Posts Tagged ‘papua new guinea’

A mountain in the passage of time

October 22, 2012 1 comment

‘The Mountain’ byDrusilla Modjeska

  • First published 2012, Vintage Books
  • 432 pp. Fiction

A book review by Nickson Piakal

'The Mountain' by Drusilla Modjeska

Good literary novels set in Papua New Guinea come few and far between. Pretty much like trees on those khaki flavoured semi-barren hills rolling down into Waigani. In fact, this is an imagery anyone familiar with the surrounds of Port Moresby are likely to conjure up in one of the opening scenes of Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain.

Based on her previous work, Modjeska is often known to explore the boundary between fiction and non-fiction. The Mountain is a first attempt at proper fiction from this multiple award winning author.

This book is a mosaic of rich and intricately drawn array of characters finely woven into play while celebrating the love of art and photography, much like the elaborate design and artistry of the bark-cloth which is at the centre of this story.

It is divided into two sections, each marking an epoch in the lives of the central characters of this book, which, in turn are all connected to the mountain – the mountain of the title.

The first section of the book is set in 1968 and leads up to the days of self-government in 1973. Central to the story is Rika, a Dutch woman, whose husband Leonard, an ethnographer has been invited to Papua New Guinea by the new university to capture on film the culture of the people of the mountain and their bark cloth artists.

It sees the struggles of people from opposing ends of the cultural divide grapple with issues of identity, adapting to new climes, and self-discovery in finding their feet to stand upon. In a way, it is almost a crude allegorical representation of the emerging nation of Papua New Guinea at that time.

Like a dance that goes from one generation to the next. The feet change and the steps continue.”

And so a generation later, it is Jericho, the gift child from the mountain who carries the story forward in the second part of this book. After 30 years as an Englishman, he returns to rediscover his roots by going back up the mountain.

The climb he undertakes will be an arduous battle for him physically, but more so for his soul as his spirit is put to the test to see if his feet can feel the “pulse of the mountain” and if they can beat in tandem to it; if he can face and meet the expectations of the mountain. Jericho however, is more troubled by the past and the questions that have been haunting him for much of his life now seem ready to rise to the surface.

The landscape varies from a dry but politically charged Port Moresby to the lush and mystical canopy covered vegetation and cool clear streams and rivers of the mountain in the clouds over the Owen Stanley Ranges, and down to the serene fjords of Tufi (although the name Tufi is never mentioned. The place is simply referred to as “the fjords” to facilitate the process of fictionalisation).

My knowledge of Port Moresby and Papua New Guinea of the pre-independence era is pretty flimsy, and as such, it was a refreshing read to see a work that vividly paints the life and times of that era. There is even more realism in the more recent depiction of Port Moresby too.

Modjeska’s knowledge and understanding of Papua New Guinea language and culture is quite apparent in the way the dialogue is carried forward.  This greatly helps in moving the story along, especially in covering its cultural aspects. Even the broken English come out sounding the way they should and that is a big plus.

The only peculiarity I found was the rather weak closure. The explanations given to Jericho’s questions – which also happen to be the reader’s questions, sit uneasily off the mark, hardly fulfilling their purpose.  But then again, this perception may be different for the next reader.

In saying that, this novel commands respect with its strong historical and geographical grounding, buoyed on by a rich narrative. The Mountain has achieved a lot for itself, its author and for the country in which it is set in.


  • This book is on sale at The UPNG Bookshop at its Waigani campus and at the Star News Link bookshop
  • It’s on sale online for $27.50 at Booktopia

Essence of the Bloody Track

April 25, 2011 8 comments

On the occasion of this ANZAC day, I want to pay my respect to those who fought in the Kokoda campaign in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War.

I am proud  to say that I am the son of Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

On MATESHIP: ANZAC and the Kokoda Track

This morning saw Australians and New Zealanders stand at dawn.  In silent salute in honour of brave men and women who took a stand to defend their country. They sacrificed all they had, even their lives.

Of those that are remembered on ANZAC day, more than 2000 of them will be those courageous men who lost their lives on Kokoda. Regarded by some as ‘the Bloody Track’.

Australians have been involved in numerous conflicts from as far back as the Boer war. However none of them was as close to Australian soil as the campaign on the Kokoda Trail. Even more crucial was the fact that the national security of Australia was hanging by the balance.

Jeff Kennett, the former Victorian Premier noted this fact in his recent article in the Herald Sun. He pointed out the Kokoda Track as a major Australian shrine. He went on to say that “the real wonderment of PNG still remains the Kokoda Track. (sic)

Papua New Guinea must also see the Kokoda Track as a major PNG shrine as well, and not merely a tourist attraction for us to cash in on.

It is precisely on this bloodstained trail that the dynamics of the bond between Papua New Guinea and Australia took a major shift.

