Essays, Stories and Poetry by Papua New Guinean Women edited by Rashmii Amoah Bell
With forewords by Tanya Zeriga-Alone and Elvina Ogil
Paperback - $US10.53 (plus postage)
Kindle - $US$1.01
Essays, Stories and Poetry by Papua New Guinean Women edited by Rashmii Amoah Bell
With forewords by Tanya Zeriga-Alone and Elvina Ogil
Paperback - $US10.53 (plus postage)
Kindle - $US$1.01
I HAVE never met Bronte Moules who is our (that is Australia’s) deputy high commissioner in Papua New Guinea – an important post in the PNG-Australia relationship.
But if I ever do meet her – and I hope to on a forthcoming visit to PNG – I think I’ll like her. I’ve found Bronte positive, helpful and a person who clearly has Papua New Guinean interests at heart.
Last October, Bronte was also expressing encouragement about what was the forthcoming publication of Rashmii Amoah Bell’s landmark collection of PNG women’s writing, My Walk to Equality, much mentioned in these columns of late.
“This sounds like a great initiative,” Bronte wrote to me in an email. “It’s something that we’d be interested, in principle, in supporting in some way.”
We, in this case, being the Australian High Commission.
SEVERAL years ago a few of the pundits on PNG Attitude toyed with the idea of compiling a dossier of corrupt politicians in Papua New Guinea and invited readers to contribute.
The general idea was to provide information for voters in the elections that were then due.
Even though anonymity was offered the response was disappointing.
All those readers and commentators who had railed against the state of politics in Papua New Guinea suddenly went silent, even the anonymous and the vitriolic shut up.
I’VE been wondering about a few things that appear to be odd, and have reached the frightening conclusion that the 2017 national election is being deliberately set up to fail.
If I am right, then God save our Papua New Guinea.
Consider our present state of affairs. The PNG economy is on the brink of failure. The Central Bank has been printing money for some time now and public debt is around twice the national budget.
Critical information is being withheld, denying people truthful, accurate and much needed facts upon which to make reliable decisions.
THE author of ‘Let the C word Run Free: Desperately Seeking Collaboration’ has now made the C word come to life.
Much collaboration has now culminated in this anthology – a first for all the women of Papua New Guinea.
Rashmii Amoah Bell, a well read and articulate essayist, is the esteemed editor of this new body of work. Copies of the essays she has written can be seen on the PNG Attitude blog.
In all of her well-articulated and sometimes satirical essays, the one thing that comes out most often is her patriotism and heart for her country – Papua New Guinea.
It was in 2015 that her essay on the C word was penned. One year later this book was born.
“JULIE, have you got a curved needle and some strong thread?” I asked.
“I think so, I’ll look. Why do you want it?”
“Because I want to sew up a DC3.”
“Oh…. You want to do what?”
While Julie rummaged in her sewing kit, I quickly told her the story.
“There. Will that do?” I wasn’t surprised that she found a needle, living on an outstation, Julie had just about everything associated with sewing.
It was 1959 and Julie and I lived in Balimo, a remote government post about 500 kilometres west of Port Moresby.
WELL Rose and I watched two most magnificent Melanesian films last year and both brought us to tears, so I reckon it's time for a short review.
The first was Mr Pip (yes, it came out three years ago but better late than never) starring Hugh Laurie and Bougainville actors Eka Darville, Xzannjah Matsi and Healesville Joel.
It is based on the novel by New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones and is set in Bougainville during the civil war in the 1990s. The film is marvellously shot and acted and the music is by Tim Finn of the band Crowded House.
The publication of My Walk to Equality – the first collection of women’s writing from Papua New Guinea – has been a landmark event. In planning the book, editor Rashmii Amoah Bell invited forewords from two Papua New Guinean women whose writing has impressed because of its candour, insight and intellectual honesty. To celebrate the anthology, today we publish Elvina Ogil’s contribution; tomorrow, Tanya Zeriga-Alone - KJ
IF PAPUA New Guinea is to claim its place among civilised nations, its women must walk with its men. Not behind, not beside but with.
