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Unity in diversity

EXPRESSIVE: Traditional Enga dancers from Papua New Guinea

IN AN age of information, with most frontiers conquered and explored, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the few countries to still hold a veil of mystery across its cultural allure.

The Oceanic nation is 160km north of Australia and occupies the eastern half of the Pacific island of New Guinea.

“Our part of the world is not very well known,” stated Her Excellency Madam Winnie Kiap, The Papua New Guinea High Commissioner to the UK. As one of the world’s least culturally and geographically explored nations, Madam Kiap gives voice to the history, culture and industry of PNG and welcomes connecting the Pacific island to wider Black and African global cultures.

Although PNG’s capital Port Moresby is 11,131 miles away from Conakry, a connection was made in 1545: Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez likened the islanders’ appearance to the inhabitants of Africa’s Guinea coast and named the island ‘Nueva Guinea’.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA HIGH COMMISSIONER TO THE UK: (L-R) Madam Winnie Kiap with Winifred Adeyemi of A:S&H

PNG is a fast-developing modern country, a Commonwealth Realm and one of the world’s most culturally diverse and rural nations. Over 800 languages are spoken and 85 per cent of the seven million population make their living from semi-subsistence agriculture.

There is very little known about PNG in the UK, particularly in the business sector, but that’s a relationship they intend to establish.

PNG trades with the UK directly and via the EU. Some of the canned fish, coffee and cocoa products you consume may be of Papuan provenance.

According to Madam Kiap: “There is a lot of money that will come into the country when we begin to export gas in 2014. It’s not only for the living; it’s for the future generations as well.”

Madam Kiap discussed PNG’s economic terrain in great detail, including the irony that PNG’s most profitable export, palm oil originated in West Africa. “Sugar is native to PNG and is very prominent in the Caribbean, I don’t know who stole it and took it over there,” Madam Kiap quipped when asked if PNG had its own signature spirit.

LIFE'S A BEACH: Papua New Guinea

Madam Kiap maintains that equilibrium is imperative to the development of PNG and sagely appraised the pros and cons of the modern industries such as mining and large-scale agriculture upon traditional cultures and communities and natural habitats. The soul of the Papua New Guineans lies in their connection to the ocean and land. “The forest provided mystery and a lot of our beliefs are also tied up with the forest and things of the forest”
Madam Kiap expounded upon the dual-nature of a woman’s life in modern PNG: “I am a woman and I have a voice and I’m in charge of a lot of people, some of them are men. I have control over them and then on holidays I step back into where I was born, I have no voice whatsoever. My younger brother has a voice, I don’t. I may instruct him before he goes out into the village square to give a speech, but I have no voice whatsoever. So we still move between these two worlds.” When Madam Kiap leaves the rest of the audience in village square she is High Commissioner to the UK, Cyprus, South Africa and Ambassador to Egypt, Israel and Zimbabwe.

Papua New Guinea transcends the tourist paradise cliché: it offers experiences straight from fantastic dreams. PNG hosts a wealth of annual cultural events the most prominent; the Mount Hagen Festival Cultural Festival gathers over 100 tribal groups. (August 17-18 2013).
In 2015, PNG will host the multi-sport Pacific Games -which is likened to a small scale Olympics - drawing national participants from the South Pacific region.

Pan-Africanist American historian, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, ruminated that Africans in the Pacific have a healthier attitude to African Unity than any other on earth.

ONCE WERE WARRIORS: A wigman from the Huli tribe

“Obviously we came from Africa. The whole Pacific came through Southeast Asia but we may be the first lot that came through and then maybe the Polynesians after us.” Madam Kiap spoke warmly of the modern relationship between Africa and Papua New Guinea. “Early on in the 60s and 70s we actually imported a lot of university teachers from Africa, from all over - Nigeria included - so in the way of education, Africa did have a lot of influence on us. I think we still have a lot of Africans in PNG as we speak; in our training institutions,” explained the PNG diplomat.

Madam Kiap told how a young Papua New Guinean citizen of African descent who visited the High Commission to gain a visa for his African born wife. “I thought that was very interesting as he chose to take the PNG citizenship.”

Madam Kiap welcomes cultural exchange between global Africans of all geographic regions and native Papua New Guineans.

“I would like to see a closer relationship. When we became independent we looked very much to Africa for training and I think we need to renew and revive all these things.”

A:S&H is dedicated to creating connections between the diverse nations in the global African Diaspora and can’t wait to step foot on PNG’s rich cultural soil. Follow us on Twitter @africaseenheard

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