: an interview with Maria Narakobi
Returning for its second year, the Me, A Papua New Guinean Writer series by Hibiscus Three is delighted to have connected with, and have the opportunity to interview a number of established and emerging Papua New Guinean Writers whose work we've been following (and appreciating!) closely.
To begin our 2022 series, we share our conversation with Maria Narakobi.
Hibiscus Three: Can you remember and describe the moment you knew that you would pursue and share your creative writing with others?
Maria Narakobi: I’ve always wanted to share my writing with others beyond close friends and family but I guess there has always been a certain shyness to me that got in the way from making that happen. I remember I was in my dormitory room at Uni one-day last year, sometime in April with a group of my closest friends and I don’t remember what exactly they said but just how empowered I felt. After that discussion with them I finally started my Instagram page and began sharing my musings.
HT: What do you write about, and what are the common reactions you’ve had from readers?
MN: I can explain what I write about best by first explaining my pen name, “alwaysamala” or “always a Mala”. It’s an ode to my title “Mala” which is Arapesh (a language speaking group of East Sepik Province) for eldest daughter. I felt ‘Mala” really captured my identity as a Melanesian woman, sister and daughter. I try to convey my experiences in this world as Mala. My writing is almost always a reflection of different life experiences or moments in time that have left an impression on me. I like to capture emotions in my writing so the reader can feel what it is that I’m trying to convey. I draw a lot on nature as a theme and particularly the ocean to convey my messages. The most common reaction I’ve had from readers is relatability. They read something I write and to them they can relate to what I’m saying because they’ve had a similar experience.
HT: What piece of writing of yours are you most proud of, and can you briefly outline its message and its significance to you?
MN: The piece I am proudest of would be my “musings on Melanesian identity”.
I’m from Wautogik village, in Dagua of East Sepik. The village sits on a mountain and there’s this view we have of the Wewak islands of Yuo, Karasau and Walis. That view inspired me to muse on my background.
I’ve grown up between two countries; PNG and New Zealand but despite this, my parents have always made sure my siblings and I are rooted in our identity as Papua New Guinean whilst being open minded to Western ideals. But there’s a catch to this, we’re not entirely entrenched in our traditional culture. I don’t speak my language and I guess my interactions with village life are somewhat sanitized because it’s not my ‘everyday’.
All this has made me really appreciate the Melanesian Way more and how in this day and age what it means to be Melanesian and Papua New Guinean is changing fast due to urbanization, globalization and a whole host of other factors as we move away from our traditional ideals.
HT: If you had to sustain your creativity with only 3 books for the rest of your life, what would these books be?
MN: The three books would be:
1. Where the Crawdads Sings by DeliaOwens;
2. The God of Small Things by Arudhati Roy; and
3. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahari
HT: What is the one thing you can’t do without when going to write?
MN: Having my sister read my work. I get her to make sure what I’ve written makes sense and is coherent first before I upload anything.
HT: Encouraging a thriving literary culture of writers and readers in Papua New Guinea – what does this look like to you?
MN: For me this would definitely be investing in public libraries. Having libraries throughout the country with books of every genre and topic easily accessible to every single citizen will without a doubt encourage a thriving literary culture in PNG. It will encourage more reading and writing, I believe, naturally flows from that.
HT: What is the one thing you haven’t written yet that you’d like to eventually get to, and what inspires you to keep this as a goal?
MN: I’d like to write a novel one day, that’s a personal goal of mine. Knowing that PNG is lacking in a thriving literary culture, and in literature that is contextualized to our circumstances definitely serves as an inspiration. I’d like to have my children and grandchildren grow up in a Papua New Guinea where they read books with main characters that are people like them; with their hair, skin color and with similar customs and ways. Additionally, It’s very encouraging to see the work of this platform - Hibiscus Three, it always serves as an inspiration to see other Papua New Guineans contributing in this space and publishing their work.
HT: Where can readers find your writing?
MN: At this point in time, my work can be found on Instagram at @alwaysamala.
I’m looking at starting a blog sometime soon.
Thank you Maria, for the insight to your evolving work as a Papua New Guinean Writer. we encourage all readers to follow Maria's writing on Instagram page @alwaysamala - HT.
Follow and tag @hibiscus.three using #MeAPapuaNewGuineanWriter on Instagram if you have a blog or writing you would like us to read.
The Journal to match the Series! Now available at the Hibiscus Three online Shop.