Commercialization of Traditional Designs by Mail Courier – Part 1

The application of traditional design for commercial uses, including fabrics, clothing, apparel, merchandise, company logos, and branding, is common in PNG. Especially traditional fabrics and clothing are very popular today. There is a wonderful trend in booming bilum sales and now a more recent phenomenon of making fabrics based on bilum patterns and designs that are unique to different parts of PNG.
Who are the players in the commercialization of traditional designs?

1. The traditional designers
These are the traditional custodians of designs and patterns. This knowledge is passed from generation to generation in certain communities. They own collective intellectual property rights to their designs. The tapa design and its variations are unique to the people of the Northern Province. In East Sepik you have unique designs of the woserabilum and the yangoru bilum. In the Central Province, the traditional women’s tattoos are also very popular designs. In the southern Highlands there are the Imbongu basket makers.

2. The marketers
In the last decade here in PNG there has been an increase in SMEs, entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs helping traditional weavers and artisans to market their products. Recently, social entrepreneur Dr. Preston Karue raised awareness behind the Birmingham Bilums of the amazing work he is doing to strengthen East Sepik by helping them commercialize the Bilums they make. He opened bank accounts for them and helped them improve their standard of living. Others buy in bulk from weavers and resell them in their shops. Local artists are making more money now as marketers are popping up to help them connect with clients.
A recent phenomenon, however considered controversial, is that marketers are taking traditional designs unique to different cultures and mass producing them on fabric and selling them to customers. The National Culture Commission has termed this “cultural appropriation”.

3. The Regulatory Authorities
These are the National Culture Commission and the Intellectual Property Office. The National Culture Commission is mandated by the Government to support, facilitate, preserve, protect, develop, promote and protect the traditional cultures of the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) manages the registration of trademarks, patents and industrial designs. It also addresses copyright matters by providing information on copyright protection.

What is cultural appropriation?
According to Wikipedia, cultural appropriation is the inappropriate or unrecognized adoption of one or more elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity. It is considered detrimental to cultural preservation as it involves the exploitation of another culture’s religious and cultural traditions, dance steps, fashion, symbols, language and music

way forward
Before traditional designs, arts and crafts can be commercialized, all of the above stakeholders need to come together and agree on a win-win situation for all involved. A memorandum of understanding was signed between regulators last week to pave the way forward and guidelines are being developed in consultation with all stakeholders to regulate the sector.

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