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Double Conscience Without the Instrument to Liberate

By:  Steven Edmund Winduo, Language and Literature Department,
University of Papua New Guinea
presented at 1997 Waigani Seminar

Information disperses and circulates following the rule that society is structured on power relations. The distribution of power allows the social relationship to develop thereby allowing communication to be possible. Without this process we are dependent on a power structure influenced by a colonized history. Indeed such a history has created a double consciousness in our lives. In this paper I argue that this double consciousness can be erased with effective instruments. The argument pursues the thesis that Papua New Guinean writers are intervening into this situation but have not been recognized enough.

On my recent trip from Minnesota to Papua New Guinea I found myself in discussion over the new government of Bill Skate. The conversation took place in Manila International Airport while waiting for Air Niugini to fly me home. The fellow Papua New Guineans in conversation were returning from their sojourn in the United States, Europe and Asia. In our time overseas we relied on the news accessed through the internet system. We are an informed generation about the current affairs of Papua New Guinea. However, the utterances we make are still over sentimentalized. We have not distanced ourselves from sentimentalized expressions and considered where we draw the line between sentimentalism and rational arguments on how we produce and disseminate knowledge. In what sense are the utterances we make of ourselves through speech and representation in our literature of any value? The literary culture we created as we thought of forming our nation has become the least of our concerns in the age of technological culture.


How do we develop as a community which collectively expresses itself through its literary culture?  For our literary culture develops by emphasizing a national vision: "while the difficulties in the way of achieving a wide national acceptance and enjoyment are great (low literacy rate, multiversity of languages, etc.), they do not constitute excuses for not trying to do so". The literature produced by Papua New Guineans remains the foundation of discursive practices. Interpretive analysis of Papua New Guinean literature from within is most absent. Through interpretation of its literary culture a community realizes its goals and visions. A community is shaped each time its members recognize the collective expressions of difference through their literary culture.

However where a nation struggles to liberate itself from the double consciousness syndrome a causation argument enters. The education system is blamed largely for institutionalizing the double consciousness syndrome. This double consciousness is sometimes translated as mental dependence: "we are to a large extent dependent on the metropolitan ‘experts’ to instill into our minds what they think is best for us or what they think we should do to achieve rapid and effective westernization and/or modernization". Indeed such a view instigates antagonism by indigenous intellectuals in their views on what constitute local knowledge. The basis of locally constituted knowledge is realized through a dialogic process. The social positioning of the writer between the village experience and the contemporary urban setting already presupposes a mediating self.

The underlying antagonism by Papua New Guineans is an ideological one. The "nationalistic ideas of resistance and recreation of new ideology, culture and history" are rethought of in relation to the way in which history has shaped its existence. The suggestion is that a "collective interpretation" is agreed on the grounds that "the world of texts seems to encompass and constitute reality, or at least the whole world of discourse". An effective instrument of a collective expression in Papua New Guinean writing is thought of as inssurectionary to the established order of dominant discourse. Erasure of mental dependence and colonized consciousness is possible through conscious literary intervention.

In speaking of the double consciousness there is one which blames someone else of our problems. We carry another consciousness around with us. The latter works as the subject/object reality which we constantly struggle to understand why there are people who have control over our lives. In the same confusion we continue in silence about the world described for us by others. The world described is a world colonized since having the power to describe is having knowledge over something. We are still the objects of knowledge, exhibition, and control. The absence of critical Papua New Guinean discourse only extends the orientalising descriptions. The failure on our part to liberate ourselves from the object position is partly obscured by the general inability to articulate our experiences. What is at stake here is Papua New Guinean’s collective identity which must pass through self-negation as witnessed of Abel Willborough in Soaba’s Wanpis. The shifting self within a difficult society is partly explained by the historical conditions which shaped such a character.

