Tea at Alice Wedega’s

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday, May 13, 2011

Nothing comes easy; but difficult situations are often overcome through perseverance, writes RUSSELL SOABA


WHAT is it in an autobiography that makes us want to go back and revisit: certain settings, turn of events or simply family set-ups that we find fascinating?
Perhaps it is more of that family scenery than anything else. The Kikis, the Kilages, the Wedegas, the Kidus, the Mama Kumas and so on.
Indeed the Papua New Guinea autobiography is quite often family-oriented, but more striking in that it enormously influences the political thought of the times it was written in.
Thus, Kiki’s is closely associated with PNG’s struggle towards political independence, Kilage’s with the first-contact experiences and missionary influences in the central Highlands, Kidu’s with the notion of cross-cultural ventures and sentiments, Wedega’s with the vision of the young learning the art of “listening” to the heart beat of their country and Mama Kuma’s with the necessity of embarking on tireless journeys back to one’s roots.
All these works, simple sounding though they may be, and no matter how much time they spend around family or bese circles, constitute Papua New Guinea’s very search for self-discovery.
“Papua New Guinea will never be a country without problems, but it could be known for the way we get over them,” declares Alice Wedega in her autobiography, Listen, My Country.
In fact, the first thing that comes to storyboard’s mind when he tries to “listen” to that work by Dame Alice Wedega is the smell and taste of hot buns and scones, even fresh bread, from a 44-gallon drum oven.
In those times gone by, usually around the Korobosea area, it was nice to drop by at Alice’s for tea and hot buns for some. Life was never meant to be hard and complex. That would be so because Alice always made things easier in any given situation.
Last Saturday, storyboard went down to Vabukori for tea at Alice Wedega’s. Well, not quite the same sort of set-up that Alice’s many friends would remember around Korobosea. This tea gathering was special because one of Alice’s descendants had recently graduated in political science at UPNG and it was quite fitting for the bese to hold a feast in her honour.
All the more fascinating was the sort of struggle this young graduand would go through during the course of her four years of academia. These achievements, Alice would certainly feel most proud of as she herself in her autobiography, speaks with special care and attention to the need for young Milne Bay as much as Papua New Guinean women to strive for higher goals in their lifetime.
But for Emmar Daure, the descendant and graduand, life was not as easy as many of us can expect or imagine. For her, going to school from Vabukori meant waking up before 5am to prepare to catch three or four different buses just to reach the school grounds which were usually at the other end of the city, firstly at the Port Moresby National High School at Gerehu and later the University of PNG.
The routine alone of those hours spent on road travel would make many young people give up easily, what with so much pushing and shoving, screaming and shouting for room or space. But Emmar seemed to have managed that for various reasons, among them her size and the fact that she is Alice’s great grandniece.
“You forget, sir, that we Milne Bays are very small people. We can weave our way around through crowds,” she would explain to storyboard at times, but too modest to add that with a great grand aunt like Alice Wedega at the back of your mind you should not even contemplate giving up.
Added to the woes of transport difficulties (buses often did not go all the way down to the Vabukori bus stop so students of Emmar’s generation would walk to Taikone, the Kila Police Barracks and Gabutu to catch buses) there was the problem of soaring fees at all levels of school.
For families who could afford to meet these costs that was fine. But a great majority, we must realise, simply struggle with these.
On the day four years ago that Emmar’s mother collected mail from the post office, addressed to Emmar from the University of PNG, the family had nothing in the kitchen for dinner. That did not matter. They all gathered around as Emmar opened the envelope to see what was inside. Sure enough, it was a letter saying that she had been accepted to undertake a Bachelor of Arts degree at the university.
Thus began four years of sacrifice felt by Emmar and her siblings, when bank loans to put Emmar through University meant sometimes going to sleep and to school on an empty stomach, birthdays passing quietly and making do without the “nice things” that fellow students and friends had. 
But it all paid off when Emmar recently completed the BA programme and her presence was requested at the 56th graduation ceremony on April 29, 2011.
In essence, storyboard wanted to witness the spirit of perseverance in young people once relished by women leaders such as Alice Wedega. He went down to Vabukori to speak in praise of Emmar and be reminded once again that our pioneer greats certainly did not waste their time in writing those autobiographies. What they have achieved we shall continue to achieve.
Emmar’s big uncle and elder of the Daure Taugau besena, Willie Moses, acknowledged the young woman’s academic achievement with wonderful words of prayers and blessing. Other guests spoke as well in praise of her at the feast. And Emmar herself, in expressing her gratitude, echoed the words of her vice-chancellor and those of Dame Carol Kidu of the necessity there is in young people of her generation and calibre to strive and achieve the best in order that the bese which they represent will feel proud of them. Nothing comes easy; but difficult situations are often overcome through perseverance.
The food at Emmar’s tea kavakava, or should we rather say, the tea at Alice Wedega’s was so profoundly delicious storyboard, in spite of himself, had to ask for a second helping. Shame on him; coupled, of course, with an additional request for bahu for him to take home. Food prepared came from both sides of the graduand’s respective families. This is indeed a wonderful family. Humble yet highly dignified.
In fact, when we think of Alice Wedega and all her influences we are listening with her to the heart beat of our country. And all that starts at family level. Alice herself never married and never had children of her own. But everywhere she went she was surrounded by children eager to learn, eager to obey her stern rules and eager to feast at the end of the day. Among these are men and women renowned today and spread all over Papua New Guinea.