When conceiving of a united nation of a thousand tribes and hundreds of languages, our forebears took the first steps in this walk, articulating the unequivocal role of women as equal partners in our development and progress in that magnificent document that is the Constitution of Papua New Guinea.
Our Constitution, richer than so many others in the sheer depth of rights it accords to its citizens, chief among them is its direction to equality.
The pen in the hand of fools imprisons,
but when the wise wield it, it liberates.
And there are many who have built dungeons
for dissenters that pen as heart dictates.
But as the heart is free so must the pen,
and a poet is he who can speak his heart
even when it brings him hell or heaven,
for to be free and fearless is true art.
ONE picture. A thousand stories, let alone words, from a rich tapestry of connections woven from people and events spanning 135 years of Papua New Guinea’s history.
That’s what’s come from this single photograph of a group of tennis players taken in post-war Rabaul in 1951 or 1952.
An avalanche of information was sparked by the sharp recall of a former Rabaul resident who celebrated her 88th birthday on Friday.
It was followed by a blizzard of information on Facebook– some from people who wouldn’t exist except for the incredible tales of survival and heroism of their forebears in World War II.
THE Papua New Guinean government has failed to adequately address gender inequality, violence, corruption or excessive use of force by police, says the global NGO Human Rights Watch in its 2017 World Report.
In May 2016, Papua New Guinea’s human rights record came under detailed scrutiny during its periodic review at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
A month later, police opened fire on protesting university students in Port Moresby, wounding 23 people. The protesters had attempted a march to the national parliament to call for a vote of no confidence in the government of prime minister Peter O’Neill.
FOR West Papua the winds of change are blowing steadily, but Christmas has come and gone and not brought any presents yet.
When it met at Port Vila, Vanuatu, in December, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) delayed a decision on the application for full membership by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua West Papua (ULMWP).
ULMWP officials met with the prime minister of Vanuatu on the sidelines of the MSG leaders’ summit (photo) and, in a traditional ritual, offered gifts to signify the connection between Vanuatu and the independence struggle in West Papua.
Quietly like a mouse she slipped into the world
Oh, but dad she’s a girl
my fate he held that night
And like in ink he wrote my story
Page by page my journey went
None for me all but for his glory
Ten and tall I stayed at home
everything a women did I learnt so well
thin and wiry like a donkey
day by day stooped with loads
20 kilos and more
twelve and round my flowered skirt
I held between my knees
eyes downcast I moved among men
loud they talk, proud and strong
beside the fire my back to them
THIS week My Walk to Equality, the first ever collection of women’s writing by Papua New Guinean authors was made available to the public through Amazon Books prior to its dual launch in Port Moresby and Brisbane on International Women's Day in March. Leiao Gerega of the PNG Post-Courier newspaper spoke with the book’s editor, Rashmii Amoah Bell….
Leiao - As the woman behind this remarkable project, please can you tell us a little about yourself, your journey with writing, the challenges you face and your current profession.
Rashmii - My name is Rashmii Bell and I am from Sio in the Tewaii-Siassi local level government area in Morobe Province.
Reading has always been a part of my life so it feels like a natural progression to move into writing. I grew up surrounded by books in my family home and I have been able to access community libraries in Australia.
PAPUA New Guinea’s remote Hela province, in the north-central part of the country’s southern highlands, is home to the indigenous Huli tribal clan of hunter-gatherers.
It’s also the only place in the world where you will find the King of Saxony bird of paradise, and a plethora of other winged wonders. It is a region steeped in history, mystery, myth, and diversity.
Between them, Papua New Guinea’s seven million people speak more than 800 indigenous languages. Some 80% live in rural areas where modern services have never existed and more than a third of the population is illiterate.
