Papua New Guinea Children-Authors: Their 1st book
Papua New Guinea is a country of intense diversity. Besides being home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, its 6.5 million people speak over 800 separate languages, about 12% of the world’s total.
This incredible diversity is not reflected in the schools. Papua New Guinea was an Australian colony until 1975 and its school system is still heavily influenced by Australian models. Schools teach in English and while an effort is made to teach topics common to all Papua New Guineans, the many distinct tribal and local cultures remain invisible at school.
When you went to school, you probably read books about your own people, your own country, and your own culture. They were probably in the same language your parents, grandparents, and neighbours spoke. But when young Nalik children go to school, they see books in English, usually from another country, and talking about ways of life that are very different from their own. There are no books talking about the culture of their ancestors.
This project is an attempt to address the imbalance and show that the local culture has an important place in the education of young Papua New Guineans. In 2016 social educator Cláudio da Silva and linguist Dr Craig Alan Volker traveled to Madina Village on New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea to work with children, clan chiefs, and community leaders to collect stories and traditional knowledge about birds on New Ireland and how they represent the matrilineal clans of the Nalik-speaking people. The result was the book A Maani: Birds and Nalik Culture.
how this project was developed?
A Maani: Birds and Nalik Culture was written by grade 6 and 7 children at Madina Primary School in the Nalik region of New Ireland, an island in the Bismarck Archipelago in northeastern Papua New Guinea. Using stories from their parents, grandparents, clan matriarchs, and clan chiefs, they wrote about the birds in their local environment and what they mean to people there. Some stories were told by clan chiefs and female elders. Children listened to the stories, translated them into English, and drew pictures that eventually became part of the book. Children also asked their parents and grandparents for stories, legends, and information about birds. They worked in groups to retell these stories in English. We gathered the stories and illustrations into a book: A Maani, Birds and Nalik Culture. This book will provide Nalik children a chance to read about their maani (birds) and share their culture with people everywhere.
Nalik culture is matrilineal, with society based on eight clans, with strict laws describing interactions between the clans. Nalik children need to learn these laws and customs to participate as adults in society, but with increasing westernisation, many no longer learn this ancient wisdom at home.
A Maani: Birds and Nalik Culture is a book, but it was also a process of showing young adolescents how to learn about their ancestral culture and how to integrate that knowledge into what they learn at school.
Now that the book is finished, we have started the process for printing and in 2019 will be distributing copies free of charge to schools in the northern part of New Ireland.
The impact of the project
The response to the book has already been very positive. For people who have never seen themselves reflected in books, the impact holding a book about their own stories and lives cannot be overestimated. Through the workshop that produced A Maani: Birds and Nalik Culture, students have seen how the skills they have learned at school actually do have real-life application. Teachers already report that they apply themselves more to class work and to being more precise in their assignments.
The team hopes that this book and project will be a model for other communities to produce their own books in their own languages.