary school students’ traditional science beliefs in Papua New Guinea, Prem P. Rai and Simon Saulei talk about the establishment of a database on traditional medicine in Papua New Guinea.  All these people have one thing in common: their interests in traditional knowledge systems of Papua New Guinea.

One of the most empowering and dynamic discussions in this book is Sakarepe Kamane’s discussion of eco-linguistics and environment knowledge in the Zia community of Waria, Morobe District. Kamene talks about the inter-dependence and co-existence of language, cultural, and environmental knowledge of his people. The Zia culture is rich, dynamic, and is entrenched deep in the way of life of the people.  The Zia people are proud people.  They are willing to go with the change.

We need to read Catherine Levy’s essay on recording traditions, especially for cultural awareness and self-respect, Naomi Faik Simet’s discussion of dance as a traditional knowledge: The Pikinamp of Chambri, and Don Niles’s encapsulating Indigenous knowledge through chanted tales from the Papua New Guinea Highlands area.

There is the last chapter by Masio Nidung on the impact of organic law on Provincial and Local Level Governments on traditional copyright issues. All the contributors to this book have illustrated that Papua New Guineans must document their cultures for others to read and value what they have.

The students continued with their seminars, until one of the students interjected with a remark that took the seminar leaders off-guarded.

“I remember our second year course on Literature and Politics we learned that nationalism is a defense of a nation’s cultural inventions. Nationalism vindicates it own inventions by politicizing its culture. A nation is denied of its identity once culture is separated from it.”

In response, one of the two seminar leaders equipped, “Precisely our point. You must read what our writers have written in order for us to have a conversation, a dialogue, an agreement as to where we are and what we must do to move forward. At least that’s what I learned in the four years I have to subject myself as a student under the influence of some of PNG’s legendary writer scholars here at UPNG.”

Eureka! Eureka! Bravo! The students seemed to have heard their lecturer utter.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pacific Folk Knowledge

Beautiful Wewak Beach Centre for Sepik Heritage

Meeting Honorable Luamanuvao Winnie Laban of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand last month at the Council Room of the University of Papua New Guinea was indeed memorable. Honorable Laban is an Associate Professor and Assistant Vice Chancellor (Pasifika) at the Victoria University. I had the rare moment of discovery that she was the first Pacific Islander Member of Parliament in New Zealand and is a close relative of the famous Pacific writer and elder, Albert Wendt. Honorable Laban’s grandfather was one of the first Samoan missionaries to Papua New Guinea.

UPNG VC Prof. Albert Mellam 
Meets Hon. Luamanuvao WInnie Laban
Her invitation for collaborative research and learning from each other strengthened my thinking about the kind of cultural research we do in Oceania.

I am now researching folk narrative structures in literary and cultural productions of Oceania. My interest in teaching Pacific literature and cultures has inspired me to work on a book. I want to accomplish two things in this research: First, I want to answer the question: do Pacific writers use structures from folk traditions to construct their literary works? Second, I want to argue that if this is the case we could also use the same folk structures to read the writings of Oceania.

I propose to look at the conceptual frameworks used in Pacific literary and cultural representations. How concepts of literature, politics, identity, and culture construct each other as well as create a dialogue between different cultural groups in the Oceania. The writing strategies used in literature and cultural productions to ‘unwrite’ the conceptual space known as Oceania is of interest here. The attempt is to identify the different strategies Pacific Islanders are using to articulate their experiences in that space described as Oceania. Is it possible to develop a theory of literary and cultural analysis based on the models and structures of thought derived from Indigenous knowledge systems of Oceania?

The discussions have started and are continuing in a whole range of subjects and topics across different disciplines and through various processes.  In 2005 I organized a conference at the University of Papua New Guinea on reframing Indigenous Knowledge in Papua New Guinea. The conference proceedings are now published as Reframing Indigenous Knowledge: Cultural Knowledge and Practice in Papua New Guinea.  In the book that I am writing now I want to expand some of the discussions generated in Reframing Indigenous Knowledge book to include Oceania.

The proposed book will consider both critical and creative representations of the emerging issues and concerns within Pacific Islands. Some of these issues are social change from historical to postcolonial experiences, cultural constructions, and repositioning of voices, identities, and structures of viewing defined within the Pacific Islands contexts. Pacific cultural diversities and identities are brought into focus.

The book will consider the historical development, issues of representation of cultural identities, social change and nation formations, development and practice of literary cultures. It will also cover discussions on the construction of indigenous epistemology in Oceania, and the emergence of Pacific literary and cultural studies in universities around the world.

I will discuss Oceanic imaginary and its representation, unwriting Oceania: repositioning representations, literary and cultural studies in Oceania, Oceanic art and performance culture, folk narrative structures in Oceania, Indigenous features films fiesta, imaginary geographies: diaspora and cross-cultural fertilization, unmasking histories and memories in Oceania, dialogic translations in Oceania, gendered metaphors: sexualities and sites of power, Indigenous customs and law in Papua New Guinea, Indigenous epistemology, and theory and cultural discourse in Oceania.

The structure and content of the proposed book is designed to reflect the growing interests in the development, production, and study of literary and cultural constructions in the Pacific Islands. I want to bring to fore the critical discussions, analysis, debates, and views generated about the literature, cultural politics and the different movements either within institutionalized spaces or outside of them. The critical studies of the literature and cultural productions of Pacific Islands is the focus of the proposed book.

I was surprised to hear someone describe Pacific literature as nostalgic and sad. I resist such over simplification and unexamined views. Readers need to raise themselves above such narrow, simplistic, and theoretically questionable views. It is precisely in the nostalgic moments that Pacific writers reimagine themselves with a past and the present. How is that such theoretical movement are constructed? Pacific writing is rich with cultural moments that form the truth of their identity. Readers need to go deeper into the cultural subconscious of the writers’ world. Without doing so readers can embroil themselves in mis-readings and lack of insights into the Pacific world.

The Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland published a wonderful collection of essays written by some of the leading Pacific Islands scholars in New Zealandat that time. Tupeni Baba, ‘Okustino Mahina, Nuhisifa Williams, and Unaisi Nabobo-Baba edited a fine collection entitled: Research Pacific and Indigenous Peoples: Issues and Perspectives, which was first published in 2004.

Others who contributed include: Linda Tuhiwai Smith Kolokesa U Mahina, Kabini F. Sanga, Margaret Mutu, Melenaite Taumoefolau, Monique Faleafa, Malia Talajai, Lorraine L Evening, Alphonse Gelu, Linda Manu’atu, Tungiwai Mere Appleton Kepa, Siosi’ana ‘Ungatea Fonua, and Tipene Filipo.

According to the editors it is a book that highlighted the complexity and multiplicity of issues regarding Pacific knowledge, cultures, pedagogies, scholarship and development in general. It forges a signature on the wider areas of research, teaching, and writing on the Pacific. It is an attempt to talk within and across the table to “the Other”. In order that all share and hopefully embrace together the concerns and aspirations of the Pacific. This process will enhance and empower our capacities to do more and better research and writing to inform our development.”

We are already doing some of these researches in our institutions across Oceana. All we need to do is acknowledge, share our researches and resources, and find ways to have collective inputs into our different communities.

The new book will complement the latest book: Transitions and Transformations: Literature, Politics, and Culture in Papua New Guinea.