Saturday, April 26, 2014

Buy PNG Books

I rushed for the newspapers on Wednesday like everybody else after the national government budget was handed down in Parliament on Tuesday. I wanted to see how much the government had given to higher education institutions in the country, especially for the University of Papua New Guinea. I noted the amount given for 2014.

I was interested in the budgetary allocation of K1.5 billion given to the Education Department, especially in the allocation of K23 million to development of curriculum materials, including the procurement of texts and resource books for teachers in elementary and primary schools. 

All good for the development of local curriculum materials and texts for our resource deficient schools! The issue that surfaces in the area of education is who is really benefiting from this money?

Many established local writers like Russell Soaba, Bernard Minol, and myself have given everything to develop, nurture, and inspire young Papua New Guineans to appreciate literature, writing, language, and books are kept outside of the loop.

Our books are not picked up by the Department of Education for whatever reasons. I have published more than seven books in Papua New Guinea and overseas, with two or three of them having international successes.  It is distasteful when books with no standards are the picks of the Department of Education for use in schools in Papua New Guinea. Did I miss something?  There is a tendency to pick up texts that are not properly evaluated by properly trained professionals.

I have approached the curriculum development division of the Education Department to order my books in the past. A procurement form was filled and signed, but since then I have heard nothing about my orders.  That is the problem. I am still waiting for my orders two years on.

A syndicate seems to exist, where individuals with their eyes on the money have direct access to the Curriculum Division and the Department of Education. Those who benefited from the past funding will no doubt look forward to next year’s funding.

One would think that a clear and transparent system exist where all Papua New Guinean writers’ works are considered valuable for use in our schools. The logic of this point is that as much as possible our young people must read what their own writers write. Indulging in local experiences empowers readers to create their own worlds.

Reading works written by local authors serve as a learning curve for Papua New Guinean readers. The way a writer uses language often strikes a reader on how he or she wants to use language as a platform for written expressions.

I am often reminded of the reason the great African writer, Chinua Achebe, took up writing. Achebe did not like the way Joyce Cary wrote the book Mr. Johnston because it was written with racist overtones, belittling the Africans in every line that all Achebe could think about was to rewrite that book, but with an African voice. So he wrote Things Fall Apart, the greatest African novel of the modern postcolonial world to great success.

English is the main language of literary expression and publishing in Papua New Guinea. We must justify our uses of it in our writings. The “use of English inserts itself as a political discourse in post-colonial writing, and the use of English variants of all kinds captures that metonymic moment between the culture affirmed on the one hand as ‘indigenous’ or ‘national’, and that characterized on the other hand as ‘imperialist’, ‘metropolitant’, etc” (Ashcroft et. Al.1989: 53).  Thus in the story “Bomana Kalabus O Sori O!” by the Papua New Guinean writer John Kasaipwalova the English variant used in urban Papua New Guinea is used in clear contrast to standard English used in official business and discourse:

When everybody stopped swearing and making fun at us, the chief gave down his decision and our punishment. We didn’t say anything because our ACO has already finished reporting and making court with the chief, and now we are just going to get our punishment. ACOs always right. Prisoners always wrong.
“OK olgeta, harim gut! Yu wokim rong ausait na lo i putim yu long kalabus. Yu man nogut. Yu man bikhet. Yu ‘kriminol’. Yu brukim lo na yu kalabus samting nogut.”
The chief pauses a little to allow his ACOs to swear at us first before staring out and yelling coldly again (Kasaipwalova 1980: 64).

Kasaipwalova writes in the English variant used in everyday urban environment in Papua New Guinea. Kasaipwalova uses both standard and non-standard English to make the point that written language should also imitate the way it is used in everyday conversations. Thus reaffirming the notion that there is an “interdependence of language and identity—you are the way you speak” (Ashcroft 1989: 54). In Papua New Guinea the official languages of government, business, and instructions are English, Tokpisin, and Hiri Motu, but it appears English and the variant of English unique to Papua New Guinea—a mixture of English, Tokpisin, Hiri Motu, and vernaculars are the choices speakers us in their everyday communication. Kasaipwalova has created a cultural space that is locally specific to Papua New Guinea imbued with the power to resist the demands imposed by English grammarians.

Similar observations are made in the works of fiction writers such as Russell Soaba, Nora Vagi Brash, Albert Wendt, Sia Figiel, Karlo Milla, Celestine Hitiura Vaite, Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, Keri Hulme, Allan Duff, Vilsoni Hereniko, and John Pule the energy of the cross-cultural text is generated by absorbing in their works the multiple languages present in their cultures.

The knowledge of how local writers have used language in their writings might simply be the missing link in curriculum used in Papua New Guinea. I doubt many school children have read what some of our great national writers have written.

I hope that all that money allocated for purchase of school texts and resource materials is spent in a just and fair way that benefits all Papua New Guineans.


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