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04 April 2011

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And another great Nigerian friend of Ulli Beier's - Wole Soyinka - won the Nobel prize for literature in 1986.

He was also a political activist and in 1965, he seized the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service studio and broadcast a demand for the cancellation of the Western Nigeria Regional Elections. He was imprisoned for two years.

The reason to relate this is to say that I believe there is a young generation of great PNG writers who can aspire to the same heritage as Chinua and Wole as indigenous writers, and bring about much-needed social change.

We see the seeds of this already in the writings of the Crocodile prize winners.

Chinua Achebe, one of the generation of great Nigerian writers who was nurtured by Ulli Beier, died yesterday aged 82.

In 2007 he won the Man Booker International prize for fiction.

One of his famous quotes (on colonial history) ... "There is that great proverb - that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter," he said.

"That did not come to me until much later. Once I realised that, I had to be a writer."

Goodday to you all. My name is Jamiu Badmus from Oshogbo, Osun State, Nigeria.

I just saw it on Facebook that Ulli Beier is dead and am sending this message because I know him well through Susan Wenger in Osogbo.

Then I was still very small. he used to buy artwork from my father's gallery, based on stone sculpture. I was so sad when I saw that he is dead. May his gentle soul rest in peace.

Every now and again, when I come across art work, books and photographs from the 70's, I have this secret wish that I was old enough to feel the excitement at the time.

I feel so let down and empty that everything that was going for the arts has fallen flat on its face over the years. Some signs of life are becoming evident again in the last couple of years, but when will we see a renaissance of sorts here?

I tried getting into a partnership with UPNG to use the Amphitheatre to promote local plays but they dragged their feet it eventually died.

I spoke to Powes Parkop about giving us land to build a decent size amphitheatre here in Port Moresby and he allocated something for me, but it dragged on and then died as well.

Our national musuem and art gallery is still politicking and in-fighting while the collections there gather dust. The amphitheatre there has never been used in the last 20 years and is a perfect example of where their priorities are. They have a space for exhibitions but safety again is an issue.

Amanda Adams has thankfully gone out of her way to build a private art gallery to help our artists. But we need a proper size art gallery that inspires!

We will keep working at it and thanks to legends like Ulli, we know that it is possible....

Ulli will always be cherished here in the PNG Arts and literature circle.

He gave his heart to establishing the creative arts centre, which is still beating with his spirit, and will continue for a long time to come.

Lest we also forget Bob Browne for his huge contribution towards the creative arts school and to PNG.

Assuredly they are at peace....

It is for want of a better word that the journalistic brethren who had the task of writing the obituary of Ulli Beier are described as his friends.

Beier, who died on April 3, was a German scholar and writer whose pioneering contributions to the development of literature, poetry and drama in both Nigeria and Papua New Guinea are unquantifiable.

This probably explains why his death received front page mention in many Nigerian newspapers, a mention that was albeit accompanied by the morbid amusement of being assigned different ages when he died.

Beier of course died at 88, and will be remembered for his passionate and gigantic contributions to Nigerian literature.

In particular, his interest in Yoruba culture and arts, his life in Ede, Ilobu and Osogbo, his friendship with Nigerian theatre giants like Duro Ladipo, with whom he co-founded the Mbari-Mbayo in Osogbo, and his untiring zeal in introducing African writers to a large international audience will not be forgotten in a hurry.

It is not often remembered that his first wife was the high priestess of the Osun grove, Susanne Wenger, the Austrian who died at 93 in January 2009.

But few will forget that once the two met, their lives changed in the service of art and culture in ways neither ever imagined.

Here [was a] German who influenced African in no small way and who made indelible contributions to the stimulation of studies in African literature and the visual arts.

There is little doubt that Beier will enjoy long-lasting tribute in the Nigerian mind.

W H Chong in the 'Culture Mulcher' thread at the news site, Crikey, has an extended tribute to Ulli Beier, to which I have added a bit more information about this remarkable man.

http://blogs.crikey.com.au/culture-mulcher/2011/04/05/death-of-a-giant-ulli-beier/

Today I have canceled all my literature classes as a show of respect to this great man.

In 1971, when I could qualify, I enrolled in Ulli's Creative Writing class and attended a class just once for the whole of that semester.

I submitted a page-long short story for which I was awarded a 'B', and that in turn accounted for the final grade which was, overall, 'B'.

When the other PNG students along with their tutors queried Beier for that grading he simply said, "I can see someone here who will never stop writing."

Ulli Beier will long be remembered in academic circles in PNG for years to come with his great contributions to UPNG, and the country in the early years.

May he rest in peace.

On outdoor performances and open-air theatre.

In a previous life as an English teacher (in England I might add), I took my students to see a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by the UK National Theatre at the outdoor amphitheatre in Regent's Parks, London in the mid 1980's. On 30 June of all days.

I then saw the same play at PNG in the amphitheatre at UPNG a few years ago, with PNG student actors.

Sure they made mistakes, had trouble with some obsolete words etc. But to my mind the PNG performance was the better of the two. It had a sincerity and commitment which was not there in the UK production. I loved it.

God bless PNG.

Phil - The amphitheatre is still there and is still used. When I was there they even has a performance of "A Midsummmer Night's Dream". It was magic!

We're hoping it will become PNG's Booker. Next year we will have a prize for a full length novel and/or work of non-fiction.

While Ulli's contribution was enormous (he also mentored Vincent Eri, who wrote 'The Crocodile' and helped Michael Somare with his 'Sana', which is a good book), I think we'll stick with the current name.

Ulli was anti-colonial (as were most UPNG lecturers in those days) and I think that coloured his approach to literature and led to him dismissing some important works.

That's all water under the bridge now and the PNG view about colonialism has considerably mellowed.

Nevertheless, those days in which Ulli held sway were very heady and most enjoyable. Some of my happiest memories of PNG are of sitting in the outside amphitheatre at UPNG listening to the poets, playwrights and writers presenting their latest works.

Hopefully those days will return soon.

Keith and everyone - Maybe 'The Crocodile Prize' could be renamed 'The Ulli Beier Prize' in his honour? Could become PNG's Booker.

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