5 Feb 2019

PNG MP wants laws to prevent cultural appropriation

7:20 pm on 5 February 2019

Law reform to ensure local culture is protected from misappropriation is being considered by Papua New Guinea's police minister.

It comes after widespread outcry against a Chinese clothing brand which used photos shot in East New Britain Province, involving people in traditional tribal dress.

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Photo: Icicle Fashion

The minister, Jelta Wong, said an investigation was underway into how the company was allowed into the region.

The government and the local traditional council were also discussing how to enshrine protections to prevent future incidents, Mr Wong said.

"There needs to be more regulations and a proper demarcation of what is allowed and what is not allowed," he said.

"And that's where we've failed in the past to put across and we're finally realising the power of social media and world news and everything and it's just blown out of proportion."

Tolai Tumbuan society had been misused and misappropriated by the company, Shanghai-based Icicle Fashion Group, which could "spill over into violence", Mr Wong warned.

Jelta Wong.

Jelta Wong. Photo: Facebook / Jelta Wong

Icicle has not responded to requests for comment.

In a letter which circulated online, a company representative told a concerned citizen that Icicle was "very much attached to cultural preservation".

The letter said the company had been authorised to use images for the campaign by the East New Britain Tourism Authority.

Last week, the Tourism Authority issued a statement calling for all advertising involving Tolai Tumbuan masks to be taken down.

"The Tumbuan society is a very sacred and respected culture in our province," authority chair Douglas Pidi said in a statement.

"What has transpired over the last few days has demeaned the Tumbuan society."

On Friday, a representative for the Tourism Authority declined to comment further, citing an ongoing police investigation.

However, Mr Wong said local society was investigating and not police.