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Hon. Dr. 'Ana Taufe'ulungaki: Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage

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29 March 2011 Keynote Address by the Minister for Education, Women Affairs and Culture, Hon. Dr.  'Ana Taufe'ulungaki, at the workshop on safeguarding cultural heritage hosted by the Ministry of Education, Women Affairs and Culture held at the Tonga National Cultural Center at Tofoa.

Tapu mo e ‘Afio ‘a e Tamai Hevani, hotau lotolotonga
Tapu mo Lord Vaea mo Hou'eiki
Tapu mo Faifekau Toketa Siotame Havea, mo Ha'a Lotu
Tapu mo Mohulamu mo Ha'a Matapule
Tapu mo Toketa ‘Ana Koloto, Talekita ‘o e USP ‘I Tonga ni
Tapu mo e kau ngaue ‘a e Potungaue Ako
Tapu mo e kau Fakaafe Fakalangilangi kotoa pe kae'uma'a ‘a kimoutolu ‘oku mou me'a heni he pongipongi ni

I would like to acknowledge the presence of Dr Seong-Yong Park, Executive Director of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific, which is located in the Republic of Korea, and Ms Akatsuki Takahashi, Programme Specialist for Culture, UNESCO Office for the Pacific States, Apia

I would also like to acknowledge the presence of our colleagues from around the Pacific.

May I first of all thank Our Heavenly Father for bringing us safely together here this morning.

May I also add my own personal welcome to our guests from the Pacific and further afield. I hope you will enjoy your short-time in Tonga and that you will get to see something of our culture beyond this room.
Today, we are embarking on a workshop that will raise our awareness and increase our knowledge on this very important issue of how to safeguard our Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The concept of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) emerged in the 1990s, to provide balance to the World Heritage, which focused mostly on the tangible dimensions of culture. So UNESCO conducted a survey among member states in an attempt to come to an agreement on a definition of intangible culture and the outcome is that the International Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was adopted in 2003 to protect intangible cultural heritage.
It is important to note that there is a symbiotic relationship between tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Tangible culture is touchable, whereas intangible culture cannot be touched and interacted with, without a vehicle for the culture. These vehicles are called "Human Treasures". Intangible culture includes songs, music, drama, skills, crafts and other parts of culture which cannot be touched without human interactions. Intangible cultural heritage - or living heritage - according to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage - is the mainspring of humanity's cultural diversity and its maintenance guarantees continuing creativity.
Other speakers have already alluded to the definition of intangible culture.
Let me just say that this Convention - like the World Heritage Convention - developed a listing system (Representative list and Endangered list). The Intergovernmental Committee has developed criteria and procedures, and the first inscriptions have been made. Tonga, for example, made a submission and the Lakalaka, one of Tonga's national dances has been put on the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Tonga is proud of the fact that it has one of the largest dance repertoires in the world. This rich heritage is, indeed, worthy of safeguarding, and demonstrates the core principles of Tongan life - a holistic approach which integrates music, poetry, dance, history, events, time, place, values, and space.
Dance is very much alive in Tonga and is part of every child's and every teacher's education. They are part of our identity, celebrating who we are, where we came from, creating bridges that link the present to the past and charting the pathways to the future. But dance is just one of the many aspects of Tonga's intangible cultural heritage. With the assistance of the South Pacific Secretariat, and the Institute of Education of the University of the South Pacific, which is based here in Tonga, Tonga has been embarking on a Cultural Mapping exercise, which is an attempt to map every intangible and tangible cultural heritage of Tonga in every community. We have attempted to identify, capture, and record on video and tapes, songs, music, dance, stories, artefacts, and cultural spaces associated with every island, community, and groups, and individuals in Tonga, which they themselves recognise as part of their cultural heritage. The goal is to develop a national cultural policy that will ensure that the processes through which intangible culture is transmitted from one generation to the next are safeguarded and that there is continuity of traditional knowledge, which is shared by these groups and communities.
Tonga's efforts are part of world-wide efforts to protect intangible culture, which have been led by countries such as Japan and South Korea, and we in the Pacific are following suit. As UNESCO emphases "The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State, and is as important for developing States as for developed ones."
However, as UNESCO so rightly emphasized, we need to put all this in context. I will therefore take a few minutes to describe for our benefit some of the pertinent elements of the Tongan context.
Values are central to understanding any nation, community, people, organisation, or individual, since values determine the ways in which individuals and groups behave; the ways in which they structure their organisations and institutions; their characteristics and behaviours; and, the procedures and processes they use. It is important, therefore, to note that in relation to the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, it is critical that we understand where differences could arise.
It is also important to note that the differences are not mutually exclusive; rather they reflect differing world views and perspectives, orientations and focuses. They are also generalisations to underline the significance of understanding context.
The key values of western societies are often said to relate to individual rights and freedoms; justice in terms of equity and access; protection of privacy; promotion of competition and consumerism; and, scientific-rational thinking.
Tongan values, on the other hand, which are similar to the values of other Pacific communities, emphasise the holistic nature of life and the centrality of good relationships; the connectivity of the past, present and future; of people, land, sea, and sky, and the spirituality that bind them together. These values include:
• ‘ofa (love) and its subgroups ‘mafana', which drives ‘ofa to action; malie, its transforming quality; and potupotu tatau, its equitable distributive principle
• faka'apa'apa (respect)
• feveitokai'aki (reciprocity)
• lototō (humility)
• mamahi'i me'a (commitment)
• faitotonu (integrity)
• feongoongoi (transparency and accountability).

