Humans Of The Islands - Namila Benson
Broadcaster/Broadcast Trainer/Boss Mama at Toddler HQ
Papua New Guinea
I’m a proud Tolai woman, from the beautiful island of Rabaul, in the East New Britain Province of PNG. Mum is from a picturesque village called Matalau, which is right on the beach. Matalau is where my heart is, although I live in Melbourne, Australia. I feel like culturally, emotionally, mentally and socially I have my feet firmly planted in both places, yet the older I get, I definitely sway more towards the island way of doing things.
What are things you treasure most in your life?
Family – they sustain, enrich and beautify my world…Culture - for guiding, educating and grounding me…Community - for uplifting, supporting and inspiring me…the Islander sistahood, who fill my life with so much passion, love and laughter. The sistas and Aunties are like a tonic for my soul. #BlackAndBrownGirlMagic…
What would you consider your biggest achievement to date?
Immersing myself in a career I love (broadcast media) and having complete confidence in what I bring to the airwaves. Over many years of working in radio, I’ve been able to share with many what I love about my culture, my region and the beautiful ‘Island way’. The talented Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, did a really impressive Ted Talks presentation on “The Danger Of A Single Story” which talks about misinformed stereotypes and how damaging those single impressions can be. People can say some crazy and misinformed things about PNG; which isn’t to say it’s a nation without it’s challenges, but the kindness of everyday people, the strong cultural pride, commitment to family and clan and respect for Elders are just a few of the things I cherish about my homeland. And you don’t hear enough about that.
Motherhood would also have to be right up there too. I love that my little ones are surrounded by extended family from two cultures who are raising them and enriching their lives in wonderful ways. When it comes to raising babies, it really does take a village.
I also loved having the opportunity to teach radio in Port Moresby earlier this year, working alongside PNG’s first national youth broadcaster, Tribe FM.
Can you describe a beautiful tradition/protocol that you love from your culture?
My babies are two and three and every time they meet or encounter an adult, they automatically address them as “Aunty” or “Uncle”, with no prompting from my partner and I. They also recognise older people who should be referred to as “Bubu” (grandparent). It’s something simple, but I feel like it’s a strong pan-Pacific tradition, which helps build our regional sense of community no matter where we live and where we’re from.
How do you teach your family about your culture?
My babies are constantly around a multitude of beautiful Islander Aunties and Uncles, who play an influential role in all our lives. There’s also their various Bubus and Papus (Grandmas and Grandpas) who surround them. I speak snippets of Tok Pisin (PNG national language) and kuanua (Tolai language) to them. Our home is filled with people, photos, paintings, bilums, baskets and ‘bilas’ (ornamentation/body adornment) from PNG, so all elements of ‘wantok’ culture is familiar for my family. My partner, who is Australian, very much welcomes all things PNG. We plan on travelling to Rabaul next year and that will be the best education for my partner and kids to truly understand and appreciate why my culture is a core part of who I am.
Any challenges you've had to overcome because of the colour of your skin? or perhaps being a Pacific woman?
I live in Australia and it’s sad to see how this nation is somewhat regressing when it comes to the treatment of those who are seen as ‘Other’. Obviously, your skin colour is a very visual way for some people to consciously or unconsciously judge you.
For me, it’s not so much about the overt acts of racism, but it’s more the undercurrent of racial microaggressions; where people specifically treat you in a particular way, where they might not if you had a different skin colour (or gender). For instance, it’s highly unlikely people would express surprise at how “well-spoken” I am if I was white. It irritates me no end how many people assume I’m my babies’ Nanny (the hired help) – rather than their mother. It’s not uncommon for me to be followed in shops. The list is endless, but these are the kinds of occurrences that motivate me to do what I do by speaking up on-air and creating awareness around what it is to be a person of colour living in Australia.
What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Holidays back home to Rabaul. All of it. Family, Christmas celebrations, music around the village, singing and swimming at the beach, warmth of being welcomed home by everyone, rituals and feasts, mangos at our fingertips, eating delicious pitpit, aigir, mumu and kalava…
The most significant memory was sitting around the fire one night with relatives in our village – Tabaratai. Dad turned off the mixtape on the portable stereo to switch on the radio. I realised that we were listening to Kasey Kacem’s American Top 40. I distinctly remember thinking something along the lines of, “Here is this guy in America, broadcasting the Top 40 weekly countdown. I listen to him regularly in Melbourne – yet here I am STILL listening to him in Rabaul.” That was a defining moment for me on the power of radio and its reach.
Image credit: Nik Harrison