Writing through Independence

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday 21st September 2012

WHAT has Independence done to me as a Papua New Guin­ean, a writer, and scholar of indigenous cultures? Surely, this question must be asked by many conscientious Papua New Guin­eans.

Papua New Guinea as a post­colonial nation struggles to free itself from a colonised history, more particularly from the neo­colonial practices and influences of its former coloniser. Achieving political Independence has never freed Papua New Guinea com­pletely from Australia.

Australian influence in Papua New Guinea is deeper than per­ceived at the political level. Aus­tralia continues to play a major part in the economic, social, and political development of Papua New Guinea. The relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea is often tested, but always maintained through diplomatic dialogues and other political pro­cessess.

Early Papua New Guinea writ­ings tackled Australian colonial­ism with fervent and nationalist fury to the extent of achieving Independence without bloodshed. The literature of that period is fu­eled by such political necessity.

After Independence Papua New Guinean writers disappeared, except for a few committed ones, who continue to write. Two no­table figures of the period are Rus­sell Soaba and Paulias Matane, who continue to write literary and non literary works beyond the 2000s. Soaba continues to write and teach literature at the University of PNG.

Paulias Matane continues to write non-fiction works after he moved away from the Aimbe fiction series. His interests in writing led him to publish many non-fiction works throughout the years, even after becoming the then Governor General of Papua New Guinea. Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane also assisted many Papua New Guineans to publish their books. He continues to impress all of us.

These gentlemen are, to many of us, the younger generation, em­bodiment of a legacy that refuses to go away. They used their writ­ing to speak about their conditions before and after Independence. Reading their works helps us to understand our own lives.

The writings of the 1980s to the present are about this neocolonial presence, dependent relationship, as well as about the lack of criti­cal reassessment of the changing experiences in postcolonial Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinean writers are concerned with diverse issues of identity, social change, economic change, cultural change, the movement between village and urban areas, experiences of grow­ing up, adolescence, education, unemployment, wantok systems, and conflicting cultural situa­tions. Their writings are about the contemporary experiences, the traditional cultures and customs, and immediate past they seemed to have lost in the transition from a stone-age culture to one of electronic media networking. The mundane to important events in the lives of Papua New Guineans are concerns of contemporary writers. Literary expressions are inspired from the personal experi­ences of writers and anecdotes of other Papua New Guineans. This experience of Papua New Guin­eans is similar to those of other Pacific Islanders as already noted.

Literary culture developed in different phases in Papua New Guinea. The first phase charac­terises dissent, protest, and an­ticolonial resistance. The period between 1968 and 1975 marks this phase. The second phase, between 1980 and 2000, covers the village pastoral and sociological lit­erature. In this phase Papua New Guineans wrote out of the need to assess their conditions of living, of existence, to make sense of the world around them, and to revive the experiences of an earlier era.

Writing struggled to survive against polarised national devel­opmental priorities and civil con­formity since Independence. The third phase is a combination of the previous phases and the indepen­dent emergence of new voices of a new generation.

The third phase, between 1990 and 2000 came about as a result of Papua New Guineans read­ing the works of earlier writers and seeking out avenues to speak for themselves, about their ex­periences, and their visions for a democratic society. The later cat­egory makes use of new literary structures, both appropriated and experimental in style, to represent their experiences as Papua New Guineans.

Papua New Guineans re-imag­ined themselves in their writings. They create various discourses about themselves. Papua New Guineans realise the process of rethinking and re-evaluation of some of the inherited values or those created by Papua New Guin­eans need urgent critical attention.

The methods and procedures used for investigating and con­ducting research of Papua New Guinea cultures need to be re­framed so as to produce a bal­anced critical reading of Papua New Guinea literature. Papua New Guineans need distinctive signposts to navigate through the many inroads created in their lives. All these are politically invested.

The localised struggles and their responses to the globalised economy make them more vulner­able than is imagined. Accepting the passive, non active, unques­tioning life is a form of confor­mity and cultural paralysis. Papua New Guineans can articulate their experiences in radical and pro­gressive ways.

Papua New Guinea is a hybri­dised postcolonial society with a fusion of diverse cultures, mod­ern global influences, and the result of a synthesis of multicul­tural experiences. Questions of nationalism after Independence are raised every so often, suggesting that, perhaps it has served its purpose at the time of its emergence.

Constant internal conflicts, uncontrolled social disorder, cultural conflicts, violence, ethnic differences, stagnant views, and rampant corruptions, poor gover­nance, and massive squandering of royalties from its mineral and natural resources often stun the growth of nationalism. National­ism, in most cases, is evoked by elites as the self-appointed guard­ians of their people’s interests. Nationalism is not what it claims to represent in Papua New Guinea as it fails to eliminate the ethno­centricism fueling regionalism within a national boundary.

Literature and politics have a unique relationship to each other. So long as literature continues to be useful to people it maintains its political function. It is difficult to resist viewing the political and ideological overtones present in Papua New Guinea writing. No writers are free of the social, political, economic, and cultural influences of their societies.

Writers are creatures of their societies. Hence, a writer’s work carries with it the social and politi­cal value and responsibilities of his or her society.

Happy celebration to all Inde­pendent Papua New Guineans.