Connect : Connect Magazine July 2012 Edition
22 I’m based with the Tonga Traditions Committee in Nuku’alofa. My assignment involves working as an advisor to the committee’s Archives and as Curator at the Tuku’aho Memorial Museum at Tupou College which is a boy’s secondary boarding school that created the museum in the 1930s. The core of my role, officially, is to provide training in collection management, preventative conservation and documentation of cultural activities as there aren’t the resources here to do what needs to be done, especially as the passing of time can mean the loss of traditions, knowledge and cultural artefacts. My actual role is to also be included in all the activities of the TTC, any time of the day or night. We are involved in weddings, funerals, christenings, government sports days, parades and birthday parties - often in the role of documenting the events and ushering guests. The funeral of King George Tupou V, who passed away on March 18, involved many weeks of work by all of the staff, during the day and night, until 100 days after his burial passed. Our roles include providing guidance on traditional protocols and documentation for the Archive. Since arriving in Tonga in 2009, it’s been continuous learning to adapt to being well out of my depth, on far more occasions than I had predicted and feared. One of my greatest concerns about coming here was it would be a very serious working environment, where I would unavoidably and continuously tread on cultural toes, breach the strict cultural protocols that govern Tongan relations and do and say the wrong thing. My worst fears came true; as I have done all of these things and will no doubt continue to do so. Fortunately for me, the people I work with approach most things with a great sense of humour. Such is the generosity of their hearts, they patiently try to teach me the Tongan way, while quietly forgiving my transgressions, especially when it’s the klutzy palangi (western) way. With my counterpart ‘Ami Latu and colleague Mele’ofa Tavalea, we have grown into a very strong team that has bonded through laughter, teasing, sharing intense experiences and much food. They both express gratitude and kindness to me for what I try to contribute to the work we have to do, work which I am deeply committed to. Cultural rights are integral to human rights and protecting cultural diversity is now soundly acknowledged through the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted unanimously in 2001. Prior to this, UNESCO had declared a World Decade for Cultural Development between 1988-1997 (i) Acknowledging the cultural dimension of development; (ii) Affirming and enriching cultural identities; (iii) Broadening participation in cultural life; and (iv) Promoting international cultural co-operation. One of the origins of the United Nations declarations on the importance of cultural diversity is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights introduced in 1948 that was partly developed in response to the atrocities of WWII. Article 27 (1) of the UDHR states, ‘Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits’. AusAID recognises the fundamental importance of cultural heritage in developing nations by funding aimed at the continuity of cultural practices and preservation of cultural material. Although AusAID hasn’t yet turned arts, culture and heritage into a sector or subsector on its website, it does provide important funding to volunteer projects aimed at skills transfer. This points to the question that many people still ask - “Is there really a relationship between culture and development?” It is not just the arts, heritage or cultural industries in developing countries that this question refers to - it also refers to the critical importance of having the local cultural context and local cultural values engaged at the centre of all development projects, from conception to implementation and evaluation. Without local cultural values and local participation being at the core of development activities, whether it is in health or education, ongoing relevance and sustainability is unlikely. Tonga’s values are expressed by the phrase anga faka-Tonga, ‘the Tongan way’ and the four core values: faka’apa’apa -respect, fetokoni’aki - mutual helpfulness, lototoo - generosity and humility, and tauhi vá - looking after relationships. The Tongan notion of ‘ofa, love and compassion, encompasses all of these values and forms the basis of Tongan society. Tonga, the only remaining Kingdom in the South Above: Pilinisi Ata being trained to remove photographs from sticky albums using local resources - a business card, fishing line and metal file spikes. Top of page: Melissa Neidorf cleaning layers of accumulated dirt from an old school sign that is now part of the Tuku’aho Memorial Museum collection.
Connect Magazine November 2012
Connect March 2012