“Rebuilding our Melanesia for our future” is the theme chosen by the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) for their 7th Melanesian Arts and Cultural Festival (MACFEST) this year.
Vanuatu hosted the event in Port Vila, which opened last Wednesday and ends next Monday.
The event was hosted by the MSG, which includes Fiji, New Caledonia’s Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS), Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Aside from the MSG’s official members, West Papua, Maluku and Torres Straits were also welcomed with their own flags and cultural symbols. Although Indonesia is a member of the MSG, there were no Indonesian flag or cultural symbols to be seen at the festival. This act (Indonesian seclusion) alone spoke volumes, of the essence and characteristics of what constitutes Melanesian cultures and values.
This event is a significant occasion that occurs once every four years among the Melanesian members countries.
The MSG’s website under The Arts and Culture scribed the following:
The Arts and Culture programme is an important pillar in the establishment of the MSG. Under the agreed principles of cooperation among independent states in Melanesia, it was signed in Port Vila on 14 March 1988, and amongst other things, the MSG commits to the principles of, and respect for and promotion of Melanesian cultures, traditions, and values as well as those of other indigenous communities.
- The first MACFEST was held in the Solomon Islands in 1998 with the theme, ‘One people, many cultures’.
- In 2002, Vanuatu hosted the second MACFEST event under the theme, ‘Preserving peace through sharing of cultural exchange’.
- ‘Living cultures, living traditions’ was the theme of the third MACFEST event held in Fiji in 2006.
- The fourth MACFEST event was held in New Caledonia in 2010 under the theme ‘Our identity lies ahead of us’.
- Papua New Guinea hosted the fifth MACFEST, with the theme ‘Celebrating cultural diversity’ in 2014.
- The Solomon Islands hosted the sixth edition of MACFEST in 2018 under the theme ‘Past recollections, future connections.’
- During 2023 (the seventh edition), Vanuatu was the featured nation, with the slogan ‘Rebuilding our Melanesia for our future.’
Imageries, rhetoric’s, colours, and rhythms exhibited in Port Villa was indeed a collective manifestation of the words written on MSG’s website. There were welcoming ceremonies united under an atmosphere of warmth, brotherhood, and sisterhood with lots of colourful Melanesian cultural exhibitions.
Images and videos shared on social media, including many official social media accounts, portrayed a spirit of unity, respect, understanding and harmony. West Papuan flags also welcomed and filled the whole event. The morning star shone bright at this event.
The following are some of the images, colours and rhetoric displayed during the opening festive event, as well as the West Papua plight to be accepted into what Papuans themselves often echo as, ‘Melanesian family’.
WEST PAPUA MARCH THE STREET ON 19 JULY 2023 – SUPPORTING MSG AND VANUATU
Wamena, the highland hometown of Benny Wenda, leader of West Papua Liberation Movement, saw thousands march in the streets with Melanesian flags on 19th July.
Bazoka Logo, ULMWP’s coordinator of the mass rally wrote: Today, even though the MSG leaders’ Summit was postponed, thousands of West Papuan people continue to take to the streets as planned for July 19th, 2023. The support of the West Papuan people for full ULWMP membership continues throughout West Papua.
Oridep Ap, the son of martyred West Papua cultural icon, Arnold Ap, now ULMWP ambassador to Europe and European Union wrote:
When the stars align, it’s time. Melanesia must make a stand to save West Papua and the entire region. Bring West Papua back to Melanesian family (19 July 2023).
For West Papuans, July 2023 marks a time when the stars seem to be aligned in one place — Vanuatu. July this year, Vanuatu is to chair the MSG leaders’ summit, hosting the seventh MACFEST, and celebrating its 43rd year of independence. Vanuatu has been a homebase (outside of West Papua) supporting West Papua’s liberation struggle since 1970s.
Throughout West Papua, you will witness spectacular displays of Melanesian colours, flags, and imagery in response to the unfolding events in the MSG and Vanuatu.
Melanesian brethren also displayed incredible support for West Papua’s plight at the MACFEST in Port Vila — a little hope that keeps Papuan spirits high in a world where freedom has been shut for 60 years.
This support fosters a sense of solidarity and offers a glimmer of optimism that one day West Papua will reclaim its sovereignty — the only way to safeguard Melanesian cultures, languages and tradition in West Papua.
Although geographically separated, Vanuatu, West Papua and the rest of Melanesian, are deeply connected emotionally and culturally through the display of symbols, flags, colours, and rhetoric.
