an interview with Haddassha Tabel
POETRY & SHORT STORY| Kakara Orukari, 2019; Who is Richer, 2021 | MADANG, GULF, ORO
With the theme 'Experience of Independence', Writers Exhibiton PNG46 by Hibiscus Three saw Papua New Guinea's 45th Independence Day celebrated online, hosted by the independent publisher's website.
Heeding Ignatius Kilage's clarion within the foreword of 'My Mother Calls Me Yaltep', Hibiscus Three invited Papua New Guinean writers from in-country and abroad, to submit original writing so that their words could be read, considered and appreciated by other Papua New Guineans. To do so on 16 September, Papua New Guinea's Independence Day, seemed only fitting.
The work of ten (10) writers were featured in the two-day online exhibition, where visitors to the website had an opportunity to reflect on the early contributors to literature of Papua New Guinea; many of whom have an impact on today's generation of emerging and established writers and their showcased writing.
With the inaugural exhibition now concluded, Hibiscus Three shares conversations had with the PNG Writers featured, allowing an opportunity for exhibition visitors to learn more about the writer behind the prose.
Stay connected with the Hibiscus Blog in the coming days to read the Meet the Writer of Writers Exhibiton PNG46 series.
In this post, we spoke to Papua New Guinean writer, Haddassha Tabel:
Hibiscus Three: Can you remember the moment you knew that you would pursue and share your creative writing with others?
Haddasha Tabel: If I were to answer this question in a straight forward manner, I would say I only ever realized this when my grade 11 L&L teacher who is also a writer herself made me view my work from a different perspective however I never really thought about the bigger picture or actually made an effort. I stood on the belief that if my writing is really worth it, then I would be sought out by a consistent platform I wouldn't have to go all out and look for it . But to answer this question in a broader perspective and if I were to talk about conviction I've always had a way with words since I was very young and when I say young I mean very young.
The conviction to write only ever came strong and I dreamt of really actually writing when I was in grade 2. I loved books and fantasized over having collections so my parents made sure I had my books to read and write. You could tag me as a little book hoarder but I think bibliophile would be the better word to describe my weird behavior back then. So in grade 2 we had library time where we would line up and borrow picture books and have our seniors read together with us. But this really did bore me so much so during my spare time I wandered off to the Senior Section of the library and decided to borrow one novel a week. No one knew but the librarian always gave me "the stare" (it's not everyday you see a grade 2 student borrowing big, old novel books). I remember borrowing one really good book back then when I decided to start teaching myself to read "the bigger" books. What everyone didn't know was that I actually dreamt of the old books with the dusty pages, the ones where you know authors really put their back into writing, the ones with torn pages these type of yellow crinkled books appealed to me because you know the messed up ones always have the best stories. I borrowed this particular book in my third week of trying out my little "self- taught journey to read novel books" this book was about a mother who gets sought out after her whole community finds out she's a witch, and this story was set back in the medieval times, she gets burnt alive and leaves behind a son with his father. And by the end of the book she writes beautiful deep poems for her son and these poems are read to him by his father after the witch is burnt. The father has to read all the poems in that amount of time and burn them all so there is no trace of his mother left behind if he doesn't do so the community shuns the little boy as well for being the witches's son. After 11 solid years, I still remember the last page to this novel where the little boy turns to his father and says "If momma loved me why would she leave?" "She's a bad person is she? That's why they roasted her like a chook?" And his father says "She gave you her words, her beautiful words, the same words she prayed, so God kept his word and gave her you. Remember that" "We must burn them now." This spoke to me on a deeper level because this statement really is true. You may leave but the words you write and speak they really have a way of unfolding centuries even years of deep, dark secrets. You could choose to write from a place of darkness but the words written with passion from a place of love will always be remembered. You all want to guess what I did next with this book? Since I couldn't keep it and had to return it back. I tore out the pages where the mother writes to her son. And it hurt me to hurt a book that way (please do not do this), but it was just too good to let go. I tore all the pages containing poems out and read them every afternoon. From then on I started writing my own little amateur poems about almost everything and would sit back and recite them, I had a little play corner in our house where I played all alone so it was basically my little world and I could imagine the most stupendous things after I write and just sit and run around in this corner and recite my "kid poems" and talk to myself and in my little head I believed somehow I'd get to show this side of me someday, the way I imagined a crowd in front of me as I recited my poems as a kid I didn't know it would come to pass. But it sure is manifesting now. The poems I wrote as a kid were never as good as the one the Juniper Witch wrote but that never stopped me I continued writing and 11 years on; here I am, still writing.
