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The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 508-513

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Rivers of the Forest

A South Pacific Journal of Art and Culture, Language and Literature

From the Spider Bone Diaries:
Poems and Songs

Hembemba: Rivers of the Forest, by Steven Edmund Winduo. Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, and Boroko: Language and Literature Department, University of Papua New Guinea, 2000.ISBN982-02-0311-2;124 pages, figures, appendix, glossary. US$12.00.
Cook Islands. Special Issue of Mana: A South Pacific Journal of Art and Culture, Language and Literature (12:2), edited by Jean Tekura Mason and Vaine Rasmussen. Suva: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the SouthPacific, 2000.ISBN0379-5268; xviii + 113 pages, figures, photos, glossary. US$16.00.
From the Spider Bone Diaries: Poems and Songs, by Richard Hamasaki. Honolulu: Noio (Kalamaku Press) 2000.ISBN0-9623102-9-8; xxii + 119 pages, figures, notes. US$8.95.

The ancestral voices of rivers petitioned for spiritual possession in Steven Edmund Winduo's second poetry collection, Hembemba: Rivers of the Forest, are not those of Langston Hughes,William ButlerYeats, or Muddy Waters. Although these modernist figures do flit in and out of Winduo's English-language poems as mentors, running through the well-wrought book is the quest to speak as Lomo'ha, a spirit voice and heroic quester in Nagum Bokien (his native language and culture). Many of the poems aresituatedin theriver-crossed region of East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea, where Winduo takes his pride of birth and starts his journey of Pacific crossing, estrangement, and [End Page 508] return. This book is the lyric record of this journey outward, disorientation, and return to the homeland.

The five river poems that structure this collection are written in a large myth-drenched voice full of platitudes, hyperbole, and remonstrance, yet riddled with loss, anxiety, and blockage. Courting whisperings, shadows, and rumbles in "Without a Name," Winduo wants to let "forefathers' drums talk / In ancient metaphors." But this ancestral sublime vision of dark seeing is also connected to an uneasy identification with Third World visions of urban negritude and socialist resistance, nicely conjured up in "Seeds and Roots" as some transnational "dead poets'" community of global belonging:

Somewhere in this world the dead poets
Are feasting over the birth of Lomo'ha
Maybe under the timeless swordof Mao
Beneath the shambles of Berlin Wall
Maybe in the inner cities of America

At times, the Pacific diaspora inWinduo registers loss, death, wound, and betrayal: since his village people "left long ago for other shores" from New Zealand to Minnesota to the afterlife, in "Upon the Shores" the poet wonders, "What is there to return to?" Many poems record this loss of vision and the uneasy fit of the native son returning home to find the mixed blessings of a fractured community and changing place.

Tracking a journey from "Sepik to Mississippi" via river meditations, and making a water-poetry out of flow, loss, and renewal, the poet affirms: "But once this journey is complete / I shall return home to my people / And live in a forest of ancestral place." Such security of place is not lastingly evoked, however, and "self-consciousness" more often becomes the "curse" of not belonging to place or home as site of "ancestral words."

At times to avoid a "society of nightmares" and political failure, on the other hand, the poet keeps moving, letting go, uprooting, "changing address to avoid wantok," meaning that easy talk of Melanesian cultural oneness in a context of social fracturing, urban rage, and modern dispersal ("My Previous Address"). In "My River," Winduo sees the flowing river as a lasting model for the Melanesian cultural self,butapologizesfor hisown moving away as if talking to the communal spirit: "I know you are hurt by my move /And see me as a thoughtless person." The past more often lies "buried in the savanna" as the road leadson fromriver and forest tourban modernity, money making, corruption, and change ("Long Road").

Still, in a...


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