The month of August is a significant month in Papua New Guinea for authors and schools. It is during this month that schools celebrate book week. I had the privilege of launching the Book Week program at Kopkop College in Port Moresby and took part in a week long Virtual Writing workshop with the Higaturu International School in Oro province.
At the launch I delivered a speech sharing my writing journey with the students and the teachers, in the hope that they too can start their own, or find courage to get into publishing. Here is a copy of my the speech.
Writing has always been my hobby. I recall sitting in front of the TV screen as a 6-year-old watching sesame street and retell every episode in my own words. As a child growing up, I did not have the luxury of owning a smart phone or a laptop, but I had a television at home.
When I started school, I had an instant connection to reading and writing. Learning became fun and reading became so easy. But school life for me didn’t go well. Just after completing grade 1 in 1996, my dad retired from his fulltime job to contest the National Elections in 1997 and we had to relocate to our village in Oro. Given the remoteness of the place, I had to start from scratch. There were hardly any schools nearby. The only school nearby had only one class and one teacher that taught grade 5. I was supposed to do grade 2, but my dad convinced the teacher and got me enrolled. On my first day of school, the teacher asked me if I could read his handwriting and I said, “no’. He then went on to ask me if I could read and I said, ‘yes’. After learning that I could read, he handed me a yellow card that said, “Reading and Comprehension”. Infront of the card was a story for me to read and the back of the card had a list of questions to answer. If you’ve done a reading and comprehension exercise once, you would know how it’s like. From doing reading and comprehension cards, I went on to practice my handwriting using the handwriting cards and the next thing I know, I didn’t have to do the exercises on the cards anymore, because I could read the teachers handwriting and could understand the lessons he was giving. Everything was getting better but when it was term break our teacher flew out and never returned. I did not go to school for the next 5 years. I continued to live life like a village kid. I spent my days accompanying my parents to the garden or babysit my grandmother. Everything was ok but I missed school so much, especially reading. So, whenever I stayed home with my grandmother, I’d take out my exercise book and write stories I could read to myself. Writing was also my only way of speaking English, because as I stayed longer in the village, I was beginning to speak the local vernacular and realized that I was slowly forgetting how to speak or write in English. It was then that I developed a love for writing and began to question if I was ever going to have the opportunity to go back to school.
One night as we gathered around the fireplace for dinner, dad told us that he was going to be getting on a chartered plane the next day to go to Port Moresby, and began advising us to be obedient towards mother and not let her do all the hard work herself. I do know how this news affected my other siblings but for me I made up my mind that I would follow dad to POM. Without consulting either of my parents, I packed my little bag and had it ready. The next day when dad was getting ready to leave, I told him I was going with him. Although he resisted in taking me with him, I stood at the road with my bag in my hand and started to cry as he walked away. As I recall, the tears I had were not because I wanted to see the city lights, the cars, the high raised buildings, or luxury. They were tears of longing for a better education. Of having access to doing the things that I loved the most. “Reading and Writing”. Suddenly, my dad had a change of heart. He walked back, wiped away my tears, picked up my bag and said he would take me. Oh, the joy I had in my heart knowing that my wish had come true!
My dad was a retired public servant and my mom was a housewife. They then became subsistence farmers. Dad was in POM for a short time and had to return. I was left with my older siblings who took on the role of educating and raising me. I had to repeat grade 5 again as per dad’s advice. It was a hard start given the fact that I was away for school for a long time, but the fact that I could read, write, and speak English made the transition smooth. Life was challenging living without mum and dad and being raised by your older siblings. Despite the struggles I was going through, I never gave up. Going back to the village was no longer an option for me. I used every opportunity that I had to be in school whether I had enough money or had a full stomach. I was determined to excel and make my dad proud of me. One thing that really motivated me in school was that fact that after a writing exercise during our English lesson, our teacher would always read out my stories as an example of a great writing piece. At the end of the term when our report cards came out, I would always do well in English compared to the other subjects. After grade 8, I got selected to do grade 9 at Marianville Secondary School.
My passion for writing was elevated when I started writing journal entries at Marianville. It was also then that I started writing poetry. Poetry became an easy genre for me because I could confide in them. For someone who had lived far away from their parents for so long, writing became therapy. I also developed a relationship with my journal and would always look forward to receiving it after it was marked. I celebrated every positive comment from the teacher and encouraged myself to write better when I was asked to. One morning, my journal got rejected by my then Language & Literature teacher. She was a tough one. She had us write 5 journal entries every week. She would give two topics, one an essay topic and the other a creative piece. She also rejected every journal that came in late and refused to mark them. For someone like me who took my writings and her comments seriously, the fact that my journal got rejected hurt me so badly that I had to hide in the restroom for some good 10minutes and cry. But after I walked out, I took my journal to another teacher and asked her to critique my work instead. And I tell you, she did an incredible job. This is how it is with writing. Do not be limited to one critique but find more critics who can appreciate and celebrate your style of writing but can also guide you to write better. Cry if you must but find a way to laugh and smile.
I started to take the teachers advise and nurture my passion for writing and eventually I found the courage to share my writings with my peers. I wrote 2 songs that were sung. One in school and one at church. Two plays that were staged, one in school and one in church, and wrote poems for funerals, birthdays and weddings. My confidence was boosted when more people enjoyed my writings. I also took the opportunity to take part in writing competitions or submit poems to the National Newspaper. In 2013, when I entered the Crocodile Prize Writing competition my perspective about writing transformed when I started receiving good critique for my writing from writers in other parts of the world and connected with other Papua New Guinean writers. In 2016, along with 44 other Papua New Guinean women, I contributed to the My Walk to Equality Anthology which is the first ever collection of PNG women’s writing. After seeing other Papua New Guineans getting into publishing, I became interested because I had a collection of poems but did not know how to publish them. I did more research on publishing as I collated my poems but did nothing. In 2018, I discovered that the Library for All was collecting Children’s stories from Papua New Guinean writers and decided to write a few and send them in. Zuki the Crocodile was my first Children’s story that was accepted and published. Motivated by this, I went on to write 27 more stories which have all been accepted and published. Then I went on to publish my first poem book titled “Nanu Sina: My Words” in 2019. It is a collection of poems extracted from my journal while a student at Marianville Secondary School. In 2020 while on lock down, 3 other Papua New Guinean writers and I launched the Ples Singing blog – a literary platform that is dedicated to promoting reading and writing in PNG. In June this year, I released the publication of a children’s book titled “When I grow up” which I independently published through a collaboration between a female PNG artist and publisher. Today, I have written 29 Children’s story books and a poem book.
So why share my story?
Some of you sitting out there are probably just like me. You have a passion in writing. Some of you are just starting out, others have been writing for quite a while.
Remember,” without an author, there are no books”. If your favorite author did not dedicate his or her time to write, or ignored their talent, to do you think you would be reading their books today? Without writers, do you think we would have encyclopedias or textbooks today? Even music and films are produced based on written work.
As an author, you contribute something magical to world. And that is a book.
In a country like ours where the western culture has taken over our culture, there is a need for our stories to be captured in books for our future generation. PNG literature is a sleeping giant waiting to be awakened by a generation of active of minds ready to retell and record the diversity of this country so that it is accurately represented to the outside world. Our languages, traditional knowledge and skills, myths and legends, all will be forgotten one day if they are not written.
Read more because that is the only way to open your mind to great ideas, gain knowledge and enable you to be a critical thinker. Most importantly, write. Use the knowledge gathered through reading to create something beautiful. Something that is original. Something worth celebrating. Something you can give back to this country.