HT: What do you write about, and what are the common reactions you’ve had from readers?
Haddassha: I usually base my content around real life experiences and when I say real life experiences, I mean the experiences other people go through, as well and then I integrate and combine this with most of everything that comes from my imagination. In Primary School, Junior High up to High School most of the poems and stories I wrote about were short ones, genres could range from Romance, young-adult fiction, or my culture but since I came to Uni everything I write about is mostly about women empowerment and finding our purpose in life with God above it all. Since my imagination can run wild or be far fetched I try to narrow down the things I write about. Other times, and this is most of the time and these occasions are the times when I produce the best pieces is when I am feeling a certain emotion it can be happiness, sadness, anger, etc. So the first thing I do is: I go sit down in a quiet corner and I transfer all this into my journals basically put down all my feelings in black and white because I do not like keeping them inside me. I start with an idea then from here on out everything just flows, I really do not know how to explain it but writing to me is my way of expression and art. I'm in my own world when I write and after hours even days I sit back and I realize what I actually write. I don't really realize how well I write and I am not one to brag about it, but the reactions I get from my readers is a clear indication that what I write really does come from the heart.
HT: What piece of writing of yours are you most proud of, and can you briefly outline its message and its significance to you?
Haddassha: Well, one piece that I would say I am proud of would be one I wrote earlier on this year. It was titled "Depth". This poem was about looking at life and seeing and perceiving everything on a deeper level. I make readers ask themselves questions like why they breathe and why they aren't dead. Some questions that would come to their mind while reading would be; If you are breathing then where does this source of air come from? Like literally where does it come from? Who gives you life? You go to sleep every night but how sure out of a 100 percent that you would wake up the next morning we have no say about that. I make people really wreck their brains to sit down and really think about all the little things we take for granted in life. The sole purpose behind this particular poem was to tell people to actually live life feeling every moment and to do it while you're young and if you are a spiritual person then you'll understand where I was coming from I meant to really say in each stanza that GOD was the key to finding Depth in life and you'd only find it if you sat down and committed yourself to changing internally.
HT: If you had to sustain your creativity with only 3 books for the rest of your life, what would these books be?
Haddassha: If I had to sustain my creativity with only three books they would be: 1) I would obviously write my first book from a teenager's perspective and this book would be a book of poems, so basically a collection of what teenagers experience on a daily basis, how they think and why they set about to rebel against parents and guardians. 2) My second book would either be a story or a collection of poems that would be centered around the journey to finding God and experiencing new life as a young person in a demanding world. I believe this one would be a big transition and show how my perception of life changed. 3) The last book I would write about would be about one very important virtue I live by and that is "SELFLESSNESS". If you are selfless enough to share even if you have nothing for yourself the world would be a happier place my goal for this last book would be to educate readers on the importance of promoting unity. I'd basically share the beauty of being an empath or being a "big softie" in a cruel world where showing love, compassion and empathy is seen as a weakness and how one act of kindness can change the course of time. I believe this generation doesn't know the importance of "PASIN" (good deeds) we are all struggling to put up masks to prevent ourselves from being used and we often think being cold-hearted and storing up wealth shows others strength but this really is a poor representation of what God intended humans to be or live by. If you have enough for yourself, give it all away. You will eventually go down with nothing when death meets you hence my belief that it is always best to live with compassion.
HT: What is the one thing you can’t do without when going to write?
Haddassha: I have to always have my journal/diary, my water bottle and biros when I set about to write. And it always has to be in a secluded place. I cannot write without these three things.
HT: Encouraging a thriving literary culture of writers and readers in Papua New Guinea – what does this look like to you?
