At school in Port Moresby we would all – native and foreign students – celebrate PNG’s Independence Day. We would don tribal attires, leafy skirts and face paints, to dance to the rhythmic beat of kundu drums and sing in a myriad of colourful languages; a celebration and recognition of the uniqueness of each one of us. Hardly recognizable, in my tribal gear, to my own family at the event, I relished finding myself in someone else’s shoes – or in this case, out of them, in the freedom of bare feet! It was a rare opportunity afforded to few in a globalised world, where lived experience of such intense diversity is fast disappearing.
I was unable to understand, let alone articulate, how the concept of dance, dress, and song seemed to magically bring people together – regardless of their differences. But over the years it has developed in my mind where I now see these practises rooted in something far more fundamental – culture – the invisible thread that ties us all together.
Communication technologies have compressed time and space, turning our world into a virtual global village. This remarkable blue marble, once a whole universe to us – has come to resemble no more than an overcrowded island. But paradoxically, instead of becoming united as closer neighbours, the systems that connect us have brought about more divisions and inter-cultural rifts.
Today, prejudice and the fear of losing one’s identity combine to raise cultural barriers in place of cultural bridges. We have succumbed to the thinking that conflict is due to a ‘clash of cultures’ but we must realise that the true problem we face is a ‘clash of ignorance’. As observed by His Highness the Aga Khan, founder of the Global Centre of Pluralism:
“The quest for identity can become an exclusionary process – so that we define ourselves less by what we are for and more by whom we are against… diversity is not a reason to put up walls, but rather to open windows.”
Each of us has a unique and valuable perspective to offer that is invaluable in cultivating a greater shared perspective. By fostering a pluralist culture, we enable everyone to share their unique perspectives and stories. In so doing, society suppresses the single story. So, let us commit ourselves to unity, but not uniformity; to diversity, but not divisiveness. The challenge for our generation will be to get this balance right.
Aly Sultan is a Papua New Guinean social entrepreneur and writer. He is the founder of Ink Link, an organization which empowers young voices from around the globe. He says: “Growing up in Papua New Guinea – the most linguistically diverse nation in the world – has highlighted to me the importance of language and its connective power. Despite the innumerable number of tribes, where difference may be the only commonality, there seems to be unity in this diversity. This unity stems from the belief that everyone has a unique and valuable perspective to offer that is invaluable in cultivating a greater shared perspective.” “https://www.inklink.online/post/pilot