When will the act of gathering oneself from the debris of yesterday happen? Listen to the voice that is calling out to you from the sea, the wind, the river, the garden… can you hear your home? The most likely place I think of as an idea to find comfort in the uncertainties in life. If you can relate, I convey 2017 Lagani with a beautiful smile. A voice from the Lakwaharuan Calendar - VSJ
Listen! My people from all clans
In the abundance of noise
You have not a choice
But to acquaint with this plans
Tell your heads I am here
My name is Biriakei
I have come with Laurabada
Sent by Hitolo, our foe in terror
ORGANISING Papua New Guinea’s national Crocodile Prize literary awards wasn’t particularly difficult.
In 2011 Keith Jackson and I were still actively working: Keith running a public relations company in Sydney and I fully occupied as a social mapper in Papua New Guinea and Australia.
The vast bulk of the planning and organisation was done by email. All our sponsors were contacted by email, including the Australian High Commission, which hosted the early awards ceremonies.
Even making the winner’s trophies was easy. I made up the wooden bases, stuck china crocodiles to them and attached a plaque engraved with the winner’s name by a local shop.
I AM the eighth child of 10 in a family from Egefa village along the Hiritano Highway in the North Mekeo area of Central Province.
Now I live in Madang Province and want to share my experiences of how the Tropical Gems Rhythm Foundation changed my life.
My father was a subsistence farmer and we spent our time making gardens while my elder brothers would go hunting or fishing.
Because of the remote location of our village, I was unable to complete my education, leaving school after Grade 6 in 1992.
My father and mother passed away when I was young, and it was difficult for me as a young woman growing up in a community where women, according to our Mekeo chieftain custom, have a lower status than men.
THERE is something special about schoolteachers which makes me curious - and that is they don’t seem to get old like the rest of us.
They do, of course, in terms of the passing years. But physically there appears to be some restraint on the ageing process.
I know this because most of the teachers who taught me in my primary school journey during the 1970s, and also in high school, are still strong and look younger than me.
One of them is Alphonse Sil from Kup in the Kerowagi District (pictured with me above).
Alphonse taught me from Grades 3 to 5 in 1975-77 and is now in his seventies but, as you can see, looks tough and youthful for his age.
IMAGINE you are a rugby league supporter attending your team’s grand final match. Five minutes before the match, the referee consults the opposing team and announces there will be new rules.
That is exactly what is about to happen in Papua New Guinea during this election year.
Papua New Guinea’s electoral commissioner Patilias Gamato is reported to prefer the deferral of PNG’s national elections in order to facilitate new rules proposed by the unpopular O’Neill regime.
She is a Delena woman.
She is a daughter, a sister, a mother, an aunt, a grandmother.
She has her garden, the sea is her backyard.
She cares for her family.
She cares for her extended family.
She is part of the United Fellowship Group.
She and her team work tirelessly through the year to fund raise with bake sales.
She leads the fellowship and cares for her community.
She will travel from Delena, over the open road on the Hiritano Highway.
She will go past Age Vairu, past Brown River, past Laloki.
Once in Port Moresby she will cook and visit Port Moresby General Hospital.
And share food and presents with patients.
The hospital has patients from all over PNG, some without family or friends.
Does she do it for money or to be recognised?
She does it because she cares about our people, our country.
EVERY hunter who goes into the forest knows that one of the most dangerous creatures he is likely to encounter is a wild boar.
With razor sharp tusks, these formidable animals can disembowel a man and leave him dying on the ground.
When a genteel man ventures forth in the cities, towns, suburbs and villages of the modern world, he knows that one of the most dangerous creatures he might encounter is a liberated woman.
Why should a man be afraid of a liberated woman?
Perhaps some of the blame lies with the early feminists, who could be very prickly indeed.
One day the males all bargained for a price
Worth twice an elephant’s size
Who was it, we thought
But it was for a skinny little,
Skinny little girl
Hiding behind her mama’s skirt
Through big brown eyes she watched
The big bellied bouncy man
with pocketful a money
And her mouth watered at the thought
Of how many lollipops she could buy
SINCE I began work with the family planning service Marie Stopes International in 2014, I have learned to embrace the simple fact that choices change lives.
Many women in Papua New Guinea are deprived of their right to be independent thinkers. This is evident when our cultures, customs and traditions label women as domestic assets and only let men - the hierarchical leaders - make decisions.
