THE 1970s WERE WATERSHED YEARS for Papua New Guinean literature. The publication of Vincent Eri’s first Papua New Guinean novel, The Crocodile, was followed by a flowering of other literary forms, including short stories, plays and poetry.
Literary journals played a big part in encouraging new writers by providing outlets and forums for their work.
While the University of Papua New Guinea and, later, the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies produced literary journals the most popular and most widely read was the quarterly, Papua New Guinea Writing, produced by the Literature Bureau of the Department of Information and Extension Services.
The Literature Bureau was established in late 1969 and ran in one form or another in various government departments until about 1979. For a while it was in the Department of the Chief Minister and then later in the Education Department.
When the bureau finally closed down, the journal was continued by the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies. In 1979 it was combined with several other journals and published under the banner of the publication Singaut.
During its lifetime, Papua New Guinea Writing ran an annual literary competition with three categories, poems, plays and stories. These categories were further divided into English and Tok Pisin or Motu. In 1973 Russell Soaba won third prize in the English poetry section with his poem, The Music Died.
Roger Boschman was an early editor and Richard Pape, the bestselling author of the wartime novel Boldness Be My Friend and eleven other books, was editorial consultant for some time.
Russell Soaba [pictured here in 1973] did a short stint as an assistant editor in 1974 and was being groomed to take over the editor’s role but left the journal for greener pastures. The most enduring editor was Jack Lahui.
Among the many writers who featured in the journal were Siwid Gipey, Joseph Saruva, Ben Gomara, Sally Anne Pipi, Feli Terra Nyron, Taina Misob, Mary Matmilo, Arthur Jawodimbari, Kaigabu Paulisbo, Philip Pake, Confucius Ikoirere, Muki Taranupi, Peter Yange, Makiai Kivalu, Boski Mara, Teloti Kaniku, Charles Karava, Manmato Uvako, Gabriel Suine, Daniel Basiya, Luke Maigabu, Michael Mosoro, Arere Hitolo, Benjamin Umba, Wilson Kakimbi, Jennifer Boseto, Roland Katak, Sister Jane Ainauga, Kone Tom, Herman Taolam, Thomas Palot, Kove Gaho, Magdalene Wagua, Jeff Oamu and James Sam Giglma.
I wonder if any of these people are still writing.
Here is a short story by James Sam Giglma taken from the Christmas 1973 edition of the journal.
A Night With Uncle Kia
One day I set out to see a girl in the neighbouring village. I had hoped for fine weather, but angry-looking clouds were growing thick and dark and rain was beginning. I looked around, saw my uncle’s house nearby and started for it.
Lightning came in great flashes and I fell to the ground each time because I was afraid I might be struck. By the time I reached the fence around Uncle Kia’s property I was covered with mud and grass.
As I climbed over, a flash of lightning sent me to the ground and my shorts tore on a split post. I inspected the tear, then said, “Maski” and went on to Uncle Kia’s house. Within a minute or two I could smell the sweet fragrance of burning bark and knew he was home.
Uncle Kia sat near the fire with his broad legs stretched around it and tobacco fumes puffing out of his nostrils. The house was small and round and the smoke filled it thickly. I was greeted with a warm welcome as though I were someone important.
“Man! Welcome to my house! Is there any news for me?” he asked.
“No, I was going to the other village when this rain started. One of the girls invited me for the night,” I said.
“Oh, I see,” he said, giving me a big smile. “You’ll have a good time there but beware of those people; I killed a pig from that village and I have not paid for it yet, so watch out.”
“Don’t worry, it’s only a minor case; I don’t think they’ll do me any harm,” I assured him.
We cooked some kaukau, first toasting them, then pushing them under the ashes to get them well cooked. The day gradually changed into a fearful black night. Thunder rolled and rain in heavy drops beat on the banana leaves making queer rhythms and water rushed down the slopes. When our kaukau was cooked we ate and then talked. I heard stories of tribal wars, superstition, stealing, robbing and the like. Gradually we became tired and I realised how late it was.
“Uncle Kia,” I said, “I can’t go on my date. It’s pitch black outside and the downpour hasn’t stopped. I could see my way with my torch but I would get wet and cold.”
“You can stay with me tonight,” said Uncle Kia. “What’s this ‘torch’ you mentioned?”
I showed him the battery torch and told him that it was a simple thing which gives light in the night. I flashed it on and off and told him it was the white man’s fire. He seemed to understand.
Soon we went to sleep, each covered by a blanket. Uncle Kia slept opposite me and between us was the warm fire. Within five minutes I was fast asleep, dreaming of my girlfriend. Suddenly I was awakened by a hand shaking my foot.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s me,” Kia said. “I want to use your white man’s fire! I want to go to the ‘small house’.”
“You can take it,” I said, handing him my torch.
“Well, you have to light it for me,” he said. I flashed it on and gave it to him. He wrapped a piece of cloth around the torch and then headed out. As he went out I told him, “When you want to stop it press the button towards you and it will stop,” but he was in a hurry and he didn’t seem to catch what I said. As soon as he was gone I went back to bed and was soon fast asleep, but a few minutes later I heard a crash and Uncle Kia was yelling at me.
“Get up, the house is on fire; get up,” he yelled.
“There is no fire,” I said sleepily.
“Wow, get up, please get up or we’ll be roasted,” he said shaking me. Thinking that the house was really on fire I got up and looked around.
“Look,” he said. “There by the wall. This white man’s fire you brought.”
He started pouring water from the bamboo container onto the torch, which was lying near the wall, throwing its beam across the floor.
I told uncle to stand back, but it was extremely hard to convince him. He poured more water on the burning torch. Then quickly I got in front of him and picked the torch up. It had been dropped and the switch and glass were damaged. I loosened the bottom end and it ceased burning. I held the torch in front of me so he would see it, but it was dark so I started making a fire.
When the fire was lit he saw the torch in my hand and asked if it had burnt me. At that moment I burst into laughter. I couldn’t help it. But I was sorry for my uncle and stopped laughing. Then I explained to him that this type of fire would not burn anything. He understood and calmed down. I apologised for laughing at him.
“Uncle Kia, I’m sorry I upset you with this white man’s fire.”
With real anger and raised voice he said, “The things I don’t know shouldn’t be brought here. I am fooled by them and am frightened.
I again told him I was sorry. I got a bamboo container and gave him some fresh water to drink.
Soon we were both fast asleep again. I will never forget that night with Uncle Kia.
James Sam Giglma came from Kup Village in the Simbu. He attended Kondiu Primary School and the Catholic Seminary College in Alexishafen. In 1973 he was employed by the public service and attached to the Department of the Chief Minister and Development Administration in Port Moresby.