The first visit of a delegation from Papua New Guinea in the modern history of Russia took place last month.
The delegation comprised of Betty Isikiel, Michael Kabuni, Russel Yangin, LaurellePentanu and Midelit Pius – from the University of PNG and the Divine Word University.
The visit was made possible through the efforts of Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay’s descendant and full namesake, founder and director of the Miklouho Maclay Foundation, who organised this visit with support from the New Generation programme of the President of the Russian Federation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, and the partners of the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation.
Five delegates, active public figures of the insular state, lecturers in Political Science and Social Sciences at University of PNG and Divine Word University in Madang, visited St Petersburg between Oct 21 and 31, in order to develop and enhance social, business, and scientific ties between the Russian Federation and Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea is familiar to millions of Russians owing to the books about Miklouho-Maclay’s exciting journeys and his first meetings with the local population, who afterwards called him ‘the Big Great Russian’ ? Tamobororus or KaraamTamo.
In the 19th century, when the great scholar and explorer NikolayMiklouho-Maclay came to New Guinea, the local people were curious to know what the place where he lived was like and when they would be able to see ‘Maclay’s village’.
This question was as relevant in 1971, when a research expedition organised by the USSR Academy of Sciences visited the Maclay Coast.
The year 2017 saw a research expedition led by the great explorer’s descendant and namesake and joined by leading scientists from Moscow and St Petersburg. The expedition team visited Papua New Guinea and the Maclay Coast (Rai Coast) and heard the same question, ‘You keep coming here, but how do you live?’
And finally, having returned from the distant Maclay Coast, Miklouho-Maclay Junior set himself a goal – to bring Papuans to Maclay’s homeland.
Frankly speaking, this was not an easy task, and the preparation took nearly a year. It was important to select active and progressive citizens of Papua who were motivated to forge bilateral relations between our countries.So this historic visit would not simply remain a pleasant memory but would lead to contacts between the people of the two countries, we had to provide visa support, secure funding for the trip, arrange cultural activities, but also working meetings with organisations interested in establishing ties with Papua New Guinea.
While preparing the trip, the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation signed a memorandum for collaboration with the University of PNG at the St Petersburg Economic Forum 2018, including the selection of delegates to Russia.
Russia’s contacts with this insular nation could not be described as regular, but thanks to the islanders’ memory of the Russian explorer who lived among them and later fought for their rights, lost ties could be restored.
The first day in Russia.
At last, having overcome all the challenges and spending over two days on the road, the delegation arrived in St Petersburg in the evening of Oct 21, 2018. The guests were welcomed by NickolayMiklouho-Maclay, staff of the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation, and the students from School No. 606, which takes active involvement in the foundation’s events.
After the much-anticipated meeting and hugs with Maclay Junior, the delegates were immediately taken to their hotel. The guests received warm clothes from Red Fox, the project’s partner, as the next day promised to be very busy, and the weather in Russia is in stark contrast to Papua New Guinea with its average yearly temperature of 25 degrees Celsius.
Before the trip, many of the delegates had mentioned their wish to see our churches and cathedrals. The guests’ wishes were taken into account, and on the first day they were taken to St Isaac’s Cathedral. After seeing the cathedral’s splendid interior and admiring it’s unique and lavish design, the guests climbed the colonnade to enjoy a marvelous view of the city.
The bird’s eye-view clearly shows the intertwining of the present and future. Trying to pierce the grey clouds, up rose the Admiralty’s spire and Lakhta Centre’s monumental candle, while the Venice of the North’s old buildings were dwarfed by the glass and concrete high-rise buildings around them.Amidst all this splendour, inviolable and immutable, like many years before, rose the powerful bulwark of St Peter and Paul’s Fortress, a multitude of tourist boats and speedboats scurrying back and forth around it, rippling the Neva’s smooth leaden surface.
But nothing is quite like a walk down the streets and embankments of St Petersburg. The grey skies, the drizzle and the wind could not stop the guests from taking a promenade. Typically for the city, St Petersburg welcomed them with open arms. It always embraces those who come to the Neva’s banks with a pure heart and a sincere desire for friendship.
A leisurely stroll from St Isaac’s Cathedral to Nevsky Prospect took our guests to one of the city’s most remarkable buildings – the Singer House, now the location of the Dom Knigi bookshop, where our guests were greeted with a display of un-northerly hospitality.
How surprised were they to see the book A Journey to the Maclay Coast written by NickolayMiklouho-Maclay after the 2017 expedition, an account of the Maclay Coast and the local people, who have preserved the memory of their Maclay and the historic ties between Russia and New Guinea.
The delegates learned about the culinary traditions from our country’s Soviet period during their visit to Tsentralny restaurant, where they tasted authentic Soviet cuisine at a gala dinner in their honour. Dinner was followed by a private screening of the new film The Moon Man directed by NickolayMiklouho-Maclay, with the running time of 36 minutes, which is scheduled to premier as part of the St Petersburg Cultural Forum on Nov 15 (today) in the Hermitage’s General Headquarters Building.
Russian Geographical Society
On Oct 23, their third day in Russia, the delegates, accompanied by NickolayMiklouho-Maclay, visited the Russian Geographic Society, where they were warmly greeted by ZhanettaKarelina, the society’s head in St Petersburg.
The staff gave them a tour of the building and showed them the original drawings made by the great 19the-century scholar, humanist and explorerMiklouho-Maclay during his sojourn on the Maclay Coast. The guests were astonished to discover that NikolayNikolaevich was an accomplished artist.
