By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Culture will be a major component, instead of a mere footnote, of any policy and development planning for the Pacific islands region, according to a regional master plan launched by island leaders this week.
"Our ongoing mission as a Pacific organization is to interweave science, technology and innovation with cultural wisdom and indigenous knowledge for our region’s collective betterment,” Stuart Minchin, director general of the Pacific Community, said during the launch of the Pacific Regional Culture Strategy 2022-2032 in Suva, Fiji.
Pacific island leaders gathered in Suva for the opening of the Na Wekaqu Noqu iYau (My Relationships Are My Heritage and Wealth) Multimedia Exhibition, hosted by the Pacific Community in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture or FestPac.
The Pacific Community, commonly known as SPC, said the exhibition highlights "the value and significance of cultural heritage and indigenous and local knowledge in the framing and implementation of the Pacific Regional Culture Strategy and the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent."
Island leaders underscored the increasing recognition of culture "as a driver and enabler of sustainable development in the Pacific in relation to specific development issues including climate change, food security, wellbeing and oceans."
Minchin noted that cultural conversations in the past were mainly focused on protecting or preserving cultural heritage. Today, he added, discussions have widened to include the pragmatic elements of culture.
Culture is now being recognized as an important stand-alone policy area and a cross-cutting priority issue for development, Minchin said.
“This cross-cutting agenda has relevance to our work around social cohesion and stability, economic development, environmental stability and toward building resilient communities," he added.
Fiji President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere, who presided over the event,
called on his fellow Pacific leaders to ensure that culture takes center stage in development planning.
“I am of the humble view that it is urgent and crucial as we engage in high-level decision-making that we remember the importance of culture and its contribution to sustainable development," Katonivere said.
"I urge all leaders and decision-makers in this space to reflect on the conversations tonight and as you enter into deep conversations about the future you envision for our Blue Pacific region, that culture remains a significant development priority and enabler for resilience building and positive developmental growth for our people,” he added.
Mapuana de Silva, chair of the Council of Pacific Arts and Culture, said FestPac has evolved over the years to become more than a cultural celebration.
"They offer tangible platforms and opportunities to strengthen, support and harness the benefits of culture mainstreaming and integration, and the due recognition for our invaluable indigenous knowledge systems, our values and our ways of life," Silva said.
"The strategy provides a strong development platform to ensure that culture is appropriately considered and reflected in our efforts towards sustainable development,” she added.
The exhibition brought together Pacific leaders, government ministers, cultural custodians and development partners for an evening of Pacific art and culture including live performances, a photographic exhibition, cultural artifacts and multimedia displays of previous festivals.