Weekly Commentaries

This is Sunday Chronicle's weekly commentaries on various issues of interest affecting the country. All individual commentators are done by elite Papua New Guineans from diverse educational backgrounds.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Kenny and the tale of mad artists


SEPIKS are born and known artists. We have helped make, shape and continue to contribute to the changing face of our society

In philosophy, there exists an essentially antagonistic view of art and the artist, although some philosophers approved of certain religious and moralistic kinds of art. Plato, for example referred to artistic creations as "inspired madness". In his Theory of Forms, Plato, explains that a beautiful flower, for example, is a copy or imitation of the universal forms "flowerness" and "beauty". The physical flower is one step removed from reality that is, the forms. A picture or artistic drawing of a flower is therefore, two steps removed from reality. This also meant that the artist is two steps removed from knowledge of the reality and therefore "lack genuine knowledge of what they are doing".

If we place ourselves today within the precincts of Theory of Forms, one will realize why all has not been for real but "inspired madness", meaning what we have been doing for Sepik were merely imitation of the reality of a true Sepik dream, a real Sepik end that may yet to be realized and achieved.

Far and above this "madness" is the mediocre status of politics, governance and administration in the province which is plagued with lack of political leadership, corruption and jealousy strongly kowtow to socio ethnical bias and nepotism. This obviously impact on a fair and independent public administration as well. Every claim paid from provincial and district treasuries is biased and have "cuts" tied to it. Always is a "Mr. Percentage" around in the process. Without the Mr. Percentage would mean delay or no payment at all. Yet, internal revenue mechanisms are lacking or simply corrupted forcing the provincial budget to the edge of dependency on mostly national grants more than other supplements.

Traditional land is usurped discriminately by those in power under the guise of corporate and large scale agro development much to the detriment of environmental preservation. Portion 146C acquisition of Marienberg land and the sub division of 3.325 hectares of mission land for the K10 million Marienberg Community College are obvious cases. In town, all strategic land is dominated by certain individuals or corporate entity closely placed within and around political and/or bureaucratic circles.

Nearly a billion kina worth of both development and investment projects are currently underway in East Sepik and again nepotism creeps into contracting and sub contracting awards. Much is known but only to the extent of an intransigent fear-of-repercussions if exposed or acted upon thus, allowing this "inspired madness" to continue into the multiples of time.   

Nonetheless, there exists an inextricable cultural trait that is more antagonizing to the true Sepik universal forms. Being that there exist ethnical biases between Sepiks themselves. It is not exposed but could be categorized and stems from; local Sepiks being those who were born and live in Sepik, national Sepiks being those whose were born and live and work outside of Sepik, expatriate Sepiks being those who live and work overseas, and half cast Sepiks being off springs of a Sepik parent married outside of Papua New Guinea.  
The aberrant provincial outlook therefore is impairing our path to our commonwealth, our common course and achievement of a real Sepik form and beauty.

The challenge therefore is to learn the knowledge towards achieving the real away from the antagonistic imitation of the art if we are to realize our true Form in the modern landscape of change and development.
And it starts individually within the faculties of mind. During the conscious years, we observe and experience so much of the Inequality of Man. The strength to realize that there is a turning point to which we can change, adopt and form desirable habits and break those not desired is the first step towards the journey to the mountain top. Developing that 'will power' and the 'knowledge' and setting the path towards the 'adorns' of one's real - not the art - is the prerequisite.  

One such testimony is this story of Kenny Samuel, the proprietor of Waiyu Limited, a local commodity buyers and exporters company based in Wewak. Kenny began his journey to the peak by selling potatoes and vegetables at supermarkets and hotels in Wewak town. "Ol lain blong mi tok bilas na tok baksait long mi", was the ridicule and stigmatization from his own Maprik people. "Bro, that was very painful...for a University graduate like me," Kenny reminisced the days of 1997-2002 when he walked the streets of Wewak unemployed.

The bias and stigmatization between 'national' and 'local' Sepiks were intractably inundated even to this day for any 'national' Sepik who decides to return home and do something for him or her self. 

I have a personal testimony to such a situation as well. When I first came home (Wewak) in 2004, everyone looked at me with suspicion and prejudice and within it carries the stigma -  'oh yah, go kaikai rais na tin fish blong Mosbi inap na yu kam...'. It is not your value that is welcome but prejudice that predominates - the art predominates the real. 

From Kalabu village in Maprik, Kenny graduated with a bachelors of Science degree in Geology from University of PNG in 1987. The same year, he joined Niugini Mining Ltd as a junior geologist based at Mt. Victor in Kainantu in Eastern Highlands. During this time, he was sent twice to St. Christobal in Chile, Southern America and qualified as a mining geologist. Dual salary system in the mining sector was the country's greatest deterrent - even to date - that forced him to seek greener pastures.

