Saturday, April 26, 2014

Arts and Culture in Nation Building


Culture beckons me home is the feeling that refuses to go away. Sounds like the song: “Country Road Take Me Home to the Place Where I Belong.” I am a cultured person at least that is what I know about myself. In the East Sepik Day that UPNG students organized in the first week of September 2013 I had the rare opportunity to say a few words about culture in education. 

In my preparation I wanted to speak about culture in nation building, but struggled to get that message across to the crowd at the Bisini Parade.  Instead I expressed my satisfaction in seeing the students organize a major event that magnetized so many people to attend the event.

Culture to me is as a composite of various recognizable traits that reflect a society. A varied number of definitions of culture are offered. First, the definition of culture means a particular way of life, whether of a people, a period, a group, or humanity in general.

Second, culture describes the works and practices of intellectual, and especially artistic activity. The last definition seems the most widespread in use: culture is music, literature, painting and sculpture, theatre, and film. These definitions serve as the basis for any discussions about culture and arts in nation building.

How can our cultural knowledge help us to shape the present and the future of our nation? Our cultural knowledge systems are time proven foundations that our people depended on for their survival, for more than 50, 000 years of human history in PNG.

Our knowledge systems have served as the pool of knowledge for western science, social sciences, arts, ethnographies, literature, photography and travel writing. Our cultural knowledge systems are useful today as they were in the past. It is important for us to think about them as the nation defines itself within a globalized economy and political history.

Culture and Nation

Without culture a nation cannot claim a political identity. Nationalism is a defense of a nation’s cultural inventions. Nationalism vindicates its own inventions by politicizing its culture. A nation is denied of its identity once culture is separated from it. For a nation to differentiate itself from others it often relies on its cultural foundations to do so. Thus in the education of its youth, a nation requires that culture is included as an important component of its curriculum.

Through education cultural knowledge is presented to the learners as important defining characteristics of their lives. Learning to read, write, and do arithmetic without the input of cultural literacy is to ask for less. Cultural literacy consists of both traditional and modern knowledge systems. Cultural values are reinforced in the younger generation to uphold for what they are worth.

We can also use culture to educate ourselves without abandoning culture in our stride to the modern globalized economy. With culture we remain strong, firm, and proud of ourselves as Papua New Guineans.

Cultural Values

What exactly constitutes cultural values? If the over-arching ethos of culture as a way of life that includes traditional and contemporary cultures and art forms, then we are on track. The restriction is not confined to the limits of western arts forms and practices but takes into account cultural items beyond dance, drama, theatre, music and visual arts. The importance of this description is that we can look at various constitutive elements that bring the arts and culture of our place to its definitive moment. The difficulty with this undertaking is that culture and arts must include the physical manifestations of ideas and meanings produced from them as well as the metaphysical and belief systems that surround cultures and arts.

In terms of what kinds of values we want to produce about ourselves through the arts and culture we need to assess those values with a critical eye. Are there questions we need to ask as we go about the business of using culture to promote certain kinds of values? For example, in religious settings, often culture is brought into the church as part of cultural items. The church, I believe would have its standard of what is within the limits of church doctrines and what is unacceptable to its foundations. Would a tapioca dance with topless Milne Bay girls be acceptable in church? As for example, the recent experience with the tabloids in England flashing images of a topless central lass welcoming the Prince of Wales and Duchess of York at the Jacksons Airport. To others these simple gestures of cultural exhibition can turn out to produce entirely different counter discourses to the ones we desire. Even to our own people cultural performance outside of its traditional context can raise very ethical and importance questions about purpose, context, and the significance of cultural value in a PNG society.

So what kinds of values are we interested in producing through the production of cultural and artistic expressions in performance as well as in material representations? We need to ask if the efforts so far in producing values through arts and cultural representations are sufficient for such purposes.

We need to remind ourselves that our cultures and arts are important to us as a unique group of people in the world. In what ways are we promoting that uniqueness today than before? In what areas of the arts and culture should we urge the government to consider developing as important national efforts in the promotion of cultural and artistic pride?

There are so much in our cultures and knowledge systems that we have yet to learn about. Culture is in our blood, in our hearts, in our breaths, in our winds, in our minds, and in our tastes. We have culture is the feeling we carry around with us in our everyday.

Celebrating the East Sepik Day, at Bisini Parade in September 2013, is the epitome of a collective dream for many people who have been away from home for too long. A return to Sepik cultural roots is the challenge.

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