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Discovered – a marvellous compendium of early PNG writing


A WONDERFUL resource for connoisseurs of Papua New Guinean literature has come to light.

The Athabasca website is the outcome of a collaboration between the University of PNG, Athabasca University in Canada and the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau.

In addition to providing a historical review of the first two great surges in PNG literature (the current Crocodile Prize driven revival being the third), the Athabasca resource also reproduces copies of all the issues of Kovave (1969-75, nine issues), Ondobondo (1982-87, nine issues), the PNG Writer (1985-86, three issues) and other periodicals.

In this brilliant historical archive, there are also facsimile copies of The Papuan Villager (1929-1941) and its successor Papua and New Guinea Villager (1950-60) and other colonial era publications.

The literary magazine Ondobondo was published from 1982 to 1987 and the energetic cover of this first issue features current Lae national parliamentarian Loujaya Kouza, who contributed two of her poems.

Later contributors included Daniel Kumbon, now a noted writer and a frequent contributor to PNG Attitude as well as Dr Stephen Winduo, now a respected literary academic, and Malum Nalu, these days a high profile reporter and columnist at The National.

The website tells this story of some of those early literary publications:

The Literature Department’s literary journal Kovave was published from 1969-1973 and then again in 1975. Originally edited by Ulli Beier, Kovave was the first literary journal of note in the colonies of Papua and New Guinea.

Beier very quickly turned editorial control over to his student-writers. Since the journal generally ran to 50 pages in length, it included the complete manuscripts of plays, which none of the other literary journals could manage.

This was an important contribution to PNG’s literary history since most of the country’s first writers chose drama as their preferred genre. Copies of many of the first plays written in PNG were also published by the National Broadcast Commission (NBC), which aired the plays on national radio.

Although Kovave contains some folkloric texts, most of the content is modern and written in English. Kovave offered its readers short stories, verse, and autobiographical texts, along with drama. The drama in Kovave was all contributed by UPNG students, as was 60% of the prose and 25% of the verse.

The other contributors were mainly students at Goroka Teachers College. Half of the literary criticism came from Beier’s students, but all of the literary reviews were penned by expatriates.

Ondobondo contentsAfter the demise of the Literature Bureau’s journal Papua New Guinea Writing in 1977 and the University’s journal, Kovave, in 1975, the Literature Department was without a literary journal until 1980, when it began to publish Ondobondo.

This was the publishing outlet for the second generation of writers in PNG; it coincided with the formation of the Ondobondo Club, a writers’ group that gathered monthly for readings.

Ondobondo was about 30 pages long and carried a balance of stories, poems, book reviews, plays and excerpts from novels. It remains the largest single source in PNG’s literary history of excerpts from unpublished novels.

Its reviews are mostly of local writing; the journal thus also served as the first instance in the history of PNG’sliterary magazines of indigenous criticism of indigenous writing.


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Michael Dom

Thank you again, Garry Roche, for reminding us of this website resource.

It is the single most significant contribution to making historical Papua New Guinean literature available freely to all people.

There may be other valuable avenues, such as the National Archives and the special collections at the Michael Somare Library, but this stuff is pure gold for free.

Rashmii Bell

Wow! Thank you for this. Have just started Kovave.

Arthur Williams

Many thanks for the link to Kovave. Dived into it and found some great writings. Well worth a browse guys’. Haven’t delved into Ondobondo yet.

Just a snippet for exkiap readers an extract from 1971 Nov Vol 3 No.1 Kavave – 'The kiap shouts: Interpreting the Signs’ by Nigel Krauth....

‘The kiap shouts at us
forcing the veins to stand out in his neck
nearly forcing the excreta out of his bottom
he says: you are ignorant.
He says: you are ignorant,
but can he shape a canoe,
tie a mast, fix- an outrigger ?
Can he steer a canoe through the night without losing his way ?
Does he know when a turtle comes ashore to lay its eggs ?

The kiap shouts at us
forcing the veins to stand out in his neck
nearly forcing the excreta out of his bottom he says: you are dirty.
He says we live in dirty rubbish houses.
Has he ever lived in one?
Has he enjoyed the sea breeze blowing through the windows ?
and the cool shade under the pandanus thatch ?
Let him keep his iron roof, shining in the sun,
cooking him inside, bleaching his skin white.'

Food for thought.

Michael Dom


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