This 6-month long campaign also saw a lot more Papua New Guineans participate actively in the Second World War than in any other battle. They became porters, stretcher bearers, nurses, scouts and perhaps even in active combat.

Hence, the legend of the famous Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels was born.

On ENDURANCE: My ignorance and the Kokoda Track

For a Papua New Guinean born post-independence, the contribution of these great men bore little to no significance to me. They simply got lost in the pages of my high school history text book.

Perhaps we could argue that Papua New Guinea’s Independence on a ‘golden platter’ had a bearing on this apparent disregard for something of such historical significance. Then again this may have also stemmed from the fact that I hail from the heart of the Highlands of Papua New Guinea – a location left relatively untouched during the war.

This ignorance I had was soon to get a good dose of reality check as I came face to face with history.

In late May of 2010 I had the fortunate opportunity to check off the Kokoda Track on my bucket list.

The tales that you have heard about this challenging track is nowhere near the real thing. The entire 96km of this gruelling track alone will demand nothing but the whole of you. If you dare to take up the challenge then be prepared to be slaughtered!

From ankle-deep mud to slippery climbs that seemed to never end. Only to find steep descents on the other side that will turn the knees of any strong man to rubber. From leech infested mud plains to the murky Brown River. Onwards to the raging torrents of the Iora Creek, the Kokoda Track will put the human spirit to the test.

The arduous nature of this track alone has been known to make legends out of ordinary men. For it was there that I came to meet a man that displayed the true meaning of sacrifice by his deeds alone.

On SACRIFICE:  Pte Bruce Kingsbury VC and Kokoda Track

Private Bruce Kingsbury VC – a Malvern boy

I came across the legend of Private Bruce Kingsbury upon entering Isurava. This was another battlefield where the two opposing forces engaged in a raging battle that lasted for weeks.

Kingsbury was, and remains the only recipient of the Victorian Cross in Papua New Guinea.

The Victorian Cross (VC) is the highest decoration of the Commonwealth given with honour to anyone who performs an act of valour above and beyond his or her call of duty. It is the Australian equivalent of the American Medal of Honor.

A farmer and a real estate agent by profession, Private Kingsbury fought valiantly and gave up his life in order to save the lives of his mates and his commanding officers. Because of his actions alone many were able to live and fight another day. Some went on to see the end of the war where they would go on to see their children and grandchildren and die of old age. That day 29 August 1942 got etched down into the history books and into their minds forever.

Because of this selfless act, the following was written of him by W.B. Russell:

“Whenever men speak of courage,
wherever men speak of sacrifice,
he will be remembered,
his name ever an inspiration and a challenge.”

On COURAGE: The essence of the Kokoda Track

Starting from Ower’s Corner all the way to Kokoda Station, it was hard not to notice the plaques along the length of the track. They help to point out the historical significance of the locations or the actors in it in relation to the Kokoda campaign.

Skeletal remains of weapons and helmets are littered all throughout. The remnants of foxholes and craters made by mortar rounds lay eerily silent next to each other. Weather and time have metamorphosed them into vague resemblances of their former self. Yet they linger. Mute witnesses to those terrifying times, reminding us of grim tales of desperation and bloody carnage. They also hold a much louder truth. A tale of the human spirit. A tale of courage in the face of uncertainty and imminent doom.

With each passing day it was hard not to see what these valiant warriors had to endure. Ordinary men who rose up to the occasion to successfully fight off a larger, better trained onslaught of Japanese forces.

Brigade Hill is one such location where such fierce fighting ensued.

After leaving Brigade Hill, I made my way round the western side of that hill towards Efogi. For anyone who has been there, they will know that there are several similar looking bends there. One of those bends hangs precariously close to the edge of a rocky ledge. It is a narrow pass between two jagged edged rocks pointing inwards with just enough space to allow the passage of ONLY ONE person at a time. A few centimetres of misstep left and a gaping yawn of a chasm awaits to receive that unfortunate stray.

This narrow little pass brought me to a halt and to a moment of quiet contemplation. You have to give credit to the tenacity of the Australians with all those weights on their backs with gun in hands, plodding through the muddy slopes and bogs.

However, I was more in awe of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels then.

I have tried over and over to construct a picture in my mind to see how four men would negotiate such a dangerously tricky one-lane path with a young wounded — perhaps even unconscious Australian in a stretcher. Carrying anything more than 10 kilograms along the length of the track is no easy feat, let alone a 70 kilo fully grown man. I got lost trying to figure out this equation.

However I was dead certain of one thing though.

I beamed with humble pride and admiration at the accomplishments of these selfless men. Papua New Guineans. Warriors in their own right. With no incentive whatsoever. Just a simple desire to help a fellow human being, even though a stranger he may have been.

