AFTER more than five years of editing, judging and publishing writing from Papua New Guinea, I’ve noticed a number of recurrent themes.
One of the most consistent is the story of the pregnant schoolgirl.
In these narratives the girl is invariably smart with a great future ahead of her that is destroyed by an unexpected pregnancy. Sometimes the poor girl also contracts HIV/AIDS.
It is a theme that turns up more often than not in the work of highlands writers. I imagine this has something to do with societies in populous areas with severe resource pressures tending to be more conservative.
This may also be exacerbated by the men in these areas tending to regard their women as property as well as partners.
Societies in less populated areas on the coast and islands seem to have a much more liberal view about sexuality and are more tolerant.
The most recent iteration of this theme comes from Baka Bina and his wife Emily. Their short story, The graduation present, is probably the best version of the theme I’ve read so far.
In the same edition of PNG Attitude there is a fascinating story, The boy born of the Miok egg, of unexpected pregnancy from Johannes Kundal (transcribed by Daniel Kumbon) that combines reality and myth.
Again, it is the same theme but this pregnancy has been mythologised as a means of sanctifying a relationship between a highlands man and a coastal woman.
A girl from the coast swallows an egg that has drifted down from the mountains on river flotsam. She becomes pregnant and is drawn to the source of the egg in the highlands.
It is an imaginative explanation that sanitises the shame of an unexpected pregnancy beyond the tribe and outside marriage.
What bothers me about this type of story is that it is the female who is always to blame for the pregnancy.
It is the same kind of rationalism that says women who wear skimpy or figure hugging clothes (or are simply beautiful) are to blame when they get raped.
It is rare that I read stories where the father of the child recognises his culpability and responsibilities and takes care of the mother and baby, even though it jeopardises his career.
Such stories also bring to mind something I saw a few years ago in a village on the Upper Yuat River between Enga and East Sepik.
I had gone to see an old, sick and crippled man who lived alone in his house to see if I could help. The man’s house was just a stone’s throw from a village clinic abandoned by the health worker some months before.
In front of the padlocked clinic were the remains of the medical supplies the health worker had burnt before leaving. Among the ashes were hundreds of scorched condoms still in their packets. I wondered whether there were unwanted pregnancies in the village.
It takes two people to create a child, a man and a woman.
In doing so it is incumbent upon both of them to accept responsibility for the child’s existence and future well-being. It is not just the responsibility of the mother.
By the same token, having sex is a joint effort and the responsibility is shared. If a couple wants to have sex without the complications of a child that too is a shared responsibility.
It is not, as the stories suggest, the sole responsibility of the woman.
There are several ways to have consensual sex without conceiving a child but the simplest way is to use a condom. They are easy to get and available just about everywhere in Papua New Guinea.
If a man is thinking about talking a woman into having sex with him he should have a condom in his pocket.
If a woman is thinking about seducing some good-looking man, heaven forbid, she should have a condom in her bag.
Then perhaps the tide of pregnant schoolgirl stories will stop.
Meanwhile, I guess, they remain as morality tales; stories for innocent and naïve young women to exercise caution and safeguard their own futures.