Controversial removal of artefacts at PNG parliament continues
Destruction of cultural artefacts in the Papua New Guinea parliament continuing despite widespread controversy.
While there is a widespread outcry at the destruction of cultural artefacts at the Papua New Guinea Parliament buildings, the Speaker, Theo Zurenuoc, is continuing to have the pieces removed.
The prime minister, Peter O'Neill and his predecessor Sir Michael Somare, have joined the National Museum Director in condemning the destruction, which began with carved panels at the front of the picturesque building.
Now Mr Zurenuoc is reportedly having huge carved totem poles inside the building dismantled.
Don Wiseman spoke with the editor of the Post Courier newspaper, Alexander Rheeney, about the controversy and began by asking about the totems.
ALEXANDER RHEENEY: Totem poles represent the different carving traditions from around Papua New Guinea. It's a four-tonne structure that actually sits in the Grand Hall of Parliament. You have different designs on the totem. It's a really, really big structure that stands about 15 metres high. And it basically is representative of the different carving traditions from around the country. And coincidentally we were told by Timothy Bonga, who was a former speaker in the '80s that Mr Zurenuoc's own tribe is actually represented on the totem pole, as well. So that's the irony in the whole exercise.
DON WISEMAN: Do we know what's exactly is motivating Mr Zurenuoc?
AR: No, he hasn't actually come out publicly since we've put the spotlight on the issue.
DW: He has been highly critical, though, of these things being unChristian.
AR: Yes, he has been. And this was at a different forum. He was actually speaking to a group of university students a fortnight ago and that was when he came out publicly saying in order for PNG to benefit from its wealth and from its resources we need to condemn some of the cultures that we have and basically the carvings and the totem poles in parliament we highlighted as the examples that need to be [taken] off.
DW: There have been some suggestions of links or reactions to a religious group from Israel. What do you know about that?
AR: The community development minister, Loujaya Toni, went to Israel and met a messianic group in Israel. And consequently the recommendations for that sort of action to be taken in parliament came from that group. She did mention in an interview with one of my reporters based in Lae that she did have a meeting with that group and they did advise her that this is what Papua New Guinea will need to do in order to be prosperous as a nation. And then when she got back she said she'd met up with the prime minister and with cabinet and with the speaker of parliament to pass on the advice. And consequently it was acted on. But the prime minister has told me the cabinet didn't actually sign off on that decision to begin that exercise in parliament.
DW: This Israeli messianic grope, it is a Christian group.
AR: A Christian group, that's right. And the community development minister, Loujaya Toni, did confirm that she had a meeting with that Christian group, but she called them Prayer Warriors, that is what she called them. And she also added that they are due to fly into Port Moresby in March next year to complete the process of cleansing the national parliament.
DW: We know that we've had the director of the museum, which is just next door isn't it, and former prime minister Sir Michael Somare come out - he wants Mr Zurenuoc removed from the position of speaker, but what's the feeling of the general population?
AR: We've actually been getting letters to the editor sent in by Papua New Guineans who are basically angry. They are very frustrated with the way things have gone. If you were to look at the conversations and discussions taking place on social media a lot of Papua New Guineans are actually condemning the actions of the speaker.
DW: Are they [the totems] easily replaceable?
AR: No, the totem pole itself took three years to carve. They had to bring in master carvers from around the country. So these are actually masterpieces that have taken years to put together in the lead-up to the official opening of parliament by Prince Charles in 1984. Sadly, some of these master craftsmen have died. So there's a question of whether PNG will actually have that level of skill to put something together again.
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