PORT MORESBY - In Papua New Guinea in 2016 there was a national court case between the National Museum and Art Gallery and Sir Michael Somare as plaintiffs and the former speaker of parliament, Theo Zurenuoc as defendant.
The case, in which the court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, related to the destruction and demolition of cultural objects and imagery that adorned the front, hallways and grand-hall of PNG's national parliament.
It was a landmark decision that upheld the significance of the National Cultural Property Preservation Act, which the National Museum and Art Gallery oversees.
This watershed moment in PNG's cultural history defended the value of the country’s culture and heritage, which underpins the very fabric of PNG society and nationality. It also preserved and protected these various artefacts for future generations.
Over the years, there have been many challenges that have faced the National Museum and Art Gallery. The current trustees (president, Julius Violaris, his deputy Andrew Abel ML and Dr Michael Mel and Norah Vagi Brash OBE) have worked tirelessly to ensure the institution accomplishes its mandated roles and responsibilities.
The current management is implementing a number of projects including the finalisation of a major refurbishment of the old House of Assembly, a major refurbishment of the museum’s additional galleries and an upcoming Old Parliament House exhibition.
Recently three museum staff travelled to Canberra on a fact-finding mission to better inform the upcoming Old Parliament House exhibition, stage one of which will look mostly at the pre-independence era from 1948 and the first and second national parliaments from 1975 to 1984.
Stage two will consider the more recent political history of PNG and will be situated in the downstairs space of the refurbished old House of Assembly building.
Jackson Zabala, projects manager for Lamana Development Company, has indicated further private sector support for the museum’s evolving plans. “As long as there is historical content and cultural value in it for PNG,” Zabala said, “it is worth the support of corporate PNG.”
Jean Marie-Tjibaou, the great Melanesian and Kanak leader has said:
“To return to tradition is a myth. No people has ever done so. In the quest for identity, we must look forwards, never backwards. It’s a matter of constant redefinition.
“Our struggle now is to introduce as much of our past and our culture as possible into the type of person and society that we wish to build for our country.
“When we are dead, people will take our image and put it into pigeonholes and use it to build their own identity. Our identity lies ahead of us.”
The trust, through and with the National Museum and Art Gallery, will continue to provide opportunities for Papua New Guineans to find a place they can claim and name as their own based on their heritage and history.