Today, has been the most heartwarming and personally felt session I have attended. Since arriving in Poland it seems that NO ONE is aware of what a Polynesian is… let alone a Tongan, I am literally a novelty here. Most days I am usually asked where I am from by intrigued faces, and admittedly it usually results in frustration on my part because my explanations do not connect at all. There isn’t any exposure to the Pacific region and so Poles (and arguably most of Europe and the world) just aren’t conscious of its existence. But this doesn’t surprise me when international institutions like the United Nations' World Heritage Committee are also lacking Pacific dialogue and representation.
Being exposed to the topics of discussion within the plenary room can be isolating. Whilst I am interested and empathetic towards the issues that transpire; and equally, I am also happy to see the national pride that materializes as a result of site enlistment by the WHC, it has been isolating to not have any personal connection to anything…until today (9 July 2017).
Taputapuātea is located in French Polynesia and has been described as: “The center of the ‘Polynesian Triangle,’ a vast portion of the Pacific Ocean, dotted with islands, and the last part of the globe to be settled by humans.” It’s beauty can only be transcended by its meaning and today has been marked as a milestone for many Polynesians, as it now relishes under World Heritage status which will assist in its preservation for generations to come, amongst other protections that are triggered with its inscription. The atmosphere with its adoption was familiar, not only was there island music playing, but the celebratory hugs and warmth reminded me of home (Tonga). The French Polynesian Delegation said it best:
“We share like all our Polynesian brothers and sisters the act of hospitality. This is a sign of prestige to our home land and we are committed to protecting this for our future generations.”
“LONG LIVE TAPUTAPUĀTEA…LONG LIVE POLYNESIAN PEOPLE”
What a tremendous moment.
I concur that we MUST protect our lands, culture and heritage, However, I must balance the appropriateness of implementing international mechanisms and westernized notions on a cultural and ethnic society. At present I feel that if nothing is being done at the domestic level, or alternatively if there is a threat to Pacific sites whether imminent, impending or not, then this avenue would shed light to these issues and trigger greater responsibilities and support regarding how the site is handled.
In this instance I feel proud for French Polynesia and I whole heartedly agree that their inscription is something to celebrate. I hope that with this achievement, more Pacific nations like Tonga are able to weigh the advantages or disadvantages of having a site enlisted; and at the very least engage in more proactive dialogue about the importance of protecting natural and heritage sites domestically and internationally.
As has been emphasized within these sessions since arriving, ‘heritage sites are not merely physical places; but hold great cultural significance. Heritage mobilizes respect, dignity and pride...amongst other things.’ These statements are undeniable and it is reassuring that such sentiments are being echoed at this level.
Until next time,
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.