A visitor as stranger, a strange friend, a visitor as friend.
The stage-managed cultural experiences in short ceremonies and instant dance presentations that tourists see in some of the South Pacific resorts is not the only way for visitors to the South Pacific to meet with local people.
This afternoon I watched part of a program on SBS TV about a group of ten young volunteers from Australia who spent two months in a Papua New Guinea village. The program was called 'The Kokoda Trail - more than just a war memorial'. The subject was about visitor-local relationships, the exposure on both sides with different cultural understandings. Some of the initial discussions were about their fathers and grandfathers who were on the Kokoda Trail during the 2nd World War, a significant time in 2nd World War history for Australian soldiers.
The volunteers joined in the village life, (which was distant from urban centres) working alongside the local men and women. Language was a difficulty and the volunteers depended largely on the few local people who spoke English, though at the farewell there was a speech in Pidgin English by one of the women. They had developed a reciprocal relationship of give and take, though with some expenses and trade-offs on both sides.
When tourists/visitors spend only days with a host community, it is quite a different experience for the visitors than two months. There is little time to develop a relationship and a bit of the local language, know the names and family groups, see humour and irritation, the good days and the awkward. At some stage there comes a time when people treat one another as brothers, sisters, kin, and as equals - and this can then become a very rich cultural exchange, sharing food as well as stories, music, dance, family life, the use of money, the hands-on way people can improvise from resources available, and so on. Then it is an experience never to be forgotten.
However, sometimes, instead of curiosity and good will towards one another when two different cultural groups meet, there is fear and hostility, or alternatively a desire for exploitation of the other. Let's hope that does not happen in the 'friendly' islands of the Pacific!
Some background to the film is found in an Australian defence site.
Getting back on track
The Kokoda Trail : More than just a War Memorial
The Kokoda Trail, in Papua New Guinea, is embedded in Australian history because of the campaign against the Japanese in World War II. But, as we see in this documentary, it is more than just a war memorial.
The native Koiari people, the custodians of the Kokoda Trail, have unfinished business with Australia over the support they gave our soldiers during the war.
But when the Kokoda Trail was closed in 2000, after greedy developers’ calls to the Australian Government for war compensation fell on deaf ears, PNG symbolically closed the gate on Australia playing in their backyard.
They promised to take action against anyone who flouted this ban and Australians were warned not to travel to the area because of violent threats against tourists.
In Kokoda Trail: More Than Just a War Memorial, a group of young Australians travel to PNG to live and work with the native people for two months in a bid to create a new generation of relationships based on the bonds of the past.
It’s a worthwhile hour of television that proves that bridges can be rebuilt.