VARIOUS leaders from Hela province have demanded an apology from American political satirists who used their traditional dress in a witchdoctor slur against US president Barack Obama.
The leaders gathered in Port Moresby yesterday to confirm a trip to the United States to demand a formal apology from the Tea Party, among others, which circulated, the offending image.
The delegation will include Paya Kakahalu, of Magara village in south Koroba, Southern Highlands province, the person whose photograph was “doctored” to portray the black president as an African witchdoctor.
Damien Arabagali, Hela Gimbu Association (HGA) chairman, said PNG’s Foreign Affairs Minister and Culture and Tourism Minister would have to take up their demand.
“We have never felt such discrimination of our cultural identity, we are not witch doctors,” Mr Arabagali said.
“Our children face the shame of being labelled this way.
“We will not rest until we get an official apology,” Mr Arabagali said.
“We are prepared to travel to New York to show the Americans we are not witchdoctors.
“It is widely known in PNG that Huli people do not practice sorcery and to portray them as witchdoctors on the international scene is uncalled for.
“The 350,000 people in Hela are offended,” Mr Arabagali said.
HGA lawyer Alfred Kaibe, who wore his traditional Hela costume when he was an MP in 2001, said his people did not see the funny side.
“It borders on racism, to us and the US president,” he said.
“The connotation is this type of dress is for witchcraft.
This is our traditional costume; we are proud of it and to see it displayed like that is an insult and cannot be accepted.”
The Tea Party had mocked up the image as part of a three-week series of protests across the US against Mr Obama’s controversial healthcare reforms.
Last week, CNN asked Tea Party member Joe Wierzbicki whether the image was racist or satirical.
“(It) says to me that a lot of people in this country are angry about the direction that the administration and congress are taking us,” he said.
In 2006, PNG demanded a similar apology from Boris Johnson, then a British Conservative MP who is now mayor of London, after he linked the country with “cannibalism and chief-killing”.
Popular Detroit-based PNG blogger, David Ketepa said the image was disgusting.
“Many Papua New Guineans living in the US and around the world are angered by the picture,” Mr Ketepa said.
He blogged that media organisations had flooded his email inbox seeking interviews.
“The sad thing that I noted from this bunch of emails is that, nobody knew where PNG was,” he said.