"As a national I get K350 a fortnight while an expatriate receives between 3,000 to 4,000 Australian dollars a month. Dual salary system is not good...", Kenny says. So in 1991 Kenny left Niugini Mining Limited and started his own alluvial mining operations at his village. 

 "It was a fully mechanized gravitational operation using trammel and jigs to concentrate gold. Four Australian men worked for me. We mined using four excavators and established a gravitational separation plant there," Kenny says, adding "extraction was at 300 grams a day or around a kilogram a day. Then we realize that the price wasn't too good, we get only K15 per gram". The operation sustained for a while but then forced to shut down in 1997 following a snap Government decision that further devalued the kina. "We can not survive the economic climate...so we closed down", Kenny says.

For five years (1997-2002) Kenny walked the streets unemployed but engaged. "I was on the streets helping missus (wife Nancy) selling vegetables from Kainantu. People were laughing at me carrying bags of vegetables and stuff into supermarkets and hotels to sell. They would say all sorts of things about me.

Kenny married his lovely entrepreneur Kainantu wife Nancy while working there who bore him three children; their elder son doing third year Economics at UPNG, second is a 12 year old daughter attending primary school at Mongniol, and the third at Wewak International preschool.

"She works like a man. We work flat out every day and suffer a good family life," Kenny admits. "From the little made, we give tithes and offerings. The more we give to God, the doors start opening for us," Kenny testifies, adding that "one time at Kainantu, I even questioned God about what He has there for me?"

Kenny was much inspired by the Bible verse in Luke 6:38: "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bossom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."  

From Parchee to Nanu river, Kenny broke the first ice when one of his four excavators was hired for K10,000 to work at the damaged Nanu bridge in Maprik. By wisdom, he deposited K6,000 of this in the Rural Development Bank now National Development Bank. The out put was his first cocoa fermentry.

Kenny started off strongly but the vanilla boom in East Sepik then was all the bad news as cocoa farmers were drawn into the vanilla rush that paid hefty at around K750 per kilogram. Steadily and as cool as he can be, Kenny maintains the thoroughfare into the cocoa world.

He sells around 80 bags of dry beans to ANGCO every two weeks at K500 per bag. Soon he had enough to buy his first 4 x 4 Toyota Landcruiser from Ela Motors Wewak. "It was an eye opener to all", Kenny says. His business boomed and in September, 2002, Kenny made his first direct export of 80 dry cocoa bean bags. It increased to 120, 160, and 200 bags in 2004. Then, containers - 240 bags make one container. In July, 2008, Waiyu Ltd cocoa export reached 40 containers or 9, 600 dry bean bags per month.

His markets grew from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, United States and to neighboring Indonesia. With price at US$3, 300 or K8, 700  per tonne, Kenny has charted right in exploiting into the great abyss of his 'real' and defeating the 'madness of the art and the artists' that is held in ridicule, prejudice and stigmatization.

Successfully acquiring a piece of land near Chambri camp along the airport road, Kenny shifted from the rented Don Ong's former Lions Hall property near the sea side Windjaamer Beach Motel and built himself a new warehouse, a workshop, and modern office - all loan free. He expanded into ownership of a fleet of heavy duty trucks and continues to contribute meaningfully to Government and people of East Sepik through tax, employment, sponsorships and in kind. When cocoa pod borer (CPB) invaded East Sepik, Kenny assisted with funds to combat the pest.  

Currently, Waiyu Ltd has around K500,000 in cash in the hands of cocoa farmers and fermentry owners in East Sepik to purchase wet beans and dry it to maintain regular supply to his new warehouse in town.

Latest addition to his assets was a US$20,000 electric cocoa dryer bought from the US which should be put to use this year. Weni and Mandol Investment (featured last week in this column) also has an electric cocoa dryer bought last year from the US at the same price. Such moves are contingencies both companies are adopting in preparation of changes that may come about as result of climatic change and its impact on international cocoa trade policies. 

Waiyu Ltd also buys and exports coffee and timber products, making it one of Sepik's most successful businesses of our time.

"This is the hands of God's grace. Success is hard work and grace of God together. Bro, I went through a lot of pain and sacrifice and determination. You see this," Kenny points around his remote control air conditioned office, "Without God, I won't be here. All this is cash; the land, the building, and everything, no loans.

"Women, beer and other ordure activities are both distractions and evil in the eye of God. To be in business, you must be honest, hard working and disciplined at all times.

To young unemployed youths, Kenny says: "If you don't have land, OK. But if you have land and are hanging around in town doing nothing, I advise that you go back home where land is and toil the soil. I am a university graduate yet I toiled the soil and became what I am today. There is no excuse you can't do the same!"      

If there was a great Sepik Hall of Fame, Kenny Samuel certainly has the acumen for glory and championship that deserves a listing for history to revisit, learn and appreciate the path he took in the thoroughfare of life that dismantled the antagonizing view of the art and the artist and conquering the once unknown of his "flowerness" and "beauty" - the universal forms of a true Sepik legacy.

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