Emancipation, expectation, hope, and prayer are high for the MSG’s decision making — decisions that are often marked by “uncertainty”.
A contested and changing Melanesia.
The following comments were made by the Director General of the MSG secretariat, Leonard Louma, while delivering his remarks during the opening of the seventh MACFEST:
The need to dispel the notion that Melanesia communities only live in Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and acknowledge and include Melanesians that live elsewhere.
I am reminded that there are pockets of descendants of Melanesians in the Micronesian group and the Polynesian group. We should include them, like the black Samoans of Samoa – often referred to as Tama Uli – in future MACFESTs.
In the past, Timor Leste, Indonesia, Australia, and Taiwan were invited to attend. Let us continue to build on these blocks to make this flagship cultural event of ours even bigger and better in the years to come.
MSG leaders may perceive their involvement in defining and redefining the concept of Melanesia, as well as addressing date postponements and criteria-related matters, as relatively insignificant.
Similarly, for MSG members, their participation in the Melanesian cultural festival could be considered as just one of four events that rotate between them.
For West Papuans, this is an existential issue — between life or death as they face a bleak future under Indonesian colonial settler occupation — in which they are constantly reminded that their ancestral land will soon be seized and occupied by Indonesians if their sovereignty issues do not soon resolve.
The now postponed MSG’s leaders’ summit will soon consider an application proposing that West Papua be included within the group.
Regardless of whether this proposal is accepted by the existing member countries of the MSG, the obvious international pressures that impel this debate, must also prompt us to ask ourselves what it means to be Melanesian.
United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) interim chair Benny Wenda being interviewed by Vanuatu Television during MACFEST2023. Image: VBTC screenshot APR
Decisions around unity?
Does the primacy of maintaining good relations with a powerful country like Indonesia, the West and China supersede Melanesian solidarity, or are we able to transcend these pressures to redefine and “rebuild our common Melanesia for our future”?
The Melanesian people must decide whether we are sufficiently united to support our brothers and sisters in West Papua, or whether our respective cultures are too diverse to be able to resist the charms offered by outsiders to look the other way.
The imminent decision to be made by the MSG leaders in Port Vila will be a crucial one — one that will affect the Melanesian people for generations to come. Does the MSG stand for promoting Melanesian interests, or has it become tempted by the short term promises of the West, China and their Indonesian minions?
What has become of the Melanesian Way — the notion of the holistic and cosmic worldview advocated by Papua New Guinea’s Bernard Narakobi?
The decision to be made in Port Vila will shine a light on the MSG’s own integrity. Does this group exist to help the Melanesian people, or is their real purpose only to help others to subjugate the Melanesian people, cultures and resources?
The task of “Rebuilding our Melanesia for our future” cannot be achieved without directly confronting the predicament faced by West Papua. This issue goes beyond cultural concerns; it is primarily about addressing sovereignty matters.
Only through the restoration of West Papua’s political sovereignty can the survival of the Melanesian people in that region and the preservation of their culture be ensured.
Should the MSG and its member countries continue to ignore this critical issue, “Papuan sovereignty”, one day there will be no true Melanin — the true ontological definition and geographical categorisation of what Melanesia is, (Melanesian) “Black people” represented in any future MACFEST event. It will be Asian-Indonesian.
Either MSG can rebuild Melanesia through re-Melanesianisation or destroy Melanesia through de-Melanesianisation. Melanesian leaders must seriously contemplate this existential question, not confining it solely to the four-year slogan of festival activities.
The decisive political and legal vision of MSG is essential for ensuring that these ancient, timeless, and incredibly diverse traditions and cultures continue to flourish and thrive into the future.
One can hope that, in the future, MSG will have the opportunity to extend invitations to world leaders who advocate peace instead of war, inviting them to Melanesia to learn the art of dance, song, and the enjoyment of our relaxing kava, while embracing and appreciating our rich diversity.
This would be a positive shift from the current situation where MSG leaders may feel obliged to respond to the demands of those who wield power through money and weapons, posing threats to global harmony.
Can the MSG be the answer to the future crisis humanity faces? Or will it serve as a steppingstone for the world’s criminals, thieves, and murders to desecrate our Melanesia?
Asia Pacific Report has already published this artcile: Please read here…/https://asiapacificreport.nz/2023/07/24/yamin-kogoya-rebuilding-our-melanesia-for-our-future-culture-and-west-papua/