With simple courage they  stood alongside the Australians in their capacity as human camels, ambulances, scouts and all round saviours.

Then the words of that poet rang with crystalline clarity as I trudged on. I caught a faint whisper of what he saw.  When a wounded soldier names Bert Beros penned that beautiful ode to my forefathers, the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels.

Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels

Many a mother in Australia when the busy day is done

Sends a prayer to the Almighty for the keeping of her son

Asking that an angel guide him and bring him safely back

Now we see those prayers are answered on the Owen Stanley Track.

For they haven’t any halos only holes slashed in their ears

And their faces worked by tattoos with scratch pins in their hair

Bringing back the badly wounded just as steady as a horse

Using leaves to keep the rain off and as gentle as a nurse

Slow and careful in the bad places on the awful mountain track

They look upon their faces would make you think Christ was black

Not a move to hurt the wounded as they treat him like a saint

It’s a picture worth recording that an artist’s yet to paint

Many a lad will see his mother and husbands see their wives

Just because the fuzzy wuzzy carried them to save their lives

From mortar bombs and machine gun fire or chance surprise attacks

To the safety and the care of doctors at the bottom of the track

May the mothers of Australia when they offer up a prayer

Mention those impromptu angels with their fuzzy wuzzy hair.

– Bert Beros

I was never a more PROUDER Papua New Guinean than at that very moment.

I may not hail from the Koiari tribe, nor a Kaiva, but I was proud then. As I am now. Proud of my heritage as a Papua New Guinean. That those brave and selfless Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels are also my forefathers.

If you are a Papua New Guinean, consider the Kokoda Track as your pilgrimage. What it takes out of your body it will put into your heart and soul!

That is the essence of ‘The Bloody’ Track.

Lest we forget.


Special delivery for ANZAC day from Afore, deep in the heartlands of the Managalas Plateau in the Ijivitari District of Oro.


25 April 2011

Fact Check

*Technically, the closest attack on Australian soil took place when the Japanese struck Sydney and Darwin with mini-submarines and air attacks respectively. These however cannot be classified as ‘campaigns’.

** Koiari – the biggest tribe in the Central Province, they live from the coast all the way up to the inland which includes Sogeri and land on which the Kokoda Track runs through and the surrounding area.

**Kaiva – this is the general reference given to the Oro side of the Kokoda Track all the way down towards Popondetta.

**Awara – a common greeting used by the Oro people to generally mean, “Its all right/Its all good.”


The Next Generation Leaders’ Conference

August 31, 2010 Leave a comment

NGLC2010 Passion

A flier for you to download and pass on. You are all invited and encouraged to come along.

You can read more about Patriots PNG, Inc.  here or here .

Patriots for Change

May 6, 2010 5 comments

PNG Blood 

Speaking of something good, I was fortunate enough to attend a talk given by the CEO and Managing Director of Helifix PNG, Mr Robert Agarobe at the Main Lecture Theatre in UPNG the other day which was organised by Patriots PNG, Inc.  

Until then, PPNG was only a group on Facebook and that was about it. But after attending this talk, I came home enlightened  and inspired. This was an organisation that stood for most, if not all of the ideals that I fervently believe in. In seeing what it means to be a citizen of this great nation by looking at it in the bigger picture and taking positive steps to bring about change at the individual level. It’s a pity not a lot of people – especially the university students given the calibre of such an institution – attended as I am pretty sure quite a few, if not all of us would do with the information shared that evening.  

PPNG is all about seeing ourselves as agents of change. Or as mentioned in their slogan “Change Starts With Me”. And that is something we fail to see in our day to day living. Many a times we talk about change but that is about as far as we go. We only talk about it. Or we post a comment here or there on some internet forums; at oft times hiding behind the facade of pen names and aliases. But we have to stop to remind ourselves that in order to see the change that we so crave, it has to start somewhere. Nowhere better than with ourselves; from deep within. To ask ourselves, “Can I do something, anything about the state of affairs that my country/province/town is in to turn things around?”  

(Oh yes. I can opt for a quick way out to the easy life and go live in Australia or America or wherever the fuck else where the pay is great and the streets are spot clean with bird droppings the only stain you see on the footpath. Where roads are linked like the wrinkles on the back of your granddaddy’s callused hand. (No offence to our folks living and working abroad. It’s a metaphorical approach in explaining complacency if you like:p))  

If change starts with me then I have to look at change starting with the very fundamental detail of the most trivial chores and then build up from there. So if we want to see a cleaner city, for example, change starts with me disposing off that used match stick into a rubbish bin. If I have just finished a cigarette, butt out and drop it into a rubbish bin instead of flicking it out the window. If it’s a chewing gum, drop the wrapper into the bin.  

