Preventing Cultural Appropriation in PNG

Earlier this year Radio New Zealand ran an article about how a law reform was being considered by Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) police minister that would ensure local culture is protected from misappropriation. This occurred after widespread outcry against a Chinese clothing brand which used photos shot in East New Britain Province, involving people in traditional tribal dress.


The minister, Jelta Wong, said an investigation was underway into how the company was allowed into the region. The government and the local traditional council were also discussing how to enshrine protections to prevent future incidents, Mr Wong said. “There needs to be more regulations and a proper demarcation of what is allowed and what is not allowed,” he said.

“And that’s where we’ve failed in the past to put across and we’re finally realizing the power of social media and world news and everything and it’s just blown out of proportion, Mr. Wong continued.

Tolai Tumbuan society had been misused and misappropriated by the company, Shanghai-based Icicle Fashion Group, which could “spill over into violence”, Mr Wong warned. Icicle has not responded to requests for comment.

In a letter which circulated online, a company representative told a concerned citizen that Icicle was “very much attached to cultural preservation”. The letter said the company had been authorized to use images for the campaign by the East New Britain Tourism Authority.

In February the Tourism Authority issued a statement calling for all advertising involving Tolai Tumbuan masks to be taken down. “The Tumbuan society is a very sacred and respected culture in our province,” authority chair Douglas Pidi said in a statement. “What has transpired over the last few days has demeaned the Tumbuan society.”


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