Waiko suggested a disruption of the double consciousness in the 1970s. A pragmatic like Waiko rhetorically negates the agenda: "The problem is how can we do it, because many of our people have become part of the system, including myself". In reality the double consciousness makes it possible for individuals to respond vaguely when questioned. The responses inherited from the colonized experiences have been internalized that they are unconsciously reproduced when referring to those seen as representatives of the former colonizers. These responses reflect a negative structure of consciousness which reaffirm duality in our way of thinking thereby allowing binary oppositions to be legitimated. Some of these binaries are thought of in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, class and gender. Cultural oppositions are also viewed as the negative reflections of each other. The consequence of course is the expansion of the rift that already exists after confrontation between opposing cultural practices fail to compromise.


In a recent publication, A Medal Without Honour by Nash Sorariba I noted two responsibilities of the Papua New Guinean writer. Now I extend the responsibilities to include the importance of narratives speaking about the past, the narratives of contemporary everyday, and the recognition of narrative structures which constitute our heterogeneous experiences. The writer is aware of the conflicts, contradictions and confusion that promulgates into negative cultural consciousness. By centering on such issues Sorariba informs Papua New Guineans about the depressing situation in the society. The same is observed in My Mother Calls Me Yaltep by Ignatius Kilage, The Two Highlands Novels by Michael Yake Mell and Toby Kagl Waim, Maiba by Russell Soaba, The Sorcerers by Joseph Aguang, and The Call of the Land by Michael Yake Mell. Most of these Papua New Guinean novels remain unknown to even those of us with university education and money to squander on a television to watch Western soap operas and Sydney Rugby League on weekends. The question to answer is: How many of us have a Papua New Guinean literary work in our private collection? Nonetheless a few culturally conscious Papua New Guineans see the Papua New Guinean literary culture as an instrument of mental decolonization. A collective effort by Kakah Kais and Bernard Minol with illustrations by a local artist saw the narrative of a Manus culture hero presented in written form. The publication Pokop of Pohyomou was endorsed by the politician Stephen Pokawin: "With the new skills in reading and writing, it is in our communal, cultural and provincial interests that we write the stories that have survived through time and the new stories that have come about our time for us to enjoy now and at the same time leave them for those of the future" By the same token the Aimbe series authored by Paulias Matane would not have profoundly celebrated our history if the author had not written without the present generation of Papua New Guineans in mind. By privileging the Papua New Guinean literary culture one subscribes to the view that the author is politically situated in the Papua New Guinean society. Anyone who has read Vincent Eri’s The Crocodile would have noticed that Hoiri Sevese, the protagonists in the novel was the prototype Papua New Guinean caught up in the dilemma of colonized history. The very condition which is described as fixed by the nature and will of God. The argument is already problematic because of a colonized history. The more obvious demonstration of this colonized history is recollected in Papua New Guinean autobiographies like Kiki’s Ten Thousand Years in a Life Time, Somare’s Sana, and Abaijah’s A Thousand Coloured Dreams. The real life narratives of these people suggest a shift away from the stagnant reality into the modern condition of the technological culture.


Identities are consciously negotiated in the Papua New Guinean literary culture.  The literary culture is often forgotten as the nation struggles with ideas of national development and technological progress.  We ignore the view that the "written history of our society is no longer in the domain of those who control the means of production but with the writer who is caught up in the conflicts, contradictions and confusing moments of a nation in crisis with itself".  What is critical now is for Papua New Guineans to form new alignments with themselves by centering dialogue on differences rather than on sentimentalized impressions about the nation. The last two decades saw the continuation of the Papua New Guinean literary culture, emerging as "an integrated national culture and true national consciousness" evolving slowly.  There is a continuum in Papua New Guinean literary culture. The continuum reassures the Papua New Guinea writer to continue producing knowledge for a nation already faced with the contradictions and disillusionment, making it vulnerable to all the negative ideas infiltrating its cultural values. The value of a Papua New Guinean writer is therefore succinctly expressed by the late Ignatius Kilage: "The peculiarities and sensibilities of our nations can be expressed by our own sons and daughters as an innate offering of the immortal values of our people, in words that can change our changing mood". For me, literary works have influenced the way I view Papua New Guinean nationhood, since the politicians’ rhetoric is too hard to remember.