Many times women are forced into early marriage, often as young girls. Deprived of their right to education they later become disempowered.
DURING their time in Papua New Guinea, I think most kiaps and some teachers, health professionals and certainly missionaries encountered sorcery.
To the western mind, the inexplicable and malevolent nature of sorcery was difficult to understand and explain.
It was easy to dismiss it as a silly superstition that would disappear with time when education and the Christian belief became more widely available.
BACK in 1934 Fr William Ross (1896-1973) came to Wilya in the Western Highlands and settled among the Mokei Ndepi Nampaka clan.
Wilya is about a mile south of where Mt Hagen was established four years later, in 1938.
The Mokei tribe is divided into two major sections, the Mokei Ndepi (the forest dwellers) who lived mainly around where Mt Hagen town is situated and in the mountain range towards Kuta, and the Mokei Kuipi (the plains dwellers) who lived mainly in the kunai grass plains beyond Oglbeng.
The missionaries would bring shells from the coast and these were greatly prized by the local people. The missionaries used the shells to buy food and also sometimes to pay workers.
We are heroes in our own dreams,
but heralds of treacherous schemes.
When at night we lie on our beds,
the pictures that run through our heads.
Some make us quaver grisly screams
to get away from Hell's regimes.
Some take us to heaven it seems,
where we are more alive than dead.
Without the want for wine or bread,
where we write befitting our whims,
we are heroes.
I WRITE in my journal. I write letters to self. I write social media disgruntles and discussions. I write submissions.
I can’t remember the last time I tried writing creatively. I first attempted writing this several months ago, to look back at and mark a low point in my 30 years.
A point, where I thought I had done everything expected of me that was within my control but it was still not enough. The expectation of marriage.
My experience, however, does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in the struggle of being a Papua New Guinean, more so a Papua New Guinean woman.
IT was 5.45pm as Alice skidded through the traffic at the 4 Mile intersection on her way home.
She knew she was late. Her usual arrival time was 5.20. And home was another hour away.
Alice was a regular commuter who travelled between her village and her job in the city. She made it to the PMV stop just in time to hop on a bus that was just leaving for the village.
As the other passengers joked and chatted to each other, Alice sank into her seat in deep thought. She knew Rick would not be happy about her coming home late.
As a matter of fact, he had been unhappy a lot lately. He was often quiet and seldom joked with her – or had a good time. She knew it had something to do with work. He never wanted to hear her stories about work and he was always frustrated when she was very busy and came home late.
FIVE species of marsupials, an echidna, three bats and several rodents face extinction in Papua New Guinea and have been classified as critically endangered on the ‘red list’ of threatened species published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
And the main reason? Well, let’s say ‘greed’.
Diplomatically, IUCN says it’s due to “deforestation contributing to habitat loss and consequent population dwindling”.
Dedicated to my mother, Margaret Potoura
I AM in my forties now, but it is still vivid. It was 23 years ago and I was 23 years old, a trained primary school teacher, and three years out of teachers college.
My father, Nehemiah Gray Potoura, and two of my brothers Trevor, 20, and Jacob, 16, were abducted by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army on 23 August 1993.
The evening before, my father told my mother, Margaret, to take us and the other women and flee to a hide-out on his sacred land. We left in a hurry with my widowed aunty Aretai and her children, my 12 year old sister Linda, my mother’s niece Isabelle, who was five, and my four year old brother David.
“BUBU Mum, what is adapt?” asked six year old Chayil as he chomped on a piece of sunnyside egg.
“You know how you go to a new place,” I began to explain, with my sister Jan grinning and whispering in tokples Hula that I’d just been hit for a six.
Thirty minutes earlier, she had been searching for the adaptor to connect the electric fryer to fry eggs.
“Has anyone seen the adaptor?” It had been in one of her five kitchenware bags.
Now here’s Chayil asking his question totally unrelated to eating.
