The UNESCO Director for the Pacific, Etienne Cle'ment says the Pacific must act before the illegal trafficking of artefacts and to protect their cultural diversity, including their languages.
Mr Cle'ment, who is attending the Melanesian Festival of Arts and Culture in Port Moresby, says the isolation of the Pacific is no longer a protection against the threats to culture.
CLE'MENT: In the Pacific, as everywhere else in the world it's now a very important trafficking. The specificity of the Pacific that it is growing, the accessibility of countries is certainly one and that is in particular, the case of Papua New Guinea, which is the largest Pacific country, they're building roads, they're starting building roads everywhere, villages which have never been accessible in the past are now accessible, communities are starting to sell their artefacts. So in the Pacific it's growing, it's the phenomenon that happened in Africa 20 years ago.
ABBOTT: What sort of things in the Pacific, what sort of things in Papua New Guinea have an international market and are trafficked?
CLE'MENT: It's essentially objects which are held within communities, which often have a spiritual value and which gradually have received more and more attraction on the international market.
ABBOTT: It's not only artefacts, it's not only articles with spiritual significance that are under threat these days. It's the whole host of things that fit into the cultural bag, things like song, things like dance. What can be done to protect those?
CLE'MENT: What we have just been talking about are tangible objects and as to what we call intangible cultural expressions, the way of protecting that should take a different form. At the level of the community an awareness among the holders of these cultural expressions that this is something that needs to be protected. They usually has a deep functions that are important and linked to the rule, but on another hand, some communities has been very prone modify this cultural expression and that's the case of dance and performance. Ofter you'll find that the linkage with the spiritual aspect of it has disappeared. I will give you an example. I was yesterday in Port Moresby, in PNG, and I've seen a number of performance being displayed within the Melanesian Festival for Art and Culture. I've seen some of the cultural expressions, which have kind of mixed traditional dance with a spiritual significant with house music up to a point that it has completely transformed the nature of it.
Now, the question is where is the limit? The danger, is of course, that these new creative performing art makes the traditional one completely disappear, that's where the danger is.
ABBOTT: Is it possible to protect culture, the various aspects of culture through the signing of a Heritage Convention?
CLE'MENT: Only signing knows, certainly not. The signing of Convention is political commitment from government to address the issue and have a certain level of accountability to the other country. This has to be accompanied by a series of moves at national level, which should be legislation, rules and regulation, and this, of course, should be implemented and enforced. These legal provisions should be enforced. And that's where most of the countries have great difficulty.
ABBOTT: Is it often the case that countries, communities don't realise that their culture is disappearing until it's too late?
CLE'MENT: Yes, that is often the case. With the advancement of communication, I'm speaking about roads, in particular, the movements, especially young people are moving from the communities to the cities. There is a fascination to economic progress and all the prosperity that goes with it. So clearly, when the prosperity comes and starts to reach the villages, that is seen as the first priority and it's legitimate in a way or as you said, some communities miss the opportunity to protect the cultural heritage and it has gone, that includes the language also.
Presenter: Brian Abbott
Speaker: Etienne Cle'ment, Director, UNESCO office for the Pacific States