The University of Papua New Guinea opened its doors in 1966, producing its first graduates in 1970, just five years before Independence. The University’s Literature Department produced a number of anthologies and literary journals by its students and staff during its first decade. However, it must be noted that there is almost no writing by women from the University during this initial phase. This situation can be partly attributed to the small numbers of women attending the University at that time and to the complete lack of women in writing classes conducted by Ulli Beier, perhaps the best-known of the University’s print culture sponsors during the colonial period.
One of the most remarkable series of publications from the University-based system was the Papua Pocket Poets (PPP) which, under the editorship of Ulli Beier (Vols. 1-25) and Prithvindra Chakravarti (Vols. 26-46), continues to serve as the single most comprehensive source of printed verse from PNG. Beier began the series so that he would have some oral materials to use in literature classes. The first three volumes were printed cheaply in London; they contained Maori, Malay, and Yoruba texts. Thereafter the PPP volumes were published in PNG. The original three volumes were followed by Indonesian, Ibo, and Bengali verse. But, from the fifth volume onwards, PPP focussed almost exclusively on poetry from Papua and New Guinea, whether modern or traditional. Traditional poetry was usually represented in the original and in English translation. Under Chakravarti’s editorship, the emphasis turned from Africa to India, in the first six volumes. Thereafter, the poetry is almost entirely from PNG. In the main, Chakravarti published mostly modern poetry, while Beier published mostly traditional.
The Literature Department’s literary journal Kovave was published from 1969-1973 and then again in 1975. Originally edited by Ulli Beier, Kovave was the first literary journal of note in the colonies of Papua and New Guinea. Beier very quickly turned editorial control over to his student-writers. Since the journal generally ran to 50 pages in length, it included the complete manuscripts of plays, which none of the other literary journals could manage. This was an important contribution to PNG’s literary history since most of the country’s first writers chose drama as their preferred genre. Copies of many of the first plays written in PNG were also published by the National Broadcast Commission (NBC), which aired the plays on national radio. Although Kovave contains some folkloric texts, most of the content is modern and written in English. Kovave offered its readers short stories, verse, and autobiographical texts, along with drama. The drama in Kovave was all contributed by UPNG students, as was 60% of the prose and 25% of the verse. The other contributors were mainly students at Goroka Teachers College. Half of the literary criticism came from Beier’s students, but all of the literary reviews were penned by expatriates.
After the demise of the Literature Bureau’s journal Papua New Guinea Writing in 1977 and the University’s journal, Kovave, in 1975, the Literature Department was without a literary journal until 1980, when it began to publish Ondobondo. This was the publishing outlet for the second generation of writers in PNG; it coincided with the formation of the Ondobondo Club, a writers’ group that gathered monthly for readings. Ondobondo was about 30 pages long and carried a balance of stories, poems, book reviews, plays and excerpts from novels. It remains the largest single source in PNG’s literary history of excerpts from unpublished novels. Its reviews are mostly of local writing; the journal thus also served as the first instance in the history of PNG’s literary magazines of indigenous criticism of indigenous writing.
Ondobondo was the first of the University’s literary journals to attract and retain submissions by women. Loujaya Kouza, Joyce Kumbeli, and Nora Vagi Brash contributed to it throughout its lifetime. It also took its role as the only extant literary journal in the country seriously by including on its Board, and among its staff and contributors, people from all three literary systems.
Updated October 13 2016 by Library Services