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Pacific traditional culture under threat: UNESCO

2014-07-08 09:26:56



The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Monday urged Pacific nations to preserve their "at-risk" cultural heritage and help stop the trafficking of cultural artefacts.

UNESCO's Director for the Pacific Etienne Cle'ment told the Australian Broadcasting Commisssion (ABC) that there are signs that some nations are already starting to lose important traditions, such as dance, music and language. Cle'ment said Pacific nations should sign the 2005 Convention on Cultural Diversity and make a stand.

"Signing the convention is a political commitment from governments to address the issue and has a certain level of accountability to the other countries," Cle'ment said.

"This has to be accompanied by ... legislation, rules and regulations, and this of course should be implemented and enforced. "

"These legal provisions should be enforced and (this is) where most of the countries have great difficulties."

Cle'ment was in Papua New Guinea for the Festival of Melanesian Arts and Culture and revealed that better local roads was causing artefact trafficking to rise in the Pacific.

"The accessibility of countries is certainly one [contributing factor] and that is particularly in the case of PNG, which is the largest Pacific country," he said.

"They're building roads everywhere, villages that 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."

Cle'ment said intangible cultural practices such as dance, music and language are also under threat as the Pacific becomes more exposed to modern global culture.

"Some communities are very prone to modify these cultural expressions, and that's the case of dance and performance to a point that the linkage with the spiritual aspect as disappeared," he said.

"I saw a number of performances being displayed for the Festival of Melanesian Arts and Culture. I've seen some of the cultural expressions, which have kind of mixed traditional dance with ritual significance 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 this new creative performing arts makes the traditional one completely disappear."

Cle'ment said governments must be aware their traditional culture is under threat and be more pro-active to protect it.

"With the advancement of communication and speaking about roads in particular, the movements, especially young people moving from the communities to the city, there is a fascination to economic progress and all the prosperity that goes with it," he said.

"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, so some communities, miss the opportunity to protect their cultural heritage and it has gone, that includes the language also. "

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