Trademarking Traditional Cultures

“How can we promote cultural industries if we are unable to protect our cultural rights in our own country first?” – Eliesa Tuiloma

Last year, an airway in Fiji announced that they were planning on trademarking the 15 cloth designs, or masi kesakesa, of an artist Makareta Matemosi as a part of a rebranding initiative. This announcement was met with objection from many who argue that the artist did not create the designs, but borrowed them from existing cultural designs. A opposition Facebook group exists whose description says, “We are happy for Air Pacific, our national airline to USE traditional indigenous art on its proud new aircrafts but OBJECT to the corporation owning legal and commercial rights to the 15 other motifs, all of which are popularly used in traditional cultural art. We advocate that cultural art should remain in the public domain for all to enjoy.”

This example is one of potentially many conflicts that could occur in the South Pacific if traditional cultures are not protected and guarded by custodians of the knowledge. But many of the islands still need to come up with strategies to preserve their indigenous cultures for future generations.

Currently there exists a law that protects traditional cultures of Oceania  and, “designed to legislate traditional and moral rights over traditional knowledge and expressions of culture that previously might have been regarded as part of the public domain, recognizing that the traditional custodians of cultural heritage remain the primary decision makers regarding its use.” There is also an organization in Fiji, iTaukei Institute of Language and Culture that has an inventory of indigenous Fijian traditional knowledge and culture. These modern legal proceedings sometimes clash with traditional customs and “many scholars remain skeptical about the value and consequences of marrying the anthropological idea of culture with the legal concept of property.”

anthro blog #3