Dedicated to Dr Unia Kaise Api BA MA, Lecturer, School of Theology, Pacific Adventist University
You can find a glossary of Tok Pisin words and phrases at the end of the poem
I’m from Papua Niugini.
If you cut me open, and shake out my insides
no Weet-Bix, Bubble Gum or Shakespeare
will tumble out.
Dissect and break down my cells
into tiny microscopic bits
and you will find totongor, buai and tumbuna singsing
dangling on the strings of my DNA.
I care no more about time
than my bubu did the theory of relativity.
I clock in at 9:30
and sign out for a two-hour lunch at 11:30.
Then I complained to the masta
for not giving me enough time
and cutting my pay.
I sneak out at 2:30
for a session of buai and brus
and small talk with my kandere.
When I’m done
I unload a mouthful of red spittle
onto the newly-built sidewalk
and blame Mr Parkop for not doing enough
to keep our big village clean.
“I think we should rausim da memba.
He’s stealin’ a lot of da pipol’s moni,” I said.
All my wantoks agreed.
But when election time came,
the memba gave us some of the money
he stole from the us
and we sent him back to the Big Haus.
The other day the masta called me into his office
and scolded me for turning up late again
and spelling the word ‘seperate’ wrong.
“You stupid black beast!” He said angrily.
After he was done with me,
I walked out, head bowed and deep in thought.
“He’s wrong. I’m not black. I’m Tolai and I’m brown.”
Just then I heard my friend from Buin calling.
“Hey, poro, I got you one big Buka buai.”
“Longlong bilak bokis!” I sneered.
At last I’ve found my place in the world.
If white equals smart, then black equals stupid.
I’m brown so I’m just here to dish out to the black
what the white freely gives to me.
I’m a Papua Niuginian
and no amount of commonsense or certificate
will change that.
When the masta promoted a junior clerk
to supervisor the next day,
I convinced all my friends
that it was wantok system that brought her there,
though we still cannot work out
how Mr Frank Cuthbertson from England
can be related to Undupe Andagali of Enga Land.
Through Adam, perhaps.
When I fell ill a week later,
I thought of the buai my Buka friend
had given me earlier.
I knew he had poisoned me.
Even when the nurse diagnosed me with malaria
and prescribed for me chloroquine,
I still went to see the glassman
who told me to down a potpourri of ginger
and skin diwai diluted with some incantation.
I recovered quickly.
I’m pretty sure the chloroquine
wouldn’t have worked had it not been for the glassman.
I returned to work just in time
to see Andagali being given
much-coveted the Employee of the Month award.
Apparently, when I was away,
she had reorganised the shop
and the profits had quadrupled.
Mr Cuthbertson was elated
and never stopped praising her.
Over lunch I told everyone how Andagali and that bilak bokis
colluded to ruin my career.
I also reminded them that Andagali was just
twenty years old and I’m twice her age.
“She’s a small girl ya.
I can win her at anything.”
When Andagali told me to clean the garage,
I pretended I didn’t hear her.
No small girl, brown girl or black girl,
and no small boy, brown boy or black boy,
will tell me what to do.
I take orders only from masta or other white men.
Just then masta yelled at me, “Damn you!”
“Yes, masta. But how do I dumb myself?”
I was sacked immediately,
for no reason at all.
I’m sure Andagali and bilak bokis were behind it.
I am a Papua Niuginian,
part of a proud line of powerful non-geniuses.
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree
means one day of joy
and many years of painim wok.
Getting a job
means one hour of wealth
and fourteen days dinau moni.
Serving the country
means bringing projects to my own hauslain
and paying my kandere’s bride price.
means letting Peter eat all the pumpkin*
while I protest through mouthful of pumpkin seeds.
I’m a Papua Niuginian.
My life is in the dirt
and my pasin goes no higher.
So when I visit padre Peter To Rot
at the confession booth,
there is only one sin to confess:
my PNG attitude.
* Reference to Michael Dom’s poem, Peter, Peter, published in PNG Attitude, 16 March 2018
Big Haus – the parliament
bilak bokis – flying fox, literally black box
brus – tobacco
buai – betel nut
bubu – grandfather/grandmother
da pipol’s moni – the people’s money
dinau moni – loan or credit
hauslain – the village or extended family
kandere – nephew or uncle
longlong bilak bokis – stupid flying fox
masta – master, white man
memba – member of parliament
painim wok – job seeking
Papua Niugini – Papua New Guinea
Parkop – a prominent PNG politician
pasin – attitude or behaviour
Peter To Rot – the first Papua New Guinean priest to be beatified
poro – friend
rausim da memba – remove the MP
skin diwai – tree bark
Tolai – a native of East New Britain
totongor – a traditional dish
tumbuna singsing – traditional song
wantok system – nepotism
wantoks – relatives