I awake, my head it throbs
My heart it beats, as though in my chest, it lobs
Oh how I wish I did not have to come out of slumber
"I'm fine, I can do this", I mumble
As I do every day, I start the day with the only way I know how, with a prayer
I ask God to give me strength, clarity, wisdom and the fight to deal with each naysayer
And suddenly I'm filled with unbridled energy, the kind that makes you take on the day without a care
That's just what I need, as the world we live in, it's just not fair
IN early 1968 I was sitting in front of a rest house in a high valley somewhere out of Tambul in the Western Highlands.
Gathered in front of me were about 300 people chatting among themselves and patiently waiting their turn to cast a vote in the national elections.
Suddenly there was an uproar in the crowd and people started running in all directions. I glanced at the police to make sure that the red fibreglass ballot boxes were safe and then walked to what I estimated was the centre of the fuss.
AT 8pm on Tuesday 25 October 2016 the power went off. Black out.
I was over-tired; teaching year six teenagers and being a single mum to two lively children is not an easy task.
I held my daughter’s hand and we went to bed. She didn’t want to climb onto the top-bunk, which she shared with her brother, so we both lay down on the bottom one.
“Mummy, sleep with me here. Don’t go to your room,” she said, as we cuddled and said goodnight to each other.
The nanny was sitting outside the house waiting for the electricity to come on so she could clean the kitchen and wash the cooking utensils.
IT IS a challenge being a magistrate and there are risks with high profile cases but Anita Bacca, based at Bosim in Milne Bay Province, does it to build the community, ensure people know their rights and share information and knowledge.
There is no police support in Bosim, the nearest police station is a one-and-a-half hour boat ride away. But Anita finds her job to be rewarding.
ROXANNE - How long have you been a village court magistrate?
ANITA - Six years now.
Roxanne - Why have you chosen to be a magistrate?
Anita - I guess because of problems I had and needed to study law. I went through a lot of problems and needed to understand my rights.
IN the 1970s I moved schools to a rural outer suburb of Brisbane in Australia. I was in Grade 5, nearly 10-years old, and you could find me most mornings crying on a swing in the school playground, dreading the classroom.
I was the only person of colour in the entire school and quite a novelty. It was assumed I was an ‘Abo’ an awful abbreviated for Indigenous Australians, or Aborigines. A term used as an insult. A term to set you apart – make you feel less.
As a mixed-race Papua New Guinean-Australian, I’ve encountered racism in various guises in both PNG and in Australia, the country my parents chose to move to when leaving PNG in 1972 prior to independence. Or, as the Europeans said at the time, before it all “went to shit”.
SO prime minister Peter O'Neill has called on the “foreign media” to take fresh look at Papua New Guinea in 2017.
He made this appeal after the PNG press reported that there had been “minimal” disturbances over the Christmas-New Year festive period.
Apart from army elements attacking the police, that is, and the usual amount of “opportunistic crime”.
Mr O’Neill noted that this time of harmony was “a change from the problems of decades past.”
Having claimed a new era of peace under his leadership, O’Neill went on to address the main point of his message.
I read a novel, "Toropo the Tenth Wife"
Set in the 1960's, I saw a different PNG
A PNG dictated by the decisions of men
Young Toropo wanted to be educated
She worked hard to win her father's favour
Instead her father sold her as a commodity
To a man old enough to be her grandfather
The love she had for a younger man
Her dreams of being educated all burst into flames
A time difficult for any woman in PNG
THERE is a light at the end of the tunnel for struggling PNG authors to sell their books in large quantities when reading becomes part of the classroom instruction under the reformed Standard Base Education system.
Starting from 2017 or 2018, reading will become part of classroom instruction under the reformed education system.
This was revealed to me by the director of secondary curriculum unit at the Education Secondary Curriculum Division at Waigani in September and has been further affirmed by Simbu educator Roslyn Tony.
I Can See My Country Clearly Now. Much-travelled journalist Daniel Kumbon was born in Enga, university educated and is now back working among his own people. In this book, the award-winning writer tells of his global travels and reflects on how his many experiences revealed Papua New Guinea to him in a new light. Daniel's book joins other excellent works on offer absolutely free through PNG Attitude and all available by clicking the links just below the masthead....
