Mali Voi
UNESCO Retiree and Coordinator, 5th Melanesian Festival of Arts and Culture

To fully appreciate the theme of the Fifth Melanesian Festival of Arts and Culture—Celebrating Cultural Diversity—it is imperative that we question the meaning of cultural diversity.

To address this question in a meaningful way and within the context of Melanesia, it is pertinent to return to the issue of globalization and to remember that it is not a new phenomenon. Globalization has historically manifested itself in a number of ways, most notably through the slave trade of the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries and through colonization of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The slave trade commoditized humans as tradable products, which were used as labor to drive economic growth of the Americas. The act of dividing humans based on skin pigmentation was legitimized through the legal systems of Europe and the New World. And this mindset of categorizing humans based on race partially drove European colonization.

Expansion, not constriction, is the internal dynamic of any culture. The globalizing tendency is confirmed as well by the cultural and civilizing foundation of colonial and imperial projects.

Colonized lands were subjected to the European class hierarchy, which was dominated by a divide between the aristocratic land owners and the serfs or working class. The process of colonization, however, broadened the class structure, bringing about the creation of the middle class or the bourgeoisie.

The above background is needed if we are to understand and appreciate why the Fifth Melanesian Festival of the Arts and Culture is being held under the theme Celebrating Cultural Diversity.

The logo for the Festival depicts five people (representing the five countries of the Melanesian Spearhead Group) in a moving canoe traveling towards common a destination. In this case it is a drive towards giving every member of their communities fair access to development through education, health, and economy.

Melanesian sociological ideology is enshrined within the deep meaning of egalitarianism. Melanesian culture is one of inclusiveness, and conflict resolution is developed through consensus and is an important component of the local social, economic, and political systems.

Melanesian sociological ideologies are reflected in the arts, crafts, songs, and dances, and they are, by and large, part of the cultural fabric that makes up the intangible cultural heritage of the Melanesian people.

The theme of the Fifth Melanesian Festival of the Arts and Culture is significant because it represents the consolidation of Melanesian culture of inclusiveness and egalitarianism, which is reflected in the current O’Neill and Dion government’s policy of Free Education and Free Health Policy in Papua New Guinea.

Education and health care are important to human development, and a well-educated population with healthy minds and bodies can easily become great assets of and to the nation.

In Melanesia, we wish to see these two cornerstones of human development as inclusive Melanesian practices, so at the festival, the demonstrations celebrated cultural diversity from the perspective of pluralism within which the varied aspects of the arts and cultures of Papua New Guinea and other Melanesian countries developed. The festival was planned to allow as many people as possible to celebrate cultural diversity and to demonstrate and display their varied creative arts and performances.

For the people of Melanesia, it was a pleasure to have the presence of Dr. Etienne Clement, Director of the UNESCO Office in Apia, who addressed the Melanesian Forum on the issue of the 2005 Convention on the Protection of Expressions of Cultural Diversity. Dr. Clement had the opportunity to visit the Kokopo Satellite Centre and to witness the Baining fire dancers and other performances by other Melanesian countries.

The visitors went to four regional centers: Mt. Hagen for the Highlands region, Wewak for the Momase region, Kokopo for the New Guinea Island region, and Alotau of Milne Bay Province for the southern region.

Simultaneously, thirty participants, each from the twenty-two provinces, were selected and came to Port Moresby.


Festivals are a way of promoting of the intangible cultural heritage of any cultural group. The quadrennial gathering of Melanesians is one way of promoting the arts and culture. Moreover, this allows both growth and expansion through creativity.