When speaking is a risky business. Understanding silence and interpreting the power of the past in Wanigela, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea

Elizabeth BONSHEK

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract: The increased importance placed upon interaction between 'source communities' and museums which hold cultural heritage collections has been described by Peers and Brown (Museums and Source Communities. A Routledge Reader , 2003, p. 1) as `one of the most important developments in the history of museums'. This interaction entails the relinquishment of the museum's authoritative voice and the empowerment of the indigenous voice. This development assumes that source communities would have something to say about museum collections. My experience in a rural community in Papua New Guinea revealed complex dynamics surrounding museum objects. In Wanigela, questions about objects in museum collections were often met with hesitancy and silence. It was only when these objects became relevant within the context of local issues, embedded within social relationships between people that silences were eventually broken and the diverse significances surrounding silences emerged. An approach driven by academic or museological concerns over collections proved to be problematic in identifying the contemporary significance of the collections for Wanigelans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-105
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Material Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


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