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Russell Soaba: Maiba

A key theme of many writers from former colonies is the clash between the traditional ways and the new ways of the coloniser. There are many examples from Africa – Chinua Achebe may well be the best known – and now here is one from Papua and New Guinea. Many of the traditional agents of change come to the forefront here – religion, alcohol and technology – but, as with African writers using a similar theme , Soaba is careful not to lay all the blame on them for the breakdown of traditional ways.

The heroine of the story is Maiba (which means parable of life). She is the daughter of the chief though there seems to be some doubt whether a chief is needed at all in the village. The main disadvantage to her is that, as a child, she has to wear conventional Western clothes, for which she is teased. By this time, however, her father has died (of”phlegmatics”!) and Maiba goes and lives with her aunt and uncle. Christianity is coming in and Maiba, like others, is torn between Christianity and the traditional religion. We follow the childhood years of Maiba and her cousin, Siril, and their various trials and tribulations but the defining moment comes near the end of the book, when the tensions within the village suddenly come to head and there is an outbreak of violence as the orator, Doboro Thomas, tries to take over the village by using guns and other threats. It is Maiba who stands up to the bad guys (who include her cousin, Siril) and faces them down. Of course, this isn’t New York so all’s well that ends well (more or less). Except we know it’s not going to be all right. Soaba has left us with a wonderful book about traditional societies and about a wonderful heroine, Maiba.

Publishing history

First published 1985 by the Three Continents Press