Historic preservation can be a powerful force in society, and a community's ability to grow and change is frequently linked closely to that force. This research evaluates current heritage management processes in Pacific nation-states, most of which have been shaped by centuries of colonial administration. The former territories of the United Nation's Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands were transferred from Spanish to German to Japanese and finally American control within a single generation. Only recently have they regained a semblance of the self-determination they had enjoyed before the onslaught of Imperialism.
Decolonisation is a complex process. Although frequently used, it is a term that lacks a clear and widely agreed definition. The simplest definition may involve replacing a foreign administration with a form of self-rule. Definitions that are more complex may involve more radical 'social surgery' to remove cultural associations and constructs built by colonial influences. Similarly, independence is a term that is changing in definition and application. The forces of international econometrics that drive development of a global economy and communication infrastructure disempower small nation-states of the Pacific and increase their dependence on 'economic colonialism'.
Since gaining a level of 'independence', one of the responsibilities that emergent states of Oceania have been tasked with is managing their past on their own terms. Decay processes are so rapid and forceful in tropical areas that preservation of historic property involves a constant and expensive fight to delay the inevitable. Apportioning the limited resources that are available between the frequently conflicting interests of i) economic development, ii) building a national infrastructure and, iii) constructing a national past, is a difficult task.
How much interest can these emergent nations afford to have in documenting and preserving the vestiges of a colonial past? Do different cultures have disparate perceptions of what comprises heritage? What gives cultural heritage value? Who owns it? Who will preserve it?
This research addresses these issues on both a conceptual and a pragmatic level.