Then it will get to a point where the act of absently throwing an empty container, plastic or paper by the way side will become a pain to your conscience. In fact, I promise you that the next time you see somebody littering, you will cringe and be compelled to advise that person to do the right thing. Hence, the seed of responsible living and change will start to take shape within you and emanate from you.  

This is just a small illustration of what you and I are capable of within our means to bring about change in our lives to overhaul ours and other Papua New Guinean’s  mindset to think proactively and to see progress for the better for our village, towns, province, the nation and the globe.  

Here I want to extend the invitation from Patriots PNG for their first Fundraising Dinner to you all to see if you can get a seat there. Do not miss the opportunity.Refer to the flyer below for details.  

Stay STRONG, folks. And never for once lose sight of the bigger picture.  

Click here to download the Fundraising Flyer

Click the image to download the Fundraising Flyer

 “Yes We Can!” BO 

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Introducing the Shirt-for-Book Campaign

March 22, 2010 3 comments

This is an open invitation to everybody to participate in the Shirt-For-Book campaign. Being a participant involves the purchase of T-shirts to facilitate the freighting of library books to remote schools in Papua New Guinea.

Hope Trek is a revolutionary concept that is aimed at changing the mindset of Papua New Guineans to see themselves more as catalysts of change for progress through participation rather than being mere spectators. As a demonstrative awareness exercise, members of Hope Trek will take on the Kokoda Track on 23 May 2010 to deliver library books to remote locations within PNG.

This exercise can be seen as a multifaceted approach in bringing to light the following agenda:

  1. Books and Reading – books, as the primary focus of this initiative, is a fundamental cornerstone in education and literacy. This venture aims to challenge young children (and adults alike) to take up a book to read, thus helping to broaden their horizon, not only in the subjects taught in school but about the wider universe at large so that they can grow up to be better, more responsible citizens.
  2. Environment and Conservation Awareness – we need to be reminded about the importance of the natural environment. Scheduled to coincide with the World Environment Day (5 June 2010), this point will be highlighted in line with this year’s WED theme of ‘Protecting our Biodiversity’. Highlighted also will be The Managalas (Ijivitari district, Oro) people’s bid to get their area to attain Conservation Area status in August of 2010.
  3. Climate Change Awareness – a hot topic facing the global community at large, PNG is already in the forefront of this crisis, with it having the first “refugees of climate change” in the world (Carteret Islands) [1].  It is therefore imperative that our people are armed with this knowledge, as this agenda requires affirmative action from one and all.
  4. Eco-friendly Income Generating Ventures – in line with the previous points, this venture will be used to reemphasize the fact that there is commercial viability in the sustainable management and use of our rich natural resources and forests without the need to delve into more destructive land use practises. Trekking is one such eco-friendly tourist attraction that should be looked into for income generation. This will also encourage the protection and preservation of our rich cultural and traditional heritage.
  5. Responsibility and Self-reliance – as a demonstrative exercise, it is envisaged that this initiative will challenge people to be more proactive in their wish to see development within their area. We as individual members of the community can participate meaningfully in the development process of our province and the nation as a whole instead of wasting our time and resources chasing after claims and free hand-outs from the government, politicians and leaders. It is high time we eradicate the Cargo-Cult mentality from our mindset and set out to be more self-reliant and innovative in our thinking to see true progress.
  6. Youth Mobilization – the participation of youths from Morata and Waigani in this exercise will no doubt be an eye-opening experience for them. By participating in a worthwhile cause, it will enable them to see themselves as more responsible citizens who can contribute meaningfully to society instead of just conforming to the image of bums and no-goods.

As a pilot run, a total of more than 2000 books have already been secured with the kind help of Hope Worldwide (PNG); with more on their way from the Rotary Club of the township of Emerald in Queensland, Australia. These books will be airlifted up to Mt Hagen in Western Highlands Province.

The initial target schools are Bukapena Primary School in the Mul District of Western Highlands Province and Saluk Community School of remote Lembena, located in the border area of Enga Province (Kompiam District) and East Sepik Province (Angoram District). Bukapena, in a first of its kind, has erected a school library through local initiative and is in need of books to fill up its shelves, while Saluk, in its remoteness has only grades 1 – 4 and is in dire need of learning resources and books.

In standing by its bid to promote self-reliance and responsibility, the Shirt-for-Book campaign seeks not your donation but instead encourages your participation through the purchase of printed T-shirts in order to freight these books to their intended destination.

A key benefit for corporate entities and organisations in participating in this campaign is the inclusion of a branding package. This will see your company or organisation getting its fair publicity through logo placement.

The print designs are pasted below for your perusal.

Download an order form if you want to purchase one.Shirt-For-Book T-Shirt Order Form

[1] Source: IRIN through Reuters (08 Jun 2008 14:31:24 GMT)

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