Sunday, October 26, 2008

Interview with Deborah Carlyon - Mama Kuma

“Mama Kuma: One Woman, Two Cultures” by Deborah Carlyon

Mama Kuma is a biography which tells the story of a Chimbu woman from the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Kuma was born in the 1930s in the village of Gunkwa, the daughter of a warrior chief. When the villagers feared the ‘White Man,’ Kuma’s curiosity drew her to them, to one in particular…

Interview by Tamarra Kaida

Tamarra Kaida: What made you want to write “Mama Kuma?”

Deborah Carlyon: I had many reasons. Initially the desire to write Kuma's life story was born out of a deep love for her, because I grew up living near her and like everyone else from her tribe, I came to know and see her as a respected leader. I also came to appreciate that no one else from her village would be able to write it because she came from an oral culture and most of her relatives did not know how to read or write. And finally, I felt I had to write her story (herstory) because I wished to balance a perception of history; the white male colonial (his story) with that of a black woman's perception.

TK: I am not surprised that “Mama Kuma: One Woman, Two Cultures” has won an emerging writers award in Queensland Australia in 2001. How and when did you get the idea to write about your grandmother, Kuma Kelage as a heroine of two cultures?

DC: In 1988 when Australia celebrated the bicentennial year. I was in year 12, (in Australia) and I was made aware of the shadow side of Australian history through reading My Place by Sally Morgan. I began interviewing Mama Kuma that year as a result.

TK: How have Kuma's relatives and friends responded to your book?

DC: The elders (mostly illiterate) treasured the photos and cried openly, and the young listened with keen wide eyes. The women appreciated something of my achievement; however, were more concerned that I had not yet had a child.

TK: As a bi-cultural woman yourself, what are the most important things you possess from each side of your family?

DC: My inner life is New Guinean - from Chimbu. My outer life is Australian. I have always said that I feel and respond emotionally like a New Guinean woman, yet I think and live like an Australian. The place where these two different parts of me meet is poetry and so writing or reading poetry is when I feel at peace or harmony with who I am. The most important thing that I possess from Papua New Guinea is my heart - it remains collective and knows how to measure the warmth or coldness of ideas that are so important in the west. The most important thing I possess from Australia is my freedom as an individual.

TK: What do you hope readers get from reading “Mama Kuma?”

DC: I hope that readers are able to appreciate the importance of cultural diversity in providing people with different perceptions to living, seeing, and thinking. A real appreciation of cultural diversity leaves people with the understanding that there is plurality of norms, of truths.

TK: You have recently given birth to new baby? What do you hope for her future?

DC: I wish for my child to know her Papua New Guinean background and to be at least bi-lingual. Travel has been important to my husband and me, so I wish for her to travel and experience the world through her own meetings and dreamings.

TK: Thank you for doing this interview. How can readers get copies of “Mama Kuma; One Woman, Two Cultures?”

DC: Readers can order copies of “Mama Kuma” from The University of Queensland Press by emailing the sales manager, Rosemary Chay on rosiec@uqp.uq

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