To gain progress as the nation reconfigures its journey to reach the national goals and objectives it must listen to its writers. The writer’s journey is a long and difficult one which conditioned by a collective national experience expectation. The condition that the Papua New Guinean writer is challenged by is the frugal and often dubious relationship established with the nation. A relationship shattered in tragedy of the writer figure like Jimmy Damebo in Wanpis and resurrected as Lomo’ha, the orator in Lomo’ho I Am, in Spirit’s Voice I Call.

The responsibility we bear as Papua New Guinean writers are realized through our commitment to write. Through our writing we intervene in areas where the conscience of a nation is damaged by sentiments that imprisons us from thinking constructively. Papua New Guinea’s literary culture embodies the collective expressions of Papua New Guinea thereby allowing the individual writer to be re-invested with the authority to represent a people by giving voice to the subaltern experience in our society. The subaltern experience therefore becomes the basis of questions related to the politics of representation. Since representation is problematic who indeed is interested in articulating the Papua New Guinean experience? I suggest we look into the literary culture already produced by Papua New Guineans. The writers have been mediating the differences by producing knowledge that reflects heterogeneity, plurality, and collectivity.

Through the literary knowledge the relationship between myth and reality, fiction and non fiction, ideas and materialism are understood. In the short story "Where Is Mummy?" Sorariba intervenes into some of the myths created in the Papua New Guinean mind. In the story some of the inherited ideas, values and tradition are questioned critically by the author. For example on the issue of sexuality and purported violence Sorariba observes:

The fault lay in the traditional Melanesian values of male dominated society. A terrible misconception reinforced by the introduced ethics of early Missionaries which gave way to a confused perception that shorts or long trousers were only meant for men, and that the women were supposed to be well covered by Missionary dresses or long skirts.

Such misconceptions are juxtaposed against traditional Papua New Guinean views of sexuality and dress code. Sorariba then asks: "So what sort of men would these be? Behaving as if they had never seen a woman? What sort of men were those that had no sense of morality and had no sense of guilt or shame to go around harassing women in public...?" The writer’s social conscience sets up the evaluation of the morality question. The difference between the negative consequences of modernity and traditional societies is mediated through Sorariba’s text. Sorariba reveals a society constructed by a double conscience mentality. The potential to liberate the double conscience is increased when a writer encounters the everyday by questioning the very fabrics of social, political and cultural construction.


Writing encounters embedded consciousness and renders them visible. Papua New Guinean writers are intervening into the internalized negative structures of thought that sustains a double conscience. The negative structures of thought limits the possibilities of the emergence of indigenous knowledge. The concern that Papua New Guinean literary culture is often about the negative consequences of modernization is immediately dismissed. With such a dismissal the political position of the Papua New Guinean writer is exposed. The necessity to articulate the Papua New Guinean experience is instituted concurrently with localized calls for indigenous knowledge production.

However positioning the Papua New Guinean writer in such a situation is very problematic. First the Papua New Guinean’s consciousness is to reaffirm the collective identity not in similarities but in differences. Cultural differences are therefore expressed in a structural literary form with its own ideological influence. Second, the liberating scheme involves the tools that effectively assault the dominant discourses by insisting on representation from within the culture of the writer. For such a project to work the Papua New Guinean writer confidently questions the position from where the assault is staged, articulated and declared active: "To remain unwilling to rethink one’s politics on the basis of questions posed is to opt for a dogmatic stand at the cost of both life and thought". Hence allowing silence by not writing invites distortion and misrepresentation of the Papua New Guinean experience. A practice that is similar to the one expressed by Mannoni of Malagasy literature which Fanon criticizes. The same portrayed of the Arab as a nameless trouble maker, the outsider without a voice in Albert Camus’ The Outsider, now exposed by Edward Said as problematic in Culture and Imperialism.

