Carved heads to be returned to PNG Parliament

6:48 am on 2 June 2016

The director of Papua New Guinea's national museum said he would ensure compliance with a national court ruling against the Speaker of Parliament's removal of cultural carvings and a totem pole from the national Parliament.

The speaker, Theo Zurenuoc, had claimed that the cultural adornments were unholy and that their removal was part of the "reformation" of Parliament as a Christian institution.

The speaker of the Papua New Guinea parliament, Theo Zurenuoc.

The speaker of the Papua New Guinea parliament, Theo Zurenuoc. Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

The court concluded the removed objects were protected under the National Cultural Property Act, and ordered they be repaired and restored.

Dr Andrew Moutu of the national museum described the case as being a good test of legislation that hadn't been exercised in 50 years.

A plaintiff in the case, he said it sets a good precedent for protecting PNG's constitution.

"Something that comes across quite clearly in this one, that this prescriptive agenda that comes from this theologically-inspired view of trying to purify so-called 'evil' aspects of the Parliament is highly deplorable and questionable."

Dr Moutu also warned that Christian fundamentalism remains a threat to PNG culture.

He said the removal of the items was the kind of attack on culture that zealots often try to foist on societies.

"It's based on not anything factual, but completely self-imposed views about what made them evil, or unholy or all those kinds of things. It was grossly misrepresented and taken to stand for something else which is associated with the thinking of the speaker."

Andrew Moutu said he would seek court action if Theo Zurnuoc does not comply with the court ruling within six months.

The front facade of Papua New Guinea's parliament featuring recently removed anthropomorphic carved heads on the front lintel.

The front facade of Papua New Guinea's parliament featuring recently removed anthropomorphic carved heads on the front lintel. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

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