Saturday, April 26, 2014

Cultural Erasure


Cultural properties declared as national symbols of a nation must remain so. Not one single person, groups of persons, or groups must work at defacing, replacing, or even displacing their own versions of what was in the original design. It makes no sense to the original designer who was inspired to carve out images that were inspired within the collective space of an imagined community.

It is absurd to imagine that the same powerful force that captivated the artists’ imagination fuels the social ills and political weaknesses of leaders. It is absurd to imagine that the same powerful inspiration that artists of the lintels and the totem poles had is working with the members of parliament.

It is absurd that the cultures of a foreign land are privileged against our own cultures as witness in the current position that the Speaker of the National Parliament and his adherents have in regard to national symbols and ideological constructs.

It is with great sadness to witness the removal of cultural symbols only because our belief systems are in conflict with their symbolic cultural power. It is a sad day cultural scholars to witness cultural betrayal by Papua New Guinea leaders whose roots remain connected to their traditions, but are willing to even deny that cultural connectedness.

In the weeks that the cultural symbols were removed and defaced I was wondering what has befallen this nation’s cultural consciousness. Have we lost our pride in our own cultural consciousness that nations fall back on when imported ideologies of sorts fail?

In my learned view nations are vindicated by their cultures. 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. We know that a culture is, concretely, an open-ended, creative dialogue of subcultures, of insiders and outsiders, of diverse factions that enables continuous reinvention of itself against that which challenges its form. Through education cultural knowledge is presented to the learners as important defining characteristics of their lives.

Most of us, especially the educated leaders, have come to accept the diversity of cultures, languages, ideologies, belief systems, traditional systems or customs and modern systems. True, we cannot return to the pure past of our ancestors, but at least we have our material cultures to remind us that we as a people have lived on the Island of New Guinea for more than 50, 000 years without the need for other world civilizations. We have been one of the earliest agricultural civilizations without the influence of the western civilizations. Our cultures have been the libraries, laboratories, and field sites for the productions of western knowledge systems, with many Nobel Prize winners and scientific innovators using our cultures and the links there are between culture and society. How can we be so naïve as our leaders have been in selling out our cultures and people?

In the height of imperialism and colonial conquest Europeans wanted most was to see the end of all forms of cultures from the non-European world. For most of the colonizing period they succeeded in doing so, but that was arrested with the rise of nationalistic discourses and nationalisms, starting in the 1950s onwards when decolonization began on the shores of Africa and swept to the Oceans of the Pacific and shores of other non-Western world. Nationalists used culture as a very strong foundation for political nationhood.

Who are we to trust our own leaders when they stand against cultural preservation and respect for cultural symbols? If we are not going to trust the Speaker of the National Parliament and his cohort of parliamentarians de-robing the emperor’s robe then who are going to trust in preserving our cultures and traditions? Are we witnessing the start of a new anti-cultural movement that has the funding from the people’s money?  Instead of using the money to destroy cultural symbols why not use the money to start cultural centres, traditional artists, and cultural activities that promote our unique cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and intellectual properties of our people.

The Speaker’s action is one this nation must wake up to see as undermining the strong cultural foundations that our people have in themselves as Papua New Guineans. It is an action that has the element of cultural erasure that can lead to poor and mismatched representations of our identity as a proud people with a rich cultural heritage.

Most of us accept the split-binaries of our modern conditions of self as a result of the many conflicting and contesting ideological values. Yet, in the bosom of our souls, we are truly the children of our forefathers, knowing we have to return home to our roots and culture where our people live in their simple traditional ways.

Yet the basis upon which we relate to one another on a mutually beneficial level is through our traditional cultures. We accept our cultures, including material culture, folklore, folk songs, folk dances, and customs as the basis of our identity.

We cannot accept the truism promoted by the few leaders in the national parliament whose interests do not measure to any universal truth or value to all Papua New Guineans.

It is unacceptable that our leaders are getting away with using foreign value systems to replace our traditional cultures and traditional Papua New Guinean values.

What will we have in future after we have replaced every cultural artifact with plastic art, foreign symbols, and alien cultural values? We need to consider having a combination of the old and the new, the introduced and the traditional Papua New Guineans cultural values.

Let our cultural symbols and icons be left alone for posterity.

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