IN Papua New Guinea it seems that literature - like art, drama and dance - exists mainly for entertainment, or as an indicator of sophistication or intellectual status. Perhaps it is also seen to serve an historical function or to indicate philosophical or ethical values.
To be truthful, it may possess any or all of these qualities.
But to pass off literature as being merely for entertainment, like flipping through the pages of the odd book every now and again, or to see it as the sole territory of intellectuals and academics, is to condemn the future of our living culture, customs and beliefs to eventual extinction.
PNG has a rich and varied oral history, along with a deep-rooted and diverse culture which is well known to citizens and made known to visitors. But we are steadily diluting these qualities and may eventually lose them altogether unless we do something now.
The historical fact that PNG never had a written language is irrelevant today. The observation that there is a weak reading culture in PNG is, in essence, just a social challenge. Furthermore, the notion that PNG does not have writers of good calibre or able to deliver publishable literature is seen to be ridiculous.
Many writers and commentators point out that our nation is rapidly losing sight of who we are. We are forgetting, we are ignoring and we are neglecting the stories of our lives and of our predecessors lives.
This sorry state, if allowed to degrade, will be an indictment of today’s generation if we know and understand the issue but continue to do little about it, and the ancient legends, songs and tales and contemporary poetry, stories and essays are lost to future generations.
But there is an ongoing literary enterprise that attempts to address shortcoming in the literature of PNG.
The Crocodile Prize, our one and only national literary contest, was founded in 2010 (and saw daylight in 2011) by Keith Jackson AM and Phil Fitzpatrick. This competition is going from strength to strength and this year boasts a complement of seven different award categories.
The Crocodile Prize is just one avenue to encourage the development of literature, reading and writing in PNG but is emerging as the focal point for literary enterprise, recognition and improvement.
So how can the average citizen support and encourage the growth of literature in Papua New Guinea?
Step 1: Writers can enter The Crocodile Prize (go to ‘crocodileprize.org’ on the internet and all will be revealed).
Step 2: Readers can buy the annual Crocodile Prize Anthology of the best PNG writing (Amazon is a reliable supplier).
Step 3: Teachers and lecturers can encourage their students to write for the Prize and then order copies of the Anthology for their schools and institutions.
Step 4: Everyone can think about how to contribute to similar endeavours and talk to corporate and political leaders about offering their support for the Prize and its associated activities.
The crocodile, like the ubiquitous pig, is a symbol for all Papuan New Guineans, from the highlands to the coast and islands.
And the Crocodile Prize bears with it the living culture of our nation.
Agricultural scientist and poet Michael Dom, currently studying at the University of Adelaide, is a member of the Crocodile Prize Organising Group, COG.
Image: Draft of the cover of the 2014 Crocodile Prize Anthology which will be published in mid-September