BY BENSON HAHAMBU
IT WAS A HOT ENERVATING AFTERNOON and sitting inside the school library with celling fans not functioning well was not comfortable at all for me. In front of the classroom was Mr Hasimani, my grade seven library skills teacher busy with his professional duty of teaching.
“Keep on reading a book and you will see places, you will even come to know people, also you will know where they are living, how they are living, their cultures and their traditions. For a book is a bank of knowledge”. These were the exact phrases coming from his mouth during one of my library skills lessons in 1990 when I was doing my grade seven at Brandi High School (Now Brandi Secondary School) in East Sepik Province.
Despite the uncomfortable conditions, gradually my brain started making sense of what he was saying as my eyes kept rolling over to the books that were placed on the library shelves facing in my direction. After a ten minute tutorial with the teacher, we were allowed to select the reader of our choice.
Without delay, I went straight for the book entitled, My Childhood in New Guinea, written by Papua New Guinea’s former Governor General Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane. I really had no idea what made me pick up that book so quickly but all I could remember was to get a reading book written by a person from my own country. Perhaps, that ideology automatically depicted the learning theory of “known to unknown” I guess.
I quickly read through the back of the book and realized that it was all about the Tolai Society of the East New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea. I was captivated at first glance when browsing through those paragraphs because finally I knew I would get to know more about the Tolai Society, their culture and traditions including their famous Kuanua language.
This was something I was dreaming of simply because many people usually called me a Tolaian thus forcing me to act like one. You might ask me, “why?” Well, even though I am from East Sepik Province, my physical features were similar to the Tolai people resulting in much confusion. Eventually, I borrowed the book and left.
The moment I started reading, I felt as if Sir Paulias was next to me telling me everything from the book. Even though it was just a book, at times as I sat quietly and read through with full concentration, imaginations usually developed into illustrations and kept running through my mind like a television screen.
“Boys and girls, I am going to appoint students to provide book reviews randomly so organize yourselves now”, said the teacher the following week. I could hear my heart beating not in a sense that I was scared but wishing that the teacher would select me to be the first to present because out of great interest, I quickly completed the book and was ready for that moment.
Unfortunately, I was not called upon to present mine that day and was very disappointed. However, my turn came a week later and I presented my review of another book titled, ‘Jane Eyre’ written by Charlotte Brontȅ.
As time went by, I started becoming a fan of Tolai music trying my best to learn how to pronounce the language sung in those songs which I normally heard being sung by famous Tolai musicians of the likes of George Telek, Leonard Kania and the Kopex Band, Junior Kopex and many others. Regrettably, there was no one around to translate those words for me. In later years, I went on to complete all my education and was employed as a banker with the then Papua New Guinea Banking Corporation in my home province.
After a year with the bank, I received an invitation that would have a great impact on my life in years to come. “Ben, what particular province would you like to express your interest in?” my supervisor asked me one morning. “East New Britain Sir”, I replied. “Well, you can submit one expression of interest then’, he reiterated. I lodged my expression of interest on one of the banking positions in East New Britain Province some weeks later and fortunately was accepted.
My heart was pumping and my face was filled with smiles when the news about transferring to East New Britain was delivered to me one morning. “Now I would be in a better position to experience the kind of life I had read about in the book My Childhood in New Guinea” I told myself. In a matter of weeks I found myself working in East New Britain Province in the land I had become fascinated with after discovering it in a book while a student some years back.
Because of the fact that my physical features were just like that of a Tolai as well as the love of the people and the knowledge of the culture and traditions I developed from reading Sir Paulias’s book I fitted in well with the people there and they even thought I was one of their own tribesmen. The only thing that made the difference was the language barrier.
I could remember on my first day at work once arriving there, someone rushed straight to me at the counter handing over his passbook then said in the Kuanua language, “Eya turana, ma go ra passbook tara salary up-date (hey bro, please up-date my salary into the passbook)”.
I was lost for words but quickly picked up the following words; passbook, salary and up-date and knew that all he wanted was to up-date his salary into his passbook so I did exactly what he wanted. All my colleagues started laughing at me because they knew that I had no idea about the Kuanua language but managed to do the right thing within that short period of time.
I eventually left the bank and went on to become a primary school teacher in 2001. While undertaking teacher training, I met a lady from East New Britain and followed my heart through to tying the knot with her. Later I went on to obtain my degree in education in 2008 and was employed as a Primary Teachers College lecturer at Gaulim Teachers College in East New Britain Province.
In 2010 while serving as a lecturer there, I was posted to Tauran Primary School in the Toma area to supervise trainee teachers who were sent to do their practice teaching in that primary school. Upon my arrival, the Head Teacher took me for a short tour around the Tauran community. There he showed me Sir Paulias Matane’s house lying adjacent to the school and told me that Tauran Primary School was the very school Sir Paulias attended many years ago
“Wow!” I called out with eyes wide open. “And you know what?” the Head Teacher continued, “He is coming with Lady Kaludia next week as special guests to observe our Book Week Celebrations and at the same time opening our new library as well”. Feelings of excitement filled me as I would be, for my first time, meeting Sir Paulias and would tell him in person how his book dictated my whole life.
The day came for the Book Week Celebrations and I was introduced to Sir Paulias and Lady Kaludia that morning before the ceremony started. There I finally met the author of the book that fashioned my whole life. He was very delighted to hear my story about how his book started transforming my life as early as my seventh grade and brought me this far to becoming a teacher like himself, and even getting married to a lady from his society and becoming part of his culture and traditions.
Sir Paulias requested me to be part of his team as an invited guest during the celebration and I was overwhelmed. He even gave me the opportunity to speak to the school children and the general public about the importance of reading books as well as my personal experiences about how the book My Childhood in New Guinea shaped my entire life. I could hear laughter everywhere as I added some flavour into my speech in a bid to promote the habit of reading a book. The day ended with a big feast prepared in the Tolai way before Sir Paulias and his team left.
How great it is to live a life shaped by a book written by a wise person and a founding father of education in this beautiful nation of ours. As a matter of fact, reading books can completely shape one’s life to such an extent that the full potential of it can be accomplished. With that, I truly owed my success to all my teachers who had contributed to building my interest in reading books as early as possible in my life.
Benson Jamankian Hahambu (35) was born in Wewak in the East Sepik Province. He is currently employed as a social science & community development lecturer at Madang Teachers College. He was a Banking Officer before going on to qualify as a primary school teacher. He has a Diploma in Teaching and a Bachelor of Education and is planning to undertake external studies at Deakin University taking the course Master in International & Community Development. He is married with two children