These are Tonga's intangible wealth and its most treasured resources, linking its past to its present, and to its future. These are the resources that have driven its enterprise and its creative forces and have maintained and sustained Tongans and Tonga across millennia.
Tongans share with other Pacific peoples the valuing of the group above that of the individual and relationships within the group, as previously described, are nurtured by these values. Thaman , Tongan scholar, poet and author, describes Pacific peoples as having a ‘consocial' sense of personhood. Linnekin and Poyer suggest that Pacific societies construct their cultural identities differently, which could be explained by having different theories of identity. Western theories of identity emphasise biological descent, innate characteristics, and unchanging boundaries, in contrast to Pacific peoples, who emphasise the environment, behaviour, and contextual flexibility.
As Thaman so rightly pointed out in her keynote address at the 10th Anniversary of the Pacific Writers Forum at USP, formal education ‘tended to promote the values of secularism, universalism, objectivity, dualism, reductionism, criticism and passionlessness - the antidote of the assumptions of [the Pacific's]... ancestral cultures which emphasised spirituality, inter-personal relationships, subjectivity, passion and compassion - the catalysts for creative expressions' (Thaman, 1988; Nabobo, 2006; Johansson-Fua, 2006).
Since Pacific peoples define themselves through their relationships, that definition, in turn, gives rise to values which nurture, promote and sustain those relationships. Those values, and beliefs, also determine thinking and the processing of information, the nature, form, structure, and acquisition of knowledge; speech rules and communicative behaviours; and, consequently, teaching and learning strategies.

