05.12.2012 - UNESCO Office in Apia

Community Participation Key to Heritage Safeguarding in Papua New Guinea

Community with Asaro Mud Man in Goroka(c)NCC

A seven-day National Workshop on the Community-based Inventorying of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) was held from 22 to 27 October 2012 in Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province of PNG, by the PNG National Culture Commission (NCC) with support from UNESCO.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth with some 800 indigenous languages spoken by a population of over 6 million. Each village and community has its unique style of traditional cultural expressions. These examples of ICH have been preserved and transmitted from generation to generation in a relatively isolated and closed environment until very recently.

PNG has been actively involved in ICH safeguarding as a state party to the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage since its ratification of the Convention in 2008. This ratification prompted the PNG authorities to strengthen their efforts in ICH safeguarding by putting several measures in place. ICH Implementation Workshop was held in Port Moresby in May 2012 supported by UNESCO/Japanese Funds-in-Trust; resources for ICH safeguarding were allocated in the national budget; the NCC launched a cultural mapping project.

The mapping project is developing a methodological framework so that nation-wide ICH inventorying can be undertaken. This will allow PNG to fulfil one of the duties of states parties. The NCC, however, has found that communities are reluctant to take part in the mapping project. Some communities would not allow NCC staff and researchers to have access to knowledge on their heritage, especially those with a sacred or secret nature.

The Goroka Workshop was welcomed as a timely opportunity to examine what went wrong in the mapping project and find solutions to the challenges facing them. The Goroka Workshop was opened by Mr Yori Yei, Secretary-General of the National Commission for UNESCO,  who said "The importance of ICH inventory making is not about cultural expressions but rather methodology used for identifying cultural assets that needs to be transmitetd from one generation to the other".

Providing an overview of the history of development of international instruments relating to ICH and traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, Dr Jacob Simet, Executive Director of NCC said "these indstuments are about protection of cultural integrity, access and benefit sharing and culture as a human right.  They are about local communities' desire to have authority and control over their cultural resources.  It is crucial then that if communities are to have authority and control over their cultural resources, they have to know what it is they are dealing with.  Inventory making by the community then becomes a very important step towards the development of this understanding."

The Workshop began with the presentation by Ms Ilikomau Ali, NCC Policy Officer, on progress and lessoned learned relating to the cultural mapping project.

The Workshop gathered over 60 experts from provincial and district Governments as well as community representatives, ICH custodians, researchers and NGOs. Through lectures on methods, attitudes, ethics and responsibilities in community-based inventorying, participants obtained a broad understanding of how the Convention works and exchanged views on the diverse opinions concerning the community-based inventorying. They also shared their own knowledge and experiences on ways to engage communities in the inventorying process. The National Film Institute delivered lectures on participatory video and mapping.

Participants then took part in a field exercise in the village of Kuminive in Danlo region of the Eastern Highlands, which is known for the “Asero Mud Man”. The field work component was an opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge learned during the workshop. Interviews with community leaders and ICH custodians were conducted and forms for obtaining free, informed and prior consent were tested. With technical support from the National Film Institute and the J. K. McCarthy Museum, participants were given hands-on experiences in documenting and recording this unique heritage, which used to be a fierce performance to scare away enemies during tribal wars, but is now an important tourist attraction.

The next step for the NCC is to work in collaboration with the trained participants and the provisional and district cultural administrations to organise local trainings and workshops on community-based inventorying and apply this methodology in conducting the next phases of the cultural mapping project, while refining the National Cultural Mapping Framework.

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