Monday, October 27, 2008

Importance of the cultural sector in Papua New Guinea


In recent months, there were newspaper reports of the National Museum and Art Gallery of PNG having problems with its electricity, water and telephone services and its imminent closure to the public.

Then, there was public disapproval about the decision of the National Government to export the “Swamp Ghost” to USA.

Minister Charles Abel issued a statement that it was one of the hardest decisions.

True to his words, he has recently visited three reconstructed aircraftsawaiting their return to PNG and a new home.

They are based at RAAF base in Queensland and also in NSW.

Unlike the Swamp Ghost, they are safely located in Australia.

Should they be returned to sit idle at the Jacksons Tarmac, as one of the DC3 donated fore display lays in shame near the ATS Base at Jacksons?

 In one of the Public Accounts Committee Hearing in 2003, the then Director, Soroi Marepo Eo’o, with his executives, including the current Director, Simon Poraituk, said that the NMAG was a periphery organisation.

The committee members were taken back and requested explanation in no uncertain terms.

Mr Eo’e said that the NMAG was one of the oldest and the surviving instruction in PNG commencing in 1915, yet, its existence had not been recognised by successive governments after Independence.

When pressed further,  Mr Eo’e and his  management said that even before the National Parliament and other administrative headquarters moved to Waigani, the National Museum was the landmark and icon established in 1977.

Despite being very close to Parliament and the National Government, its plight has been denied and despite that, it has continued to survive.

He argued that despite budgetary Requests and submissions and PIP submissions for renovation of Old House of Assembly, Independence Park and Heritage and Convention Centre and revamp of the Museum, funding was not available.

It is a worldwide phenomenon where the cultural sector is given prominence early in the Independence struggle and new museum and historical Centers are built but cannot be maintained over the years, as other social and economic realities do not allow.

The National Museum, National Library and National Archives are no exception.

At or after Independence, these were given prominence.

Even the Independence activists were identified with the cultural icons and sector.

For example, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare was the first President of the Trustees of NMAG at the declaration of the Independent Sate of PNG.

He was followed by person in Sir Moi Avei, John Kasaiplowa, Arthur Jawomdimbari, Bernard Narakobi, Stalin Yawa and the list continues.

Our current Governor General was the immediate President of the Trustees of the NMAG when he was elected to the post in 2003.

Despite the prominence and the wealth of experience, the Government has often turned a blind eye.

Unfortunately, it is due to circumstances and the need to improve the social and economic wellbeing and development of the country through communication, transport and other social service infrastructure.

Nevertheless, in recent years, the government has now given some attention to the sector.

With donor assistance, the National Library has now been renovated.

The NMAG was allocated funds to replace its ailing air conditioning system at cost ofK2 million.

However, this has also resulted in usage of more electricity and water to work the cooling system and thus the ripple effect on the recurrent funds of the NMAG.

Minister Abel, a young and energetic Minister, has now come onto the scene and is quietly working out strategies as to change the scenario.

 He has emphasised on tourism development and the development of the cultural sector as the attraction.

Last month, Minister Abel travelled to Goroka and Kainantu and without fanfare, whether by design or fate, gave K160, 000 as grant assistance to the Eastern Highlands Cultural Centre in Kainantu.

 It was the first in 25 years and they could not believe but openly shed tears of joy.

 The centre is one of the icons of Kainantu, despite being called a ‘cowboy country’.

The staff of 15 has survived not from government payroll and funding but sheer hard work by operating their kiln and weaving sections. They produce one of the finest cups, plates, and the likes from clay as well as weave rugs.

The EHCC pays for the clay at K100 per load and also asks sheep farmers to provide wools.

The products are sold mostly to expatriates attached into Kainantu by SIL Ukarumpa and the NARI, coffee and inland fisheries research centres in Aiyura Valley.

Also, they sell at various Shows and also most are sold to Brian Bell Group of Companies.

At the same juncture, the Minister also signed a Memorandum of Agreement between the JK McCarthy Museum, branch of NMAG with the University of Goroka to expand its inaugural Cultural and Heritage Management Studies.

It has progressed over the last five years and now has its own diploma programmes.

This was further extended with another signing committing the National Cultural Commission and UOG in area of theatre, performing arts and dances and music.

Culture and environment are fundamental to our very existence as Papua New Guineas, something which sets us aside from other nations of the world. 

PNG is blessed with abundant natural resources and so as rich and varied cultural heritage expressed through different art forms, dance traditions, ritual practices and over 800 different languages, each maintaining its uniqueness and vitality. 

We must be mindful that the engine room of our development i.e., mineral, petroleum and forest industries are winding down operations and the Government need to look at alternatives.

 There are certain resources which are already inherent in the country such as culture and tradition, flora and fauna and the geography that can be utilised to provide employment, income earning opportunities, assist in poverty alleviation as well as in promoting the conservation of cultures, environment and the society norms and values.

It is evident that the Minister is trying to find synergy to harness PNG’s great potential in its cultural heritage to combine with  culture, environment and tourism.  

 Hence, Papua New Guineans can develop within their societal setting in utilising culture, environment and other diversity to conserve, protect as well as promote its use to alleviate poverty, create employment and income earning opportunities and to pass these down to future generations.

The author served as Trustee of the NMAG from 1999-2000 and also from 2003 to 2005 and as First Secretary for Culture and Tourism from 2003 to2005. Telephone (675) 323 5644 or mobile 696 74 9796 


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