Thus, the thinking of Pacific Islanders is said to be right-brain dominated, which tends to be creative, holistic and spatial; divergent instead of linear logical; interpersonal, which favours group activities, spoken over written language, and demonstration and doing rather than verbal direction; and kinesthetic, which lends itself to physical activities. Such thinking styles are manifested in a number of ways in Pacific cultures.
In Tonga, Tongans make a clear distinction between knowledge (‘ilo) which is acquired through learning (ako) and wisdom (poto), which is the ‘beneficial use of ‘ilo or knowledge' (Thaman, 1998). Clearly, knowledge is not expected to be achieved for its own sake but only if it is worthwhile and benefits others. Three basic contexts have been identified for informal learning in Polynesia: the desire for social cohesion through the maintenance of good relationships, which takes the form of cooperation; closed knowledge systems, which affects the way knowledge is viewed; and linguistic rules for knowledge transfer and use of questions and answers; and, the significant role of peer group in fostering learning. In the context of traditional education, basic education is the life-long learning of essential values, knowledge and life-skills, including cultural literacy, needed for the survival and development of individuals and their communities. Achievement of ‘poto' is always measured in context in terms of appropriate behaviour and beneficial actions.
We need to take these preliminary remarks in mind, when we consider what we need to do in the Pacific to safeguard our tangible cultural heritage.
There are various means through which intangible culture can be protected, which include copyrights, patents, trademark rights, design protection, geographical indications, and safety and efficacy studies for data, to name some, as well as the processes through which they are transmitted from one generation to the next, such as our Pacific languages. I will not waste your time, going over the same grounds. Rather, given my previous remarks on the critical importance of values and understanding of context, I will concentrate on highlighting some measures that we could consider.
The usual route that Governments take is through the establishment of a policy and legislative regulatory framework aimed at protecting and promoting intangible culture, deter theft, piracy, and counterfeiting, and thereby, indirectly promoting the free flow of and ready access to information leading to increased creativity, innovations, and enterprise that benefit all.
My concern is that any legislation that we put in place must take cognizance of the cultural contexts of our Pacific communities and cultures and the values which underpin them. Collective rights of people in Tonga, particularly in relation to our traditional knowledge and creative products that have emerged as part of our cultural evolution must be protected and promoted to the same degree that we provide protection for the fruits of individual creativity. This is particularly important in the advent of new information and communications technologies, which have made it possible to readily access and transmit huge amount of data to millions in an instance. They must also recognise that language, the vehicle through which these values and processes are transmitted, must be safeguarded, developed and promoted so that it can continue to serve this purpose today and in the future.
We have seen the appropriation of our traditional knowledge for the benefit of others, such as our traditional knowledge of medicine and traditional art work and designs, as seen in the printed materials we see around the shops in Nuku'alofa, which use our tapa designs. Even more worrying has been the increasing unethical exploitation of our biogenetic resources in recent years and the increasing use of unethical research practices on Pacific peoples and their environments. There is also the thorny issue of language loss, as many of our communities go through language shifts in which dominant metropolitan languages have assumed the roles and functions of our vernacular languages.
However, in terms of creating a conducive environment that would optimally promote creativity, we need to strike a balance between protection and flexibility that would increase access to knowledge, thus, stimulating creation, innovation, economic development, and cultural vibrancy, whilst at the same time, promoting access, use and sharing of information and knowledge to enable individuals, communities, and societies to achieve their full potential.
We also need to note that legislative measures may not always be the best means through which intangible culture is safeguarded, although they are necessary tools. At the end of the day, we cannot hope to legislate for every possible scenario of violations and theft. But we need to ask the right questions and ensure that the responses are reflected in our legislations and policies. Some of the questions that we need to constantly remind ourselves with are:
Whose values?
Whose knowledge?
Who creates it? Who controls it? Who controls access and distribution? Who validates it? Who recognises and uses it?
Whose cognitive and philosophical theories are they based on?
Whose research paradigms, methodologies, techniques, and processes are used in knowledge production and transmission?
Whose agenda are we following?
If we are to make a meaningful contributions to this workshop, then, one of our primary purpose is to RECLAIM not only Pacific knowledge and values for our Pacific peoples and their communities but the processes and the vehicles in which they are transmitted.
The second way in which Government and communities could promote awareness is through a public education and training programme. Educating local communities, businesses and public on the benefits of protecting our intangible cultural heritage is essential, which should include providing assistance to our living human treasures on how to use legislations and other resources to their advantage and supporting the work of local communities in this area.
Such programmes could take various forms and at various levels. A horizontal model of community interaction, such as the ‘talanoa' approach and the ‘faikava' setting could influence the behaviours of others and provide forums for transfer of ideas and accessing of creative information. Tongans much prefer these forms of personalised communication. They can be activated through various groups, such as youth, church, development, cultural, women's, and sports groups. The main message to get across is that everyone is a transmitter, and user and benefits from intangible culture and is a creator or potential creator of intangible culture. It could be a new lakalaka for the king's birthday, a song to celebrate the birth of a son, new ways of planting yams, weaving a mat, or a using coconut shells. New creations, whether in the arts, humanities, medicine, sciences, or technology, stimulate progress, transform society, sustain communities, and add value to our lives.
The use of the mass media can have powerful impacts, particularly in conveying actions, and images. Tongans learn best through observations, doing, and imitations, which can lead to new ideas and practices. In Tonga, despite the advent of new technologies, the radio is still the most accessible medium for public education, and the messages must be developed appropriately to suit that medium.
However, the dissemination of ideas, knowledge and information necessary to stimulate transmission of intangible culture, creation and innovation is encouraged by safeguarding them, particularly in the areas of copyright and patents, but we have to be mindful of the fact that many of our intangible cultural heritage does not belong to any one individual but to the community, and must be acknowledged as such. This fact has been used by outsiders to appropriate our intangible culture because they think it does not belong to anyone.
Yet another way is the provision of public funding to support protection efforts and new initiatives, and in particular, educational developments. As an educator, of course, I favour most the promotion of intangible culture through education. Knowledge is today's and tomorrow's commodity and the society which can be most creative is in a better position to survive, prosper, and sustain its identity and sovereignty. Creativity can be embedded in the educational ethos of an education system. This means placing creativity at the heart of learning.
In the new Curriculum Framework for Tonga , one of the five themes that underpin every subject in the basic education curriculum is ‘enterprise'. It involves the development and application of skills, understandings and attitudes that enable learners to respond to and be involved in social and economic activities and change. The new curriculum is aimed at equipping young people to be innovative and to identify, create, initiate and successfully manage sustainable livelihoods, which is at the essence of safeguarding intangible culture. It recognises that all learners are active participants in processes passed on from their ancestors and are in their turn encouraged to use those processes to create new ways of doing things, new solutions to problems, and a willingness to meet challenges.

Conclusion Earlier, I began with a definition of intangible culture. In conclusion, I challenge all of us, collectively, in our various capacities to ensure that all our children can benefit from their intangible cultural heritage, a vehicle through which they can think and behave imaginatively and purposefully, to allow them to generate original work and outcomes that would benefit not only their own communities but humanity as a whole.

I wish you all a most constructive workshop.


Issued by the: Ministry of Education, Women Affairs and Culture, Office of the Minister, Nuku'alofa, 2011.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 June 2011 22:28 )  

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