Forget Beowulf to Virginia Woolf: Learning to be a Writer in Papua New Guinea
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For students and instructors at colonial universities, the choice and availability of books for instruction was of central importance. Was the curriculum to replicate that of metropolitan universities? Or to accommodate the needs of colonial peoples? Or to be an amalgam of the two? Answers differed depending on local conditions, colonial policy and practice, and the era in which these questions were posed. Increasingly, after WW II, each university department found answers by relying on the knowledge and energies of its own students. In history classes, students might be required to tape-record folklore when at home during the holidays. In literature classes, they might be asked to submit their creative writing for inclusion in the curriculum. The hothouse of late colonial knowledge production was especially intense at the University of Papua New Guinea. Established in 1966, UPNG was literally at the end of the decolonizing trail. Many academics hired to teach there had prior experience in Africa and had thus arrived at UPNG with a clear notion of the role universities could play in nation-building. This paper examines the first ten years of the literature curriculum at UPNG. From 1966-1976, instructors in the Literature Department purposely chose works from the tradition of European alienation, selected folklore traditions, new literatures of Africa, and Afro-American protest in order to channel anti-colonial sentiment amongst its first students. The creative texts that resulted from these classes were not only added to the curriculum, they were published abroad in a carefully managed fashion. Analysis of these practices raises its own questions about knowledge-formation during late colonialism.