Questioning exercise as discursive activity directly formulates a collective identity freed from institutionalized colonialism. The internalized double consciousness is then questioned insistently to allow a liberated society. The inability of the Papua New Guinean writer to do so directs attention to the inconsistencies of the Papua New Guinean literary culture. Some of these inconsistencies owe their origin to the early Papua New Guinean writers’ shift away from literary activities: "this interpretation laid too much emphasis on the fact that some writers who had been prominent around 1970 had since ceased to write (only temporarily in many cases, as we learned later) and it ignored the fact that new young writers were springing up everywhere and that there was merely a change of emphasis and of outlets". The Papua New Guinea literary culture of the 1980s and 1990s developed with renewed interests influenced by Papua New Guinean writers themselves. The slow publication of books in the 1980s did not mean that there are no literary works produced in Papua New Guinea. Literary activities are pursued by the young writers in literary journals like Ondobondo, The PNG Writer, Bikmaus, Sope, Mana Publications, Manoa, Meanjin and the Savannah Flames to name a few. A good survey of such a trend would reveal remarkable evidence that Papua New Guineans are writing but are not exposed enough. What has not emerged consistently to illuminate the function of a literary culture is positive commentary and literary criticism by indigenous intellectuals. A scenario observed by Soaba in recent times: "Perhaps we should begin by looking at ourselves as writers, the sort of writer that believe we are, and the qualitative aspects of that writing that we have been producing in the last three decades or so then look at the society we live in to see what sort of find there ourselves." Soaba is hinting that literary culture is made up of three elements: writers, readers and critics. All involve giving shape, depth and voice to a literary text.

The literary production centers too have shifted to other government institutions such as the National Broadcasting Commission, the national and local theater companies, the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, the National Research Institute and private publishing houses such as Oxford University Press, Dellasta Pasifika, and Kristen Pres. With works already published in literary journals mentioned earlier what kind of action will salvage them from their obscurity? A question that Regis Stella ponders in the collection of short stories, Melanesian Moments. If the questions seem problematic what is the appropriate action? Do we seek publishing outside of Papua New Guinea in the way Stuart Watson did with new writings by Papua New Guineans in Lost In Jungles Ways? For me the literary culture of Papua New Guinea will remain obscured by our inability to intervene consciously. More depressing is the lack of interests in the literary culture by Papua New Guineans themselves.

The call for intervention by Papua New Guinean writers into this neglected scenario of its history comes with the believe that action as a collective force must begin within a structure of experience. Such an intervention is based on the believe that a nation is founded on a collective expression of solidarity imagined simultaneously with change and development. The literary culture of a nation supports its nation’s visions as "an imagined political community and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign." The political significance of a literary culture evidently reflects the social and cultural behaviour of a nation. The Papua New Guinean writers are already situated in a localised setting that is both creative and intellectual: "they prove that these local, specific struggles haven’t been a mistake and haven’t led to a dead end. One may even say that the role of the specific intellectual must become more and more important in proportion to the political responsibilities which he is obliged willy-nilly to accept." Which of course means that whatever is produced through creative or intellectual labor goes towards the establishment of truth "by virtue of multiple forms of constraint" which enables power to be experienced. It therefore establishes that each society has its own forms of discourse to express its collective struggle.


Papua New Guinean literary culture has only to reconfigure its emphasis on how it develops the discourse about itself. Ron Crocombe highlights such a phenomenon in relation to book production in the South Pacific: "So while government almost universally give strong emphasis on encouraging their indigenous languages, and while every effort should be made everyone concerned with book publications to respond to that wish as far as possible, it should be recognized that there will be significant constraints on its being achieved as fully as governments would wish". The place of the Papua New Guinea writer has to be reconstituted in terms of its knowledge producing function. The Papua New Guinean literary culture establishes frames of thought used as instruments to liberate our the double conscience. It therefore follows that a community to reimagine itself must erase the double consciousness through aggressive articulation. The literary culture is therefore fundamental to the development of a society in contests with its national priorities and cultural development. How then is a nation deny its writer’s place in the history of nation formation? A question begging answers from citizens of a nation claiming political independence for more than two decades?

Double Conscience Without the Instrument to Liberate - Steven Edmund Winduo Language/Literature Dept. , University of Papua New Guinea - 1997 Waigani Seminar
e-mail author:  c/o John Evans evansjoh3@email.com
Papua New Guinea © 2000

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