However, they were most fascinated by an antique map in the hall. For a while they were absorbed in the map, where they managed to find their home with the help from their companions. Incidentally, the names on the map were in Old Russian, prompting a discussion about the difficulty of the Russian language.
Day four began with a fascinating tour led by Lev Baron – a celebrated guide and a true expert. The guests walked around the city, saw the famous Aurora and also visited the flat where the illustrious scholar and explorer Miklouho-Maclay lived. The preserved interior of the flat and its atmosphere helped the guests immerse themselves in history.
Next they went on a highlight tour of the Krasin icebreaker, a branch of the World Ocean Museum, guided by the museum’s director Irina Stont. The delegates saw the historic deck and wheelhouse, where everyone could feel like a pilot. At the end of their tour of the Krasin, the guests saw the Tabir dish brought by NN Miklouho-Maclay Junior from the 2017 research expedition to Papua New Guinea that was given to the World Ocean Museum six months ago.
The dish is used in rituals that are part of wedding celebrations and boys’ initiation into manhood. The delegates were amazed to see that an object laden with meaning for their culture was kept thousands of miles away from their home. It was a joy to see the museum exhibit light a spark in their eyes and open up their hearts as it let them see that the culture of Papua New Guinea is valued in Russia.
This moment brought home the fact that the collection gathered by the great scholar in the 19th century, and likewise the collection from the 2017 expedition, help to build a bridge of friendship and understanding through the centuries and continents.
Miklouho-Maclay Junior brought 55 items from the 2017 expedition; 14 of them have been given to the Kunstkamera, the country’s oldest museum, one is kept at the Anuchin Museum of Anthropology within Moscow State University, and 40 objects from Miklouho-Maclay’s private collection have been given to the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation.
After a welcoming meeting in Krasin icebreaker, delegates went to the “Happy Pushkin” hotel, where the last apartment of NMiklouho-Maclay Senior is located. He was living there for the last years with his wife and children in the simple atmosphere in the center of St Petersburg. The delegates were very fascinatedby the original furnishings, which were used by the great traveler, scientist and anthropologist.
The delegation’s next stop was the heart of St Petersburg, the place everyone dreams to visit – the Hermitage. Let us note without false modesty that there isn’t a single person in the world who would not be astonished by the Hermitage. Our friends were not exceptions. Each of them said that the Hermitage was the best museum in the world that allowed its visitors a glimpse of world history.
Then the guests visited the St Petersburg State University of Economics, where they were very glad to meet their colleagues. They had an opportunity to discuss and compare the systems of education in our countries and concluded that the approach to education is the same, but the implementation of technological innovations in Russia facilitates the process.
These talks resulted in plans for a student exchange and distance learning, and the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation will be providing administrative support for these programmes in association with the universities of Papua New Guinea and Russia.
On the fifth day of their stay our guests visited TsarskoeSelo, the palace and park complex, designated as the world heritage site, in the town of Pushkin. The delegation took a walk along the scenic alleys of the Catherine Park and saw the fabled Amber Room, whose luxurious ornamentation made an indelible impression on the visitors.
The Russian National Library
From there the delegation made for the Russian National Library where our guests met with the general director AVershinin and library staff members, followed by the official opening of theCultural and Language Diversityexhibition in which our delegates took part as guests of honour.
The RNL personnel introduced the guests to the restricted library repository and showcased books written in Papua New Guinean languages. The outcome of the meeting was the signing of a memorandum between the RNL and the National Archives and Library of Papua New Guinea.
The delegation then went on to take part in a yet another exciting event – a meeting with the SaintPetersburg Conservatory folklore music group at the Mekhnetsov Folklore and Ethnographic Centre of the Rimsky-Korsakov SaintPetersburg State Conservatory. There the delegates were shown unique footage from the 2017 scientificresearch expedition to the Rai Coast, heard music of the Oceania islands recorded by the eminent Soviet and Russian folklore and world epic heritage specialist, explorer, Doctor of Philological Sciences, BPutilov, and watched the performance of the SaintPetersburg Conservatory folklore music group.
The delegates, in their turn, spoke about their life in Papua New Guinea, about the 867 languages spoken there – which still sounds inconceivable for any Russian.
Our fellow citizens find it extremely hard to believe that such a small country can have such varied means of communication. These native tongues, often referred to as dialects, are, in fact, full-fledged languages. The common language inuniversity is English, while TokPisin is spoken throughout the country for social communication.
The delegates come from different villages and no one speaks any other commonly shared language apart from English.
It is worth noting that the impact of the British Empire and Germany on the history and linguistic makeup of this island state resulted in a large number of loan-words from various European languages. It should be remembered, though, that such words as corn, axe or ox were borrowed from the Russian language owing to our eminent fellow countryman, and many locals name their children Maclay to preserve Miklouho-Maclay’s mark in history.
The sixth day of the visit began at the Emperor Alexander I St-Petersburg State Transport University, where the delegation had a meeting with the university pro-rector, P Ryubin, faculty staff and students, and negotiated possible venues of cooperation, followed by a tour around the university.
From there, the delegates proceeded to the LiteratorskieMostki (The Writers’ Walkways) cemetery, where they visited NikolayMiklouho-Maclay’s grave and paid homage to the great explorer and scientist, who continues to serve as a connecting link between our distant countries up to the present day.
- Article and pictures supplied by the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation.