National identity

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday 7th September, 2012

A nation is built on its history and culture.
These are the foundations of a nation and its identity. Many development elements and forms of society can be described to give different perspectives and meaning to the need for identity but history and culture of a nation stands out.
At the 6th Papua New Guinea-Australia Alumni Association (PNG-AAA) Conference last week many perspectives were highlighted giving different views for discussion.
Papers were presented with a common understanding that PNG has a vast diversity of languages, tribes, clans and traditions making it a complex topic in itself, National Identity – Issues and Dilemmas.
In her opening address, acting President of PNG-AAA, Mrs Girigi Daroa-Moang made the point that national identity is about changing our mindsets to accept and respect one another.
She said the Aussie influence that students adopt overseas should also be reflective in our mindsets at work and the environment we live in.
Asking ourselves these questions; who are we and what are we here for. It does not matter our status, religion, where we come from, what province or region but consider ourselves proud Papua New Guineans.
Culture is an important symbol of identity as National Cultural Commission Chief Executive Dr Jacob Simet summed up. National identity is not an academic issue, it is an issue which people have to deal with everyday, for themselves or in relation to others.
It is not an academic exercise – but a perspective based on practical experience. Sometimes it can be difficult trying to negotiate the need for national identity against the backdrop of high cultural diversity in the country.
“National identity is the person’s identity and sense of belonging to one state or to one nation, a common feeling one shares with a group of people from that same state or nation”, says Prof Vice Chancellor Kenneth Sumbuk.
These are shown from national symbols such as flags, currency, history, language, culture and national colours. The complexities of political, social, cultural, economical and religion maybe experienced on a daily basis but a nation having its National identity is important for nation building.
“Like language itself, identity is a living process by which we generate value that places us in relation to each other and within a symbolic cosmos; it is a fundamental part of exchange.”
Dr Simet shared expriences when presenting PNG abroad – it is difficult because there is no common language, dress or culture to share with the rest of the world and experiences of adjudicating claims and counter-claims on cultural ownership between groups.
PNG is diverse and the complexity of sharing a common understanding in dances, dress and songs is not a easy task. Two notable international festivals are the South Pacific Arts and the Melanesian Festival of Arts where the issues and dilemmas are real.
“There are sometimes complaints about the use of traditional cultural elements overseas. Complaints about the use of other peoples’ cultural items at national levels, and the misuse and misrepresentation of cultural elements by others.”
Dr Simet reiterated that many times we take pride in maintaining national unity within cultural diversity, but the urge to have national cultural symbols can be very strong – demanding to be addressed.
PNG a million journeys – this interesting piece was presented by Maxine Nadile of Milne Bay Tourism Bureau whose reflections brought home the reality of different backgrounds of beautiful, idyllic and diversity of traditions.
Not to be pretending but showing the real Papua New Guinean to visitors from overseas, and the local tourists.
And the Voice representative from UPNG Sarah Griffins spoke passionately about our rich cultures and highlighted the social ills that are destroying our nation pointing out attitudes, behaviours and mannerisms of general citizens.
Looking at national identity in a holistic view, and putting aside differences in perspectives will provide the way forward for a unified common national identity.
From all the reflections, and discussions one perspective is to understand and preserve the past, example the 50,000 year history of this nation.
The cultural and natural heritage symbols of a nation differenciates itself from rest of the world, and the knowledge and understanding of our past can assist us to develop and sustain our common identity. And national cultural items as symbols should be taught to children in school.
The two-day conference drew comments, knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm about the ever changing phenomenon of PNG’s national identity, issues and dilemmas.
For more information contact Eka Hriehwazi on 325 2422 or fax 325 1779, email: [email protected]