LIFE is a series of cycles. The mitosis, the circadian cycle, the menstruation cycle, gestation, and the big one that encompasses them all is the life cycle – birth, senescence and death.
This is as nature intended; that we successfully pass on our genes.
Humans have developed habits to give our genes the best chance of survival. These habits become culture; culture, both good and bad becomes a way of life and children are immersed in it from birth.
The women used to be a revered gender because she was the garden that grew the tribe. Sex was just a holy dance for procreation.
AS we start the fresh year of 2017, I want to reflect on things of the year gone by, 2016, which was not an easy road for anti-corruption leaders, individuals, institutions and movements.
In the short history of PNG, 2016 will be a year marked by the reign of corruption peaking and the anti-corruption movement collapsing.
As journalist Sally Andrew said in The Diplomat: “Backstabbing, factionalism and dramatic abuses of power have led the battle against corruption in PNG to take on Shakespeare drama, as the National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate locks horns with high profile government figures, including the attorney general and prime minister".
That was on 22 April, a black week for PNG in a black year in its history.
I LOVE haters! These guys are amazing fuel. They rock. Love you guys. Keep it coming.
Their mindless drivel, hate-driven rhetoric and outrageous falsified claims are something else.
Most are weak cowards who never dared to dream and hate those with dreams for their country.
Haters are important to progress. Their teeth-gnashing and bitter, bile-infused hatred can be a catalyst for change.
They can point out issues from a different perspective and, despite their negativity, may help you see things you may otherwise have not seen.
I THINK that everyone would agree that 2017 is going to be an interesting year. Hopefully it will not be too disastrous.
There will be elections in France, Netherlands, Germany, Papua New Guinea and possibly Italy and Australia if Turnbull implodes.
Donald Trump will rearrange the deckchairs on the good ship USA and both Australia and PNG will have to reconsider their relationships with a faltering great power, particularly in terms of defence, security and trade.
But as minor powers neither Australia nor PNG seems to have the clout or the leadership capable of doing much more than reconsidering.
HA! An XOX? A rare champion of a cause for another cause. By a woman.
Imagine that lady over there, see, might actually be a champion. One who dares to walk her dream. Awe inspiring? You bet! Meet the XOX: You are the champion!
A rainbow of emotions. Diverse beauty. Strong. Simple love. Gentle. Kind. Radiant. Happy. Respectful. Grateful. Sincere. Humble. Open. Friendly. Courageous. Funny. Fearless. Every day each XOX commits to master one of these virtues.
The deadline for application submission is 4pm on Monday 9 January 2017 and applications can be made online here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Module1Part1.
Following completion of this first phase of the application process, SSGM will review your responses and may contact you for more information to complete the application process.
EIGHTEEN years after independence, Papua New Guinea was starting to cut ties with Australia and the Keating government was struggling with ways to maintain the relationship.
Just released Australian cabinet papers for 1992-93 reveal Australia’s view of PNG prime minister Paias Wingti as trying to diversify foreign and commercial relations away from Australia, under the banner of "Look North".
Since his 1992 election he had postponed his first official visit to Australia, but a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade report to the cabinet in November 1993 noted he had visited Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Nauru and devoted a lot of energy to developing relations with Malaysia, including encouraging a Malaysian logging company to set up a newspaper, and seeking to secure Malaysian investment in the Lihir gold project.
ON New Year's Day, I sit before my computer contemplating the fact that it is now some 48 years since I first set foot in Papua New Guinea.
It seems a very long time ago that I first walked down the stairs from an Ansett Airlines Boeing 727 and made my way across the shimmering tarmac towards a somewhat dilapidated terminal building at Jackson's Field.
In doing so, I entered a world that was utterly different to anything I had experienced before, in which I would do, hear and see things that were beyond my wildest imaginings. It was as if I had been suddenly transported to a place and time that was not quite of this world.
As I subsequently discovered, I had indeed been catapulted back in time in more ways than one, not least because I was amongst peoples who were the living embodiment of humanity's (mostly) distant past.