An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Heritage Writing Award
COMRADES, brothers and sisters, and fellow travellers on the ship we all call Papua New Guinea!
I am putting forward to you the following proposal: It is about time our country had a new national anthem to launch itself into the voyage of the future.
There are fundamental reasons why the national anthem of the country should be taken as seriously as any other matter of national importance. Songs use words to express feelings, emotions and creativity. They can inspire. We need a song that is all relevant, and driving citizens into the future. We need a progressive song. We need to sing a new song for a new dawn.
This is not a controversial proposal. It is absolutely necessary, relevant and timely and is needed in these times. A national anthem can unite a country. It should beat in tandem with the heart-beat of the country.
Let me qualify myself by saying that I value our history, the significance of our independence and the importance of the national anthem.
For the current generation, the independence of PNG on 16 September 1975 is part of the country’s history. But it is only one of the country’s many significant historical events. Other of equal importance include the World War II and the arrival of the first white men and missionaries.
It appears the current national anthem was an independence gift. It needed to be sung as a unity song. The messages in the song had to be communicated to as many people as possible who remained oblivious to and understood very little of the significance of the independence.
It was important to feel what it meant to be independent and part of a bigger group – a country – and not small tribal groups living in isolation from each other. In many instances, the song needed to remind people that they were part of an independent nation.
Many people in rural and isolated communities were unaffected by the significance of the independence message. They lived in isolation from each other, from government services, and from the bases of power.
Leaders in the highlands feared that the people were not ready for independence. Many educated people also felt that the people needed to be educated and introduced to western ways of doing things. They needed to be familiar with the democratic institutions that were necessary to strengthen the country. Independence needed to be sold to the people and the song did a marvellous job at that.
However, with the changing times and the younger generation becoming assertive with new needs and aspirations, a new song or national anthem is needed. Today’s generation wants something more than just a sense of independence to be part of a growing nation.
We have the Vision 2050, an overarching document that transcends all other development documents that carves out a path for national development and progress. We need a song that encapsulates the will, dreams and heartbeats of our seven million people, their hearts beating as one.
Independence and unity need to be emphasised, given that the country is culturally diverse and that it is geographically difficult to connect the people. But we need to be emphasising and building more on our potential and the things that are going for us right now.
The current national anthem is sung by tens of thousands of people: by young children during school assemblies, on special occasions and when receiving important visitors to our country. For those who understand the words, it reminds them of a past event and takes them back to a particular point in the history of our country. We continue to live in the past. It is not current, relevant, progressive and forward-looking.
A nation’s anthem should stir, drive, move and propel the citizens of a nation towards something greater than themselves. It should help stir a national consciousness.
We are over-emphasising the need to unite when we should be looking for the things that already unite us within a country divided by so many differences.
My fervent argument is this: No country should be encouraged and allowed to sing about its independence forever. We need a new national anthem that captures history but also accommodates the present while giving us confidence about the future.
History is important, so are the present and the future. The song has become a cultural and historical icon. It is an important part of the country’s heritage. But my analysis is that this anthem lacks punch, kick, motivation, will and spirit. It is not too compelling.
There are some essential elements that can be retained, particularly the reference to God, the land, and freedom (that we already enjoy) which is a legacy from our ancestors. And an indication of our independence can be sprinkled into the new anthem for good measure.
We need to be decisive and determine what it is we need to sing as a national anthem into the future and beyond.
The new national anthem with the national pledge should be made compulsory and be part of a Primary School subject such as Community Living. It must be memorised and learned by members of teams of all sporting codes, associations and community members, and the young people in this country
A national song competition can be organised by the Prime Minister’s Department with the Chief Secretary as the Chairman. It should have the endorsement of the National Executive Council.
This is not a trivial matter. It must be pursued as a matter of urgency and national importance.