Hale Lahui
Research Officer, PNG National Cultural Commission

Culture is the very essence of our existence—it reflects our history, our language, our tradition and our beliefs. However, with the wind of globalization and change, our cultures and traditions do not remain static, but evolve overtime. Papua New Guinea (PNG), being one of the most culturally rich and diverse countries in the world, wherein about ninety percent of its approximate six million people speak over 850 distinct languages and live in their respective social structures in their cultural communities, generally rely on their environment to ensure their livelihood. Papua New Guineans’ daily relationship among each other coupled with the evolving environment depicts a high appreciation of their unique cultures and traditions. On the contrary, it is on the verge of disappearing.

There is a growing trend of migration from rural to urban areas, technical, technological, and communication innovations, which has a considerable impact on our cultures and traditions directly or otherwise. The cross-cultural contacts and interactions confront us with the risk of losing our cultures and traditions, whether tangible or intangible.

In this regard, the National Cultural Commission (NCC) staged a National Seminar which was held from 17 to 19 May 2005 regarding the Pacific Regional Framework for the Protection of Traditional Knowledge & Expressions of Culture, in Port Moresby.

The National Seminar allowed a wide range of participants and other stakeholders and experts to review the Model Law for the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture to adopt and/or adapt to become national legislation.

From April to July 2007, a series of four regional workshops was coordinated by the NCC to essentially establish legal procedures to have access to traditional knowledge and expressions of culture, to create awareness at both the provincial and local levels and to encourage access to benefit sharing mechanisms between traditional owners and users.

This year, 2010, the NCC with support from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and Pacific Island Forum Secretariat (PIFS) staged another round of four regional workshops and a national workshop which resulted in the development of a draft policy on the Protection of Traditional Knowledge & Expressions of Culture and a draft bill for the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Expressions of Culture.

The draft bill has been prepared to be submitted to the National Executive Council (NEC) for cabinet endorsement. Furthermore, from 12 to 14 December 2007, PNG was represented in a Sub-regional Meeting in the Pacific on the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Nadi, Fiji.

The Meeting addressed problems, challenges and recommendations with regards to the needs of the Convention in the Pacific, and there was a recommendation for national consultations to be held to highlight some of the issues that were raised and further identify others to suit each Pacific state’s situation.

Moreover, from 20 to 22 February 2008, the then UNESCO Director General, Mr Koichiro Matsuura visited PNG on a regional tour. He made an undertaking with the then Deputy Prime Minister of PNG, Hon Dr Puka Temu, to have a national consultation and further ratify the 2003 UNESCO Convention.

From 18 to 19 March 2008, an Interdepartmental Meeting was held and attended by key state bodies, line agencies and stakeholders in Port Moresby to deliberate on PNG’s ratification to the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Following the Interdepartmental Meeting an NEC Policy Submission was formulated and consequently, the 2003 UNESCO Convention for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage was ratified in the NEC Decision No: 62/2008 dated 17 April 2008 on 11 June 2008 by the Parliament.

In implementing the above-indicated Convention and the draft bill for the Protection of Traditional Knowledge & Expressions of Culture, the NCC embarked on a Cultural Mapping Pilot Project at the national level, in the Taure-Lakekamu Local Level Government (LLG) of the Gulf Province in December 2009.

Cultures and traditions in PNG are rooted within the clan/tribal group system, reflective of either a matrilineal or patrilineal society that exists within a certain community. In conducting the first cultural mapping pilot project, the approach, process and good practice including prior informed consent was a very critical determinant encountered in order to ensure the production of traditional knowledge and associated social relations.

Another pertinent issue that was encountered was the exposure of sacred or secret elements of traditional knowledge and cultural expressions, whether tangible or intangible. The first pilot project highlighted the importance of articulating the storage of data in a systematic manner for either private or public use. Likewise, some components of a community’s knowledge or cultural landscape may be sacred or secret, and should respectfully not be represented for external viewing, that is, it may jeopardize future activities and projects within the area.

The NCC does not have a national inventory in a systematic manner; hence, the Cultural Mapping Pilot Project has proven that the NCC is taking the first steps for establishing a database registry system. Furthermore, the NCC has seen the need to work in partnership with key state bodies and appropriate stakeholders to coordinate regional pilot projects that will set the basis to conduct inventory work for the entire country.

Completing its first pilot project in the Gulf Province of the Southern region, the NCC is embarking on its next pilot project in the Hoskins LLG for the New Guinea Islands region from March to June 2011, followed by another LLG in the Momase region from July to December 2011 and finally, another LLG in the Highlands region in early 2012.