Shake, shake the mango tree

The themes which stirred this poem into existence include the highly Christianised context of people’s lives in Papua New Guinea (PNG), juxtaposing with the injustice, oppression and violence experienced by many women and girls in their family, work and sexual relationships. The poem reflects informal discussions I had with a number of women in PNG about the broader context of national politics crashing into the intimately personal world of childbirth. Women in PNG often experience a lack of most basic of services- at time of writing, women in the General Hospital in Port Moresby were commonly giving birth on the cement floor of the maternity ward due to a lack of beds.

The recurring chorus of the children’s song ‘Shake, shake the mango tree’ is borrowed from neighbouring Solomon Islands where I have lived and/or worked on and off for over two decades.

I offer this poem as an intimate reflection- celebrating, fearing and revelling in my privilege of living in PNG.


The computers don’t work

But the people smile

The sun is hot

Warm hymns beguile

The road is unsafe

But the paths are raked

The kids climb trees and

The mangos shake


Shake shake the mango tree

Golden mango look and see*


What do I see

I see a white women

In a land of brown

Enveloped by the past.

Smiling ‘you go first’

Crashes with ‘I’ll take that’

While all the while hoping

It’s taking a new shape.


Shake shake the mango tree

Golden mango look and see


The boys fill holes

And ask for cash

The girls say no

But which boy cares for that?

The cars look flash

But cement floors are cold

As another mummy goes down

and delivers baby number four


shake shake the mango tree

golden mango look and see


you tear me apart-breezy PNG

land of the unexpected

and ‘watching-on’ me

I live in the minute

But fear the next step

I relish the laughter

And hold my breath


Shake shake the mango tree

Golden handshake

You piss me.


Big Men, you pray,

you swear allegiance

But care for just you

No longer corrupt?

We changed the law Sir

Thieving the ground

From on which we stand

I am feeling it shake


Shake shake the mango tree

Golden mango look and weep


I hear a new song

Of  justice, of peace?

Maybe just pain

Can’t see healing yet

Traim sekim diwai tasol**.


*A popular song sung to children in Solomon Islands

**Last line literally ‘just try shaking the tree’ in PNG Tok Pisin

Photo credit: Kerry Howard (my beautiful sister)