YESTERDAY, Sunday, the family and I headed out to the University of Papua New Guinea for a liklik lukluk.
I hadn’t been on campus since 1976, attending a small politics honours class with young men who went on to distinguished careers in politics or business or both.
They included Rabbie Namaliu, Ben Sabumei, the late Paula Pora and the late Utula Samana, all of whom I liked very much, and we were mentored by Professor Charles Rowley, a personal hero of mine for his scholarship and kindness, who had been principal of the Australian School of Pacific Administration during my two years there as a student.
Even though Port Moresby has changed so much, there are corners of this city that bring rich memories to the surface.
After passing through a security check, we wandered to the quadrangle where all those years ago students would cluster awaiting the posting of exam results or talk politics outside the library and then, hearing singing, we made our way to the nearby campus church – packed full but mainly with women – and stood at the entrance enjoying the moment.
On our way back to the car, passing near the bookshop, I spotted a man a foot shorter than I but with similar hair and a grey straggly beard who looked just like an ageing John Kasaipwalova might look.
It was the great poet and playwright himself; the onetime student radical whose uncle had said to him, upon his graduation, that it was time to return to his people, become educated in their ways, ascend to a chieftainship and ensure their prosperity and well-being. John Kasaipwalova had returned to Kiriwina in the Trobriand Islands and done all that.
And now, after 40 years, like me he was back on that campus; but him answering the call to manage UPNG Press and Bookshop.
“Until November, when I arrived,” John told me, “I had not used a computer or emails – and now I love them!”
UPNG Press suffered a terrible calamity last year when the priceless PNG-Pacific collection of books housed in the old printery building was torched during the student unrest
“The building was burned down on Friday 24 June between 4pm and 6am,” Gregory Bablis later wrote for PNG Attitude. “The PNG-Pacific collection is now just a pile of ashes.”
And from this disaster, the newly-arrived John Kasaipwalova is intent not only on rebuilding but on greatly expanding the impact of UPNG Press.
This goal, of course, is of great interest to us who associate ourselves with PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize, committed as we are to ensuring that Papua New Guinea can sustain a robust literary culture of its own offering Papua New Guineans better access to their own knowledge and imaginings.
John has many ideas to achieve this – and believes he has the network and resources to do so.
In any event, he wishes to establish a collaboration with Phil Fitzpatrick’s Pukpuk Publications and Phil, John and I will doubtless now enter a period of email dialogue as we try to figure out how best we can do this.
If Chief John Kasaipwalova manages to build a strong edifice for Papua New Guinean literature from the present tenuous foundations, he will indeed have contributed a mighty gift to his own country and served well not only his own Kiriwina people but the people of this still young nation.