THE Crocodile Prize short story award in the name of the People emerged from a precipitate and last minute decision by long-term sponsor Steamships to renege on its prior commitment to the award.
This brought an anonymous donor to the fore and gave organisers the opportunity to make the award in the names of all the people who in one way or another have supported the Crocodile Prize.
Agnes Maineke, 57, knows real struggle. Indeed, in the south of Bougainville where she lives, telecommunications are still very difficult and it took us some days to notify her of the award.
Agnes was born in the Siwai area of south Bougainville and now teaches at Turiboiru Primary School in the nearby Buin District.
She told me she started writing during the ten years of the Bougainville crisis. “I used to write diaries,” Agnes said. “But unfortunately all got lost.”
The winning story is a harrowing first person of account of the circumstances in which Agnes gave birth to her son, Barnabas, in 1992, on a mountain track and fearing for her life in the middle of guerrilla hostilities.
“I’m actually computer illiterate,” said Agnes, and it was my daughter Eleanor who knew about the Crocodile Prize and asked me to write a short story for entry into the competition.
“I am overwhelmed and happy. And so grateful that you selected my story about the hardships of the Bougainville crisis years.
“I am so honoured and pleased. I cannot express adequately enough. But thank you again."
The judges’ citation
Writing short stories takes particular skills. They do not allow the luxury of exposition found in longer works. In a short story every word counts. Superfluous description has no place. Instead, they rely on sparking emotion in the reader. The best short stories appear deceptively simple but they are really like a finely honed blade made from quality steel.
Ernest Hemingway, the great American writer, summed it up when he wrote, “If the writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things he knows, and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”
Agnes Maineke’s short story, While war raged in Bougainville there was a miracle at Haisi, fulfils all these criteria.
Her story is simply and humbly told, yet contains much more than the sum of its parts. In it you feel the horror and reality that was visited upon an island in the Solomon Sea and which has scarred its people for generations to come.
The response of PNG Attitude readers to Agnes’ story was equally enthusiastic. Peter Comerford, who had spent time in Bougainville before the crisis, said: “This is such an alarmingly real story of that dark time during the crisis and extremely well written.”
“Wow, what an inspiring story of courage and strength in the face of adversity,” wrote Grace Waide. “I found myself close to tears reading through this amazing story.”
“Powerful!” was another word that sprang to the minds of many commentators.
“Wow, this is powerful reality,” said Michael Dom.
While Book of the Year winner Leonard Fong Roka, who has written extensively on this period, said, “I feel peace that we [Bougainville people] are coming out.”
“I love Agnes Maineke's telling of this story,” Fran Weston commented. “She describes her 22 year old story like it happened yesterday. I was completely engaged.”
And Marlene Dee Potoura said, “I held my breath reading it. And Barnabas, all the best in becoming the best refrigeration mechanic ever.”