Culture is one of the most effective things to connect people or groups, and it is proven to be effective regarding of the relations between West Papua, Melanesian States, and other Indonesian areas. The late reunion between Indonesia and West Papua after 1945 declaration of independence has caused some disputes, but cultural activities and exchanges helped to improve the relations.
Melanesian Cultural Festival is one of the cultural partnerships formed between the Melanesian States in the Pacific, which also extend to Eastern Indonesia. Despite mostly consists of Austronesians, Indonesia has very prominent traces of Melanesian populations and cultural heritage, especially in the eastern part. The festival is a prominent venue to expose this side of Indonesian culture to the world.
Melanesian Spearhead Group Cultural Initiatives
Melanesian Cultural Festival was originally an initiative of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), an organization that consists of representatives from Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands. Indonesia, despite not being a Melanesian state, became an associate member in June 2015 as representative for West Papua. East Timor also participates as an observer.
The organization was formed to strengthen political, economic, and cultural ties between the member countries. As a new associate member, Indonesia and West Papua gain more leverages in their political, cultural, and economic positions. One of the most prominent episodes that marked Indonesia and West Papua’s new status was Melanesian Cultural Festival.
History of Melanesian Cultural Festival
Melanesian Cultural Festival is a regular event of MSG that was held every four years. The event was started in 1998, aimed to preserve the cultural heritage of the Melanesians. The first event was held in Papua New Guinea. However, since Indonesia became the associate member of MSG in 2015, the festival was held in the same year to honor the occasion.
26 October 2015 marked Indonesia’s first participation at Melanesian Cultural Festival, both as participant and host. The venue was Kupang, the capital city of East Nusa Tenggara Province in East Indonesia. The theme of the event was “Celebrating the Cultural Diversity of Melanesia World”, and attended by all MSG members except East Timor and Vanuatu.
Indonesian representatives not only consisted of participants from West Papua, but also the neighboring provinces such as Maluku, Sulawesi, and Nusa Tenggara. The festival screened several Eastern Indonesia-themed movies by local directors, such as Tanah Mama, Atambua 39 Derajat Celsius, and Cahaya Dari Timur. There was also a cultural exhibition that showcased how Melanesian influences spread to Eastern Indonesia.
The Importance of Melanesian Cultural Festival
Melanesian Cultural Festival has important meaning for West Papua and Indonesia. The traces of Melanesian cultures are prominent in Indonesia, especially in the east. Melanesians have become inseparable parts of Indonesian diaspora, so Indonesia’s involvement in the festival shows good wills toward the commitment to keep strong relations between provinces.
Melanesian Cultural Festival also yields benefits in tourism promotion. This festival usually lasts for a week, enough time for tourists to stay and catch up with the events. Participants can introduce their cultural products, such as music, crafts, foods, and costumes, which will garner more interests toward their respective countries. Melanesian cultures are dynamics, colorful, and very close to nature; something that has charmed the world for long.
Finally, the festival serves as a place for international representatives to gather, talk, and improve positive relations. As a part of Indonesia, West Papua has important an role in representing Melanesian cultural heritages to the world.
What to See at the Next Melanesian Cultural Festival?
Representatives from West Papua, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara, and Maluku will join the next Melanesian Cultural Festival in the Solomon Islands. The festival is scheduled from 1 to 14 July 2018 and will cost around US$15 million in a budget. Solomon Island’s Secretary for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Andrew Nihopora, said that the whole festival would take place at the National Art Gallery.
The theme of the upcoming festival is “Past Recollections, Future Connections”. There will be about 2,000 participants from West Papua, Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia, and Papua New Guinea, to name a few. Unlike the previous festival, West Papua has been honored by becoming a member of observers. The event will showcase traditional dances, crafts, and music, art exhibitions, movie screenings, and discussions.
Indonesia will also celebrate its own version of Melanesian Cultural Festival, which will be held in Mei 2018, a month before the country sending delegations to the international festival. The event is similar to the international festival, with parades, musical and dance performances, craft exhibitions, and souvenir markets. The theme is “From Melanesia to Indonesia”, which focuses on the importance of unity in the Indonesian archipelago.
Whether in or outside the country, Melanesian cultural events that showcase arts, crafts, and cultural products must be celebrated. West Papua is an important part of Indonesian archipelago with Melanesian roots. Joining the festivals is an expression of solidarity among Melanesian states and regions, and increases West Papua’s standing as the representative of Melanesian groups from Indonesia.