BY PHILIP FITZPATRICK
I started collecting books about Papua New Guinea in 1966 when I applied for a job as a Cadet Patrol Officer. In those days my tastes ran to the likes of Jack Hides and other adventure writers.
I’ve been collecting books ever since, but my tastes have mellowed over the years and the genres have widened considerably.
It’s not an especially expensive hobby - books about PNG don’t fetch big prices - but it does involve lurking about the dustier sanctums of secondhand book shops or rummaging through the stalls of library sell-offs and in places like Vinnies.
If I’m desperate for a special book, I’ll search the web and reluctantly pay the much higher prices that dealers demand.
I generally carry around a list of books that I’m seeking, and the act of crossing off a rare find is a real buzz.
Over the years I’ve accumulated about 250 volumes. If you’re interested you can see the list here. Download Phil's Booklist
The genres have become distinctive as the collection has grown. Because I do social mapping, there is a collection of anthropological and historical volumes and a bunch of reference books like the excellent Encyclopaedia of Papua New Guinea.
Then comes all the stuff written by kiaps, the odd doctor and, surprisingly, only a few teachers.
Then there is fiction, again dominated by kiaps, with a thin sliver of Papuan New Guinean writers.
One genre I tend to avoid are military topics, mainly because I’ve had an aversion to things martial ever since a certain lottery in the 1960s, and because there is so much of it published that I’d never be able to find the space.
I did enjoy Eric Feldt’s The Coastwatchers, however, and think it is a far superior work than the recent blatant rehash.
Another genre I’ve avoided is missionary literature. Much of that is pedantic, mildly racist and too self righteous for me. When I went to Uni, Marxism was the go; being a working anthropologist doesn’t help either. Each to his own.
However, I enjoyed Ben Butcher’s We Lived with Headhunters immensely and also APH Freund’s Missionary Turns Spy.
I worked with Harold Freund researching and writing a monograph on his Kukukuku artefact collection before he died in the late 1990s. That otherwise gentle and devout pastor harboured a hatred for the wartime Japanese that was chilling.
Which brings me to the point of this rambling yarn – one Hosea Linge, or Ligeremaluoga as he was known.
Ligeremaluoga was a Papua New Guinean and also a missionary. More than that, he was the first Papua New Guinean to write a book.
Vincent Eri published the first Papua New Guinean novel, The Crocodile, in 1970 but Ligeremaluoga wrote and published the first book way back in 1932.
It was a memoir and he wrote it in his native New Ireland Kuanua language. It was translated by Ella Collins for publication by FW Cheshire in Australia.
Until recently the book has been largely dismissed. Ulli Beier thought that Ligeremaluoga was just mouthing the religious platitudes of his white teachers and suspected that Collins’ contribution was more than mere translation.
Ulli also thought the book, because of its religious flavour, had contributed to the destruction of the culture of Ligeremalouga’s people. He especially thought the title, The Erstwhile Savage, was terrible.
Ulli was anti-colonial and taught that way. Only a few of his students, like Russell Soaba, questioned that line of thought.
With that sort of recommendation one might be wary of seeking out a copy. Don’t be deterred. It’s a lively book with some very interesting and original history.
If you can’t get a copy of the original, he published an updated version in 1978 called An Offering Fit for a King, which I hear might be republished soon.
The subject matter might not be so relevant now but its place in the annals of Papua New Guinea literature is very important. The book sits very comfortably in my collection.
If you want to know more about him Eric Johns wrote about Ligeremaluoga of Kono in the Famous People of PNG series published by Longman in 2002.