Resurgent PNG literature evokes the past to shape the future

Raymond Sigimet holds his two published works close to his heart.

You don’t have to journey too far back in Raymond Sigimet‘s lineage to come across fierce fighters and bold explorers.

“I can trace my pre-colonial paternal ancestry to a warrior-mercenary ancestor during the ‘taim blong spia’,” he says with precision.

“Before the Second World War, grandfathers on both sides of my family were some of the first few within their clans to leave their Prince Alexander Mountains hamlets and travel by boat to Madang, Lae, Salamaua and Wau.”

While Sepik warrior blood pumps through his veins, Raymond’s weapon of choice is not the spear – it’s the pen.

Instead of pioneering neighbouring territories, he explores the communication of complex ideas through the written word.

“My family never imagined that I would one day create works of fiction, like poetry and short stories,” he says.

“My compositions are mostly based on life’s observation. I believe that, as humans, we have basic shared experiences that transcend time and space.

“When these experiences are captured well in a simple poem, or simple story with a simple message, the reader can relive those experiences or be inspired to create change.”

Reflecting on his own heritage, Raymond laments the loss of connection to Melanesian traditions and believes writers have a role to play in maintaining and shaping identity.

“The changes happening and intrusion of western knowledge has resulted in many of the old stories and songs being relegated to memory,” he says.

“I believe that Papua New Guinean writers and poets have a traditional and national duty to preserve these ancient oral traditions.

“Nigerian author Chinua Achebe was able to capture and use ancient proverbs from his tribal region throughout his novel Things Fall Apart. That is what PNG writers and poets should be doing as well before these ancient oral traditions of ours become lost.”

Historically, Papua New Guinea has had a vibrant and politically active literary scene. People like Sir Rabbie Namaliu, Sir Paulias Matane, Nora Vagi Brash and Sir Vincent Eri took on simultaneous roles of creative writers, intellectuals and nation builders.

The first novel written by a Papua New Guinean was Eri’s novel The Crocodile which was described by the Australian National University’s Dr Ron May as “a political document” and “a major contribution to the growing body of writing which expresses a specifically Papua New Guinean identity.”

The national literary awards – the Crocodile Prize – are named in its honour and are one of the key mediums for a new era of Papua New Guinean writing.

“Black writing and poetry ignited pro-independence sentiments in the early years,” Raymond continues.

“The writing and poetry of this time should speak of the years after independence, the changes since the turn of the century and the path to the future.

A carved ancestral hook figure from the Prince Alexander Mountains.

“PNG’s shared culture, identity and history will be reflected within our people’s writings – giving our country and people a voice and purpose. Writing serves as a platform for the people to participate and communicate.”

In 2016, Raymond was featured five times in the Crocodile Prize Anthology – twice for short stories, twice for poems, and once for heritage writing.

He has since published two collections of his writing: Window to My House and Mirror on the Wall, which were both released in 2018.

“After a lifetime of holding other people’s books in my hands, I now hold two small books of my own,” he says, beaming with pride.

“I mostly write about issues in the country or region. I am always in awe of PNG and in my poems try to capture the societal changes and challenges that come by.

“They are about life and memory, politics and justice, land and development, family and home, biodiversity and spirituality, and self and identity.”

Raymond is outwardly focused, socially conscious and determined to share his passion with a new generation – both in his day job as a school teacher and in raising his daughter, who he cites as a major source of inspiration.

“My first published piece was about my daughter who was born in 2011. The verses expressed the awe and wonder she brought into my life,” he says.

“When she started talking about going school, I realised that I had to leave something for her to find her strength. That was when I started to jot down a few paragraphs and lines.

“I’ve been teaching for ten years now in rural schools, and my students’ proficiency and ability in English and English writing is a concern. In my lessons, I have been using sample text from my pieces to guide and motivate them in their learning.

Raymond’s actions are not to boast – far from it – he downplays his own achievements and urges his students to go further.

Raymond’s message to them is simple: “if I can do this, you can also.”

Perhaps some will become the next generation of Papua New Guinean intellectuals and leaders.

Wara Kalap
by Raymond Sigimet

Naispela wara kalap
Long maunten antap
Kol blong en i nais tru
Harim em lap stap long yu Taim em i ron kam daun
Na kalap paitim ston

Naispela wara kalap
Em ron yet na kalap stap
Em yu yet lukim long ai
Aninit long ol bus diwai
Nogat narapela i olsem
Ples wara kalap long en

Dispela wara kalap
Stap long naispela hap
Em i ron na kalap i stap olsem
Bipo yet long lapun tumbuna taim
Kam taim blong papamama
Na nau ol pikinini na yangpela tumbuna

Dispela wara kalap
Em kalap isi na i no rap
Save kolim nek na tingting
Na tu ol narapela samting
Taim bikpela wara i rap na doti
Em nogat tru, em klin na kalap isi

Gutpela wara kalap
Long taim blong pait na lap
Em yet gat stori blong en
Taim yu pait aninit long bik san
Na yu sot win na nek i drai
Kam kolim nek na lukluk long ai

Gutpela wara kalap
Long maunten antap
Em ron yet na kalap stap
Stap long naispela hap
Em kalap isi na i no rap
Long taim blong pait na lap

Leave a Reply

Close Menu