PNG court orders Parliament carvings replaced

A Papua New Guinea court has ordered the Parliament’s Speaker, Theodore Zurenuoc, to replace, repair or return totems and 19 traditional carvings that he had removed from Parliament three years ago.

Mr Zurenuoc, a devout Christian, said his actions were aimed at cleansing the building of evil spiritswhen he oversaw the “evil and ungodly” artefacts’ destruction in December 2013.

But the court found that he acted unconstitutionally and breached the National Cultural Property Act.

Justice David Cannings gave the Speaker six months to reinstall the items, and ordered that the work be paid for out of parliamentary funds.

Former parliamentary speaker Timothy Bonga told Pacific Beat the destruction was a blow to Papua New Guinea’s cultural pride.

“Well the artefacts can be restored, definitely yes. But the manner in which the Speaker has done it has totally destroyed the spirit of pride of our people in terms of their culture,” he said.

As well as a row of carved faces that adorned the front of Parliament before being torn down, carvings in a 4-tonne totem pole inside Parliament were removed by workmen.

Mr Zurenuoc had proposed the whole totem pole be replaced by a “Pillar of Unity”, topped by a flame and “The Word of God” written at its base.

One of the plaintiffs and National Museum and Art Gallery director Dr Andrew Moutu told Pacific Beat in 2013 that many of the artefacts were beyond repair.

“They were really, really desacralised,” Dr Moutu said.

“[The row of carved faces was] chopped in three bits using a chainsaw, removed unceremoniously and then dumped… in Parliament.”

Dr Moutu is expected to give an official statement on Tuesday.

The other plaintiff was founding prime minister Sir Michael Somare.

Justice Canning said the removal of the images infringed on the rights of individuals as stipulated in section 45 of the constitution.

He said the Speaker attempted to compel his religion upon others, thereby breaching section 45.

He said the section gave the right to all to practice any religion and maintain their beliefs, thus the Speaker’s Act was contrary to that right.

Prominent religious leader Reverend Joseph Walters supported the Speaker’s actions.

“They’re just from one or two provinces that, as you know, that are steeped in … things of the dark ages, or dark people,” he said in 2013.

But the president of the PNG Council of Churches, Father Danny Gukatells, said Mr Zurenuoc’s actions went against Christianity, and he had no support for what he had done.

“The Speaker cannot impose his own personal Christian ideas in doing this,” he said.

— With Richard Ewart

Originally at ABC News