PNG’s poet at large remembered

Normal, Weekender


THE plan was for me to travel to Manus around June this year to launch Andyson Bernard Kaspou’s book.
I was working on a collection of poetry written by Mr Kaspou, at Sherwood Forest of Nottingham, South Yorkshire, Great Britain. I had also planned to include a rare interview I had with him last Christmas. 
The news of his passing on Feb 28 reached me in a vague way leaving me unsure about the truth or falsity of the event. What I am used to is hearing about the eminent visit of the poet-at-large, Andyson Bernard Kaspou to Port Moresby once in a while. He was a Manus man, living life to its fullest back in his village.
The late Andyson Bernard Kaspou had his home province at heart, but found it necessary, once in a while, to travel to Port Moresby to visit his savannah wantoks, relatives, brothers, sisters, in-laws, and new additions to the tribe of writers, artists, musicians, scholars, academics, English teachers, students, and others with a passion for literature, books, arts, and music.
He came, he saw, he commented, and left us in the savannah to wallow in his piece of mind and words of wisdom. He occasionally flew to Port Moresby to participate in conferences and workshops where writers meet. His contributions to such gatherings were invaluable. They made some of us look mediocre, showing us that though we live in Port Moresby, we are simply too aloof as writers and scholars because of our failure to contribute meaningfully to the community of creative Papua New Guineans.
He spent his time in Port Moresby hammering home his message of hope for Papua New Guinean writers and intellectuals to remain true to their people in their representations. The fiery, often latent nationalism of the 1970s rubbed off and remained in Kaspou until his demise last month.
He drummed into my head the idea that we can never be free of the Western history we inherited from our colonial past unless we learnt what Russell Soaba’s artist saw through the eye-holes of his father’s skull after he returned from overseas.
In the moments I had with him since our first encounter in the mid 1980s to last Christmas, Kaspou impressed upon me that whatever I was doing had so much value to our society. It was as if he was the unasked-for guiding angel, whose rare visitations always left unanswered questions about our role as Papua New Guinean writers in the wind. As writers, he reckons we should do more, say more, and articulate our experiences as Papua New Guineans.
A sense of purpose permeates all he said. “All writers must return to the village, their birth place at least once in our lifetime to appreciate the earth and cultural environment that nurtured our beginning”, he said in our first interview, published in the Savannah Flames: A Papua New Guinean Journal of Literature, Language, and Culture. In that interview I remember the poet-at-large making the ultimate statement that no matter where we go in this world, we Papua New Guineans will always return to the place where our umbilical cord lies buried.
Writing this tribute to a silent man whose life might never be known to other Papua New Guineans I am obliged to remember him at this time.
Andyson Bernard Kaspou’s life began and ended in Ndranou village in the Manus province. He came from the Timoh lineage of the Poltru-u major clan. He has four children.
He graduated from the University of PNG, majoring in anthropology with a minor in social psychology. He also has a diploma from the then Goroka Secondary Teachers’ College (now University of Goroka) and a diploma in foreign service from the Papua New Guinean Institute of Public Administration.  He obtained his masters degree in sociology of development from the University of Sheffield, UK in 1988. He has travelled throughout the Pacific, Asia, Middle East and Western Europe
The late Kaspou did a variety of jobs including teaching, academic research, editorial work, diplomatic service and consultant to the PNG Government. From 1990-92 Kaspou was the director of the research unit of the Office of the Prime Minister. From there he returned to Manus to start the
Ila Ime Research Centre, a community based organisation. He was there until his death.
The late Kaspou was lecturing at the PNG Institute of Public Administration when I first met him. The Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies had just published his collection of poems in Bikmaus: A Journal of Papua New Guinea Affairs, Ideas, and the Arts in June 1987. It was the year he won the poetry prize in the PNG National Literature Competition. He also published his poems in Ondobondo, the PNG Writer, ASPECT, and the PNG Teachers’ Association Journal.
Kaspou was preparing to launch Akara Nwihe, his poetry collection, in June 2010 when he passed away. Akara Nwihe in Akara language means everything in life can be attempted. And true to these words, the late Kaspou lived the Akara philosophy: “If one can conquer any challenge, that challenge once conquered becomes ultimately nothing. In other words, what anyone can do, within all human frailties and limitations, you can do it too, even at a better level.” 
Kaspou derived his wisdom from his father, John Kaspou Yoke, to be able to see life in this philosophy.
That was the Andyson Bernard Kaspou, the PNG poet-at-large that I came to know and respect.

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