ARNOLD Mundua, 50, winner of this year’s Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing, was born in pyrethrum country – Gembogl, Simbu, on the slopes of Mt Wilhelm.
He works in the Simbu capital, Kundiawa, not so far from where he was born, in the important role of Provincial Forest Officer.
“I started writing in Madang in 1998,” he told me. “That was when I started the manuscript of my first novel, A Bride's Price. In 2003, it was published, with the assistance of Sir Paulias Matane, by CBS Publishers & Distributors of India.”
Arnold’s entry in the Heritage Writing Award was a direct outcome of the formation earlier this year of the Simbu Writer's Association.
“It was during SWA's first meeting that I and all other members were introduced to the Crocodile Prize competition by Jimmy Drekore and Francis Nii.
“For me personally, it was history in the making. My heartfelt thanks go to these two colleagues of mine.”
Arnold tells me that he has long “marvelled about our ancestors, how they lived and conducted themselves in pre-modern times to keep their generation alive under difficult circumstances.
“This compelled me to serialise the late Sir Ignatius Kilage's novel, My Mother Calls Me Yaltep, to highlight many of the Simbu customs and cultures that were dying out or had died out completely.
The winning Gag-gauamo story is an extract from my current manuscript entitled, They Call Me Yaltep, reworked and tuned for entry in the Crocodile Prize.
The judges’ citation
The Cleland Family Award for Heritage Writing received a record number of entries this year. The judges whittled those down to six, which were then presented to the cfreator and sponsor of the award, author Bob Cleland, for a final decision.
In choosing the six finalists the judges were mindful of Bob’s original intention that this category contribute to the recording of cultural practises and beliefs that are fading in people’s memories so that future generations of Papua New Guineans can appreciate their cultural roots.
Many of the entries strayed a little too far from this intention and simply recounted recent personal experiences. Others presented material that was questionable in its authenticity, thus confirming that Bob’s original intention rings true.
Of the six that Bob received, he said, “They all had heritage and/or historical content, but only one plunged straight into the subject and kept interest going with good, clear writing.”
That entry was Gag-gaumo: The baby cleansing ritual of the Upper Simbu by Arnold Mundua.
Arnold already has a couple of books under his belt and is working on a third. In one way or another they all deal with culture. He is also a founding member of the Simbu Writer’s Association.
"The Crocodile Prize is by far the best initiative promoting literature in PNG that I know of since independence," Arnold said.
"It opens the door to many budding and aspiring writers, something the PNG government through its Education Department has failed to do.
"The more than 600 entries in this year's competition is a testimony to commitment and dedication and shows how hungry our writers are to expose themselves to an audience.
"The Crocodile Prize also serves as an incentive and morale booster for local writers, where again the Education Department fails, although it does observe National Book Week annually," he said.
"I thank Keith and Phil, the two hardworking men in the forefront of the Crocodile Prize, and also the various sponsors. Your commitment towards this cause is not just for me or the winners but for the many silent writers struggling to gain exposure. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart."
Arnold also told me that he'd like to convey his deepest appreciation to the sponsor of his award.
"The Cleland family and the Cleland name is part of PNG history," he said, "and I'm proud to be part of this history by taking out the prize sponsored by the Cleland family in this year's awards.
"The award shows how committed the Cleland family is towards literature in PNG and further indicates that the family has not forgotten us (PNG) yet.
"I take my hat off to the Cleland family and thank you from the bottom of my heart for the award."