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The Work of Tourism and the Fight for a New Economy: The Case of the Paupa New Guinea Mask Festival

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The annual Papua New Guinea Mask, held in the town of Rabaul, is organized by the government in order to, "preserve and protect culture in PNG," yet it is also explicitly envisaged as a potential tourist attraction. There are often tensions between the two stated purposes of the event, with local critics arguing that the event damages rather than preserves custom. The participation of the tubuan, a masked dancing figure of the local Tolai people, provokes particular concern; tubuans mark the relationships between clans and the propriety of raising them when they "have no work to do" is questioned. This is not the only controversy surrounding the festival. Since a volcanic eruption in 1994 the provincial capital has been moved to the nearby town of Kokopo, provoking anger among those with commercial interests in Rabaul. They suspect corrupt financial motives lie behind attempts to move the Festival to Kokopo. These two seemingly unrelated controversies both express unease about the nature of economic relations in the postdisaster environment. The first expresses a consciousness of economic differentiation among grassroots Tolai, of which a feeling that elites are commercializing custom is a central part. The second expresses a sense among the previously economically powerful that the disaster has been used to reorganize the political economy to their disadvantage. The contest over the location and meaning of the Festival can be understood as a part of a wider struggle to renegotiate economic relations in the context of postdisaster reconstruction and of ongoing neoliberal globalization.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-07-01

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  • Tourism, Culture & Communication is international in its scope and will place no restrictions upon the range of cultural identities covered, other than the need to relate to tourism and hospitality. The Journal seeks to provide interdisciplinary perspectives in areas of interest that may branch away from traditionally recognized national and indigenous cultures, for example, cultural attitudes toward the management of tourists with disabilities, gender aspects of tourism, sport tourism, or age-specific tourism.
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