The ‘unnatural’ legal framing of traditional knowledge and forms of cultural expression in the Pacific | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 1, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2050-4039
  • E-ISSN: 2050-4047



The consequences of social and economic development in Pacific island states are far reaching and on a number of levels illustrate the head-on collision of endogamous and exogamous forces. This is particularly evident in the ways in which manifestations of cultural property and traditional knowledge are harnessed and regulated. Laws inspired by western liberal thinking and capitalist economies see intellectual effort as giving rise to property rights and their related remedies, which are premised on individualism, exclusion and the commodity value of knowledge and creativity and its physical manifestation. Traditional, indigenous perceptions are however different. While knowledge may be power it is not always exclusive, individual or commercial. Cultural property creates networks of exchange and reflects continuums between the past and the present, between people and generations, and people and places. Increasingly, there is pressure internally and externally to exploit and use cultural property and traditional knowledge to meet the economic imperatives of development. Linked to this is a real or perceived need to adopt or incorporate a range of legal measures. Many of these are reflections of the colonial past of Pacific islands and an illustration of the neo-colonial present. There are, however, some attempts to moderate this onslaught and to take steps to shape the ­regulatory ­framework in a way that bridges the traditional and the modern. This article considers the challenges facing Pacific island states seeking to articulate laws that meet the demands of modernity and satisfy the values of tradition.


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