IN a win for the wonderful culture and traditions of Papua New Guinea, the national court yesterday declared the removal of 19 masks and a totem pole from parliament house in 2013 were unlawful acts and ordered they be repaired and returned within six months.
Justice David Cannings delivered the decision after legal action by Sir Michal Somare and, Dr Andrew Moutu, CEO of PNG’s national museum and art gallery.
Justice Cannings found that actions by Parliament Speaker Theo Zurenuoc were unlawful and infringed both the constitution and the national cultural property act.
He said the damage, dismantling and removal of the objects of cultural decoration, particularly the 19 masks on the lintel at the main entrance and the totem in the grand hall, were unlawful.
PNG Loop reported that the court also declared the objects were “national cultural property” and issued an order restraining Mr Zurenuoc, the parliamentary committee responsible for the removal of the objects and L&A Construction from further damaging, dismantling and removing objects of cultural decoration at the national parliament house.
At the time the artefacts were gouged from the national parliament in September 2013, Dr Moutu, called the decision of Speaker Theo Zurenouc and Parliamentary Clerk Vela Konivara “heinous sacrilege.”
He said it followed “various sentiments expressed in the media about the apparent religious and spiritual connections of the images.”
Dr Moutu said the carved anthromorphic human faces that represent images from various parts of PNG are on the symbolic lintel that adorns the façade of the national parliament.
“The decorated lintel belongs to an assembly of cultural paraphernalia that was designed to induce discipline and respect through the psychology of fear and intimidation,” he said.
“Culture and history provide the soul and heart of any nation and to desecrate cultural symbols in this manner is to subject our national identity to an alien self-image.”