Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Tribute to Kumalau Tawali

His name is echoed over and over again.
Through a tribesman's heartbeat
Through the beat of the garamut
Or a crescendo of waves cascading along the shores of PNG

Sometimes you hear his name whispered
Across the silence of the ocean
Especially when the moon is high
And the turtles are on shore
Gently kicking sand in the air
But spoiling for a fight to survive

But most times you hear his name mentioned
In the classroom
And at orientation meetings
When a new batch of young men and women
Comes to colleges and universities
To study to learn and to write.

That is Kumalau Tawali.
And that is how he is known
Here in PNG
And all over the world.

In reality he is the soul of the nation.

I am always conscious of Kumalau as that man in attendance at each gathering of writers, artists, musicians, dancers and choreographers. He is the one seated at the gate and next to the garamut announcing the arrival of PNG scribes and intellectuals. The feast is at its peak. People of all walks of life come along to the gathering and Kumalau's poetry in correlative accompaniment of the garamut beat announces the presence of all.

That is how I picture those colorful days of 1970, 1971, 1972 and beyond. The poet indeed, as the dawn singer would, proclaimed the arrival of PNG Literature. At that time names such as Vincent Eri, Albert Maori Kiki, Ignatius Kilage, Michael Somare and others came into prominence through the written word. These were followed by John Kasaipwalova, Leo Hannett, John Waiko, Rabbie Namaliu, John Kadiba, Percy Chatterton, August Kituai, Wauru Degoba, Bedus Mapun, John Kaniku, Arthur Jawaodimbari, Jack Lahui, John Kolia, Bonita Jill Tiwekuri, Sally Anne Bagita, Josephine Abaijah, and Alice Wedega et al. Some years later we would hear other names such as Nora Vagi Brash, Loujaya Dunar, Toby Kagl, Michel Mel, Steven Edmund Winduo, Regis Stella, Carol Kidu, Moses Maladina and, of course, the list braces to build on.

But the poet has accomplished what he had set out to do. It was to put on record Papua New Guinea's true sentiment of what being a Papua New Guinean really means. How we feel about the weather, the environment, the topography that surrounds, the rivers we swim in and the seas that bring in a wealth of food and pleasure. How we view ourselves as contemporary citizens of our country. Kumalau said it all through his poetry, being one of the first of Papua New Guinea's poets to do so. His work is studied at universities everywhere, among them the famous poem "The Bush Kanaka Speaks", which often poses as one of the country's most significant commentaries ever made in its bid to gain political independence from Australia. His other works have been translated into many languages, and have also been represented in the pages of some of the most prestigious publications in the world.

- Russell Soaba.

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