Haddassha: To me being a young girl living in this time and age, it is very hard to keep or write about our culture. Most of us now grow up in the city and live our whole lives in the city to add on to that, coming from a mixed parentage can be a real struggle and the urgency to write about our customs and tradition is slowly dying out. Our generation of writers really do not see the importance of our culture. We often end up writing about what goes on in our life, everything integrated by imagination and emotion, the trauma we face and everything modern and we do not have the capacity in our heads to sit down and ask ourselves what is one meaningful thing I could write about? If Our Late Grand Chief Sir MTS could write about all this alongside other great leaders and it nurtured them into being great men and women what makes them any different from us?
We all have the potential and the skills we just have to use it the right way. I'm only 18 and it can be tempting to decide to write about every other thing with the skills I have but I choose not to, the reason I do this is because not only do I want to keep our traditions alive but when I really sit down and look back at my parents, my grandparents and every generation that came before me they lived with so much ethics and moral and I can't be so quick to say the same about our generation now.
We've lost touch with it all that there is very little to no respect and unity in the communities that we live in and through words I believe, if we really write this in black and white and people learn through this way my generation would really see the contrasting behavior and attitudes that make them fall short from where they originate from. I feel the urgency to still keep my culture alive and though it is a big challenge I make all the effort and when I say all the effort, I mean all the effort I can put into getting information. I sit down with my grandparents, my parents, they translate, they tell me stories and one big question I may ask my generation is "how many young people are willing to do that?" You have it all at your fingertips.
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?
Haddassha: One thing I believe I haven't written about yet is a full on anthology of the customs and traditions from the three provinces I come from. I'd like to set this as a progressive goal because I believe we've reached that point in time where everything has switched up and we are all now living a fast life in the city. If the next generation comes along or if I have children (not that I do plan on having children any time soon, I am a child myself) what do I tell them about my culture? I come from three different provinces and if I am not able to comprehend the life my tumbunas (forefathers) lived, I'd be pretty disappointed with myself. So the best way to do this, I believe is to work to collect as much as I can as I grow up and create most probably a series of books. Each series would be dedicated to the specific place I come from in the respective province, whether it be Madang , Gulf or Oro Province . So then if I'm asked later on in life about my culture. I'd happily pull out a book from my handbag and say "here you go, I have it written down all in black and white."
Hibiscus Three: Where can readers find your writing?
Haddassha: This is the best question and the part everyone wants to get to but here's the catch. (I laugh as I answer this question) You really cannot find my writing anywhere on blog links because I make sure I keep handwritten hard copies, and these are years of writing in journals and diaries that I store up in boxes. My mother gets tired of the number of journals and books that now collect dust that I store away in these big boxes and I'm quite sure she's burnt a few already. Unlike all other normal writers I believe old school is the best way, I make sure I buy two or three journals every year when I do my stationery shopping and I write , handwritten pieces. And this could go on for hours till my fingers are numb, sore or swollen because I really like to feel what I'm writing physically and emotionally, if it comes from my heart I must feel the passion running through my veins into my fingertips. I've always been told to start up my own blogs and pages by so many of my friends, family members and teachers but I always preferred my old school way. So I write in small journals or diaries and I store them up I have a collection of these journals that I keep from years of writing and when I feel like I am satisfied or I feel like that phase of writing for me is up I burn them and I select only the ones I feel like keeping and type them up. My work really comes from a higher source it doesn't come when I'm given a prose or a topic to write about my work and everything I write truly comes from God, I sit down and my hands just flow I unconsciously do not know what I write until I sit back after an hour, after let's say three hours or even days and I read. I write with so much passion and it comes from my heart hence me not looking or seeking out ways to promote my writing via different means I know what I'm capable of but I always promised my self I'd be sought out I wouldn't use my writing to gain fame but only because I truly believe words are the one beautiful gift that could truly change our world. A true writer will use their words to change the course of time and lead with purpose.
Thank you Haddassha! We really appreciate you sharing insights to how your creative life is developing, and personal philosophy as a Papua New Guinean writer. -
Appreciate the work Hibiscus Three is doing in striving to publish and promote Papua New Guinean writers ? Not sure where to start with creating your own Papua New Guinean-led book project, workshop or literary initiative for Papua New Guinean writers? Book an online session with us today and speak with Hibiscus Three Founder, Rashmii Bell, to brainstorm and bring your ideas to life!