Anthropologist on PNG Images and its Impacts on Development

by Serah Aupong – EM TV, Port Moresby

Papua New Guinea’s rich cultural heritage and traditions have been described as unique and a marvel around the world.

The colourful displays of our bilas or traditional costumes have brought visitors far and wide to our shores.

While images of these bilas, traditions, dances and rituals are used to promote the splendour of the country and entice more visitors to our shores, the very same images can be used in a way that negatively impacts the country’s development.

American anthropologist Dr Paige West has spent over 20 years in field work in PNG. She has been studying images, and the way these images are used to give a particular type of message about a place or a people.

Dr. West’s research has resulted in a book that presents an argument about how images about traditional PNG are used to position our country within the development context.

During a recent talk to students at the National Library in Port Moresby, West says these images have been used to reinforce a particular stereotype about PNG and about Papua New Guineans.

She says this then presents a false image of PNG to the rest of the world as it fails to capture the mix of rich historic culture and the vibrant cosmopolitan contemporary culture.

West says the impact of such representations can be felt at a personal and at a national level, this reinforcement can dictate the type of development aid that is given to PNG and the type of business investments that are made here.

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