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[This was the Alotau Canoe Festival closing speech given on 6th November by Julius Violaris, President of the PNG National Museum & Art Gallery]

Thank you all.

Some of you will know me as the owner of Nawae Constructions. A lot of you do not know that I am also the President of the Trustees of the National Museum and Art Gallery.

A  Trustee is someone who holds something in Trust, for somebody else. The Museum belongs to the people of PNG And we hold everything in Trust for the people. In other words the Museum belongs to you.

This festival, the Canoe and Kundu festival, has been growing every year. It is getting bigger, there are more people and more canoes, and many more people are getting interested. Why is that? I believe it is because you value your culture, the customs and beliefs that make you who you are, that give you an identity. In this case, this is expressed in the skills, ceremonies and beliefs that go in making and sailing a canoe. And in Milne Bay, it is a very important part of the culture of all of us, this traveling on the water.

The fact is, that this festival has given us an opportunity to show the world, and to each other, our skills and Traditions, our customs and our way of life. At this festival, we are able to showcase not only our canoes, but also our culture. Our dance, our dress, our carvings and all of the outward things that go towards telling  the world who we are, Trobiands, East Tawala, West Tawala, Paneati or Suau. This is something that in English we call culture.  And it is something that is changing every day, all the time and his is a good and healthy thing.

But what is not good, is to lose our culture, to forget the old stories and the old customs, the way of our tumbunas and our tumbunas tumbunas, our heretige and our history. It is in fact the very basis of the Constitution of Papua New Guinea;

WE, THE PEOPLE OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA—

  • united in one nation
  • pay homage to the memory of our ancestors—the source of our strength and origin of our combined heritage
  • acknowledge the worthy customs and traditional wisdoms of our people—which have come down to us from generation to generation
  • pledge ourselves to guard and pass on to those who come after us our noble traditions and the
  • Christian principles that are ours now.

It is obvious to all of us, and even without thinking about it, we know that it is very important, to pay homage to the memory of  our ancestors and to  Acknowledge the worthy Customs and traditional wisdoms of our people but most importantly to Guard and pass on to those who come AFTER us, our Noble traditions. This sentence in our constitution is of the utmost importance to us, that is we need to Guard, look after, keep safe our customs and traditions.  The government , for this purpose has set up the NMAG, to collect and keep safe not only the physical artifacts of our culture but also the intangible items, the languages, the knowledge. It has also the function to foster and aid the arts – carving, painting, music – all of the arts. This is the work of the Museum. And the Museum belongs to the people – you and your children and all of your descendants yet unborn.

The National Musem & Art Gallery, 1980

It is a sad fact that the Museum has been on a downhill slide for the last decade or more, the people that were running it did not care about it and its functions. They were more interested in what they could get out of it, steal the money and some of the Artefacts and sell them. They have no shame, no compassion for the customs and traditions of this country and its future generations. For a few kina , they allow the export of National treasures, irreplaceable artifacts that will never be made again.

When our good Member for Alotau, and now Minister, the Hon. Charles Abel became Minister for Culture and Tourism some years ago, I told him that our National Museum was a disgrace and that he should fix it up. He said to me it was on his priority list and that he needed help to fix it, would I help him?

I accepted and he made me the President of the Trustees.

The other Trustees are Deputy Presidents Maria Kop-Kop and Andrew Abel, late Sir Cecils son, and Maria Kopkop, a prominent citizen who has served diligently and honestly on many boards. Also Peter Loko of Telicom fame,  Nora Vagi Brash and Dr Michael Mel. Both Nora and Dr Michael Mel are and have been involved in education and Nora in the Arts and the Museum from colonial times.  All are people with the highest integrity and  a reputation for public service.

The whole Board was and remains united in that we want to clean the Museum up and make it an institution that every Papua New Guinean should be proud of.

Why are Australian, American, German and other European Museums show-casing our culture and preserving it, better than we are? This is a shame, a big national shame for all of us.

What have we done for the last 21/2  Years? Well, I can tell you that It is not much. At every step of the way, we have been blocked by the crooks and thieves both inside and outside the Museum.
They use the legal system to tie the hands of honest people and they have succeeded in stopping us form appointing a decent Director, to manage the NMAG.

Slowly, with the full support of this Government and with the Prime Ministers personal involvement, we are on the way to wining.

We finally have a good and decent man, with the Education and experience qualifications to lead the Museum as the Director. Only Acting but we hope it will be more substantiative appointment soon.

Why am I telling you this? Because you need to Know, it is your Museum. And we need your support. We as trustees have been threatened with arrest, jail and all sorts of things, and this from very senior policemen.  I myself was “invited to Boroko Police Station and together with Peter Loko and Andrew Abel told  we were going to be arrester. Trumped up false charges were laid against us and “investigated” by the Police and we were found guilty !! The officers involved only bring shame on the Police force and make themselves look foolish and totally inept.

But we will prevail. We have taken on the task and we aim to complete it.

For the Museum to work, we need the support of the people, the support of each one of you. In the near future, you will see the Museum rise to a more prominent role to where it should be – at the helm of support and preservation of our Culture.

Together, the People of Papua New Guinea with the Museum will honor the Constitution and Guard and preserve the traditions and customs of our people, building strength and pride in our Nation for our future generations, so that they may know who they are.

Thank you all.

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