Explore the heritage field
Last week we explored the satirical genesis of the witchcraft smear as part of the Bachelor of Arts in Intangible Cultural Heritage (IBH) program offered by the University of Zambia (UNZA).
So far, I get questions from almost everyone who is a first-time learner to teach PCI. For example, when I was meeting one of my former professors in a hallway on campus, he said to me, with a sneer, about my teaching in this program, âSo, are you people?
In addition, our students usually receive such questions from fellow students in other programs and the general public. I have thus learned from these experiences that although this discussion seems to be over, ICH still remains largely misunderstood by the general public, including the intelligentsia. The public perception of any business, especially that directed at the public, is extremely important. Therefore, it is important that we start with the basics by briefly exploring the area of ââheritage and defining ICH.
What is heritage?
Simply put, wealth includes the assets and liabilities passed down from at least one generation to the next. First, the generic term of cultural heritage extends to tangible and intangible aspects. The tangible aspects being subdivided into immovable monuments, movable objects and other material relics of past generations, including biological attributes (such as genes) and human remains. Then the intangible is divided into oral traditions, performing arts, festive events, traditional knowledge and crafts.
For the sake of clarity, David Lowenthal establishes a hypothetical and simplified relationship between history and heritage, in which he views the former as a process and the latter as an event. In this analogy, although disputed by other scholars, the story is like a film and the heritage a snapshot.
Heritage can be at the personal, family, community, national or global level.
In addition, it is essential that we understand the context of the development of heritage studies in order to appreciate this discussion. The field of heritage studies is relatively new as an academic discipline, having taken root in the 1980s. However, the interest of antiquarians, especially in tangible heritage, can vaguely be attributed to efforts to restore monuments inherited from Antiquity in Europe, especially during the Renaissance / Enlightenment period.
In addition, the rooting of heritage studies in academia was preceded by several UNESCO conventions. Let us look briefly at the conventions, the legal instruments of UNESCO governing the protection of heritage at the institutional level. According to the UN, “an international convention or treaty is an agreement between different countries which is legally binding on the contracting states”. Here is a list of the main intergovernmental conventions in the field of heritage:
1954 Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.
2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
2005 Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
These conventions, along with their respective detailed operational guidelines, are freely accessible to everyone online.
As we can see from the names of the above conventions, it is not safe for a nation like Zambia to ratify all the conventions as some of them focus on areas that are not applicable to the country. southern African country. For example, the 1954 Convention on Armed Conflict, Zambia being a considerably peaceful country since independence.
On the other hand, paying attention to the 1972 World Heritage Convention, we noted a report in the news last week on the suspension of government efforts to inscribe the Barotseland Plains as the second site of the World Heritage Site. world heritage in Zambia. So far, only Victoria Falls, shared with Zimbabwe, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List with respect to Zambia. Meanwhile, around 13 countries have more than 20 World Heritage sites within their borders, with Germany, China and Italy each having more than 50. Other countries have World Heritage cities. of UNESCO; I had the privilege of studying the theme of heritage while living in two of these cities.
Although Zambia has so far only one World Heritage site, the National Heritage Conservation Commission, according to a 2001 report by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), recorded around 3,000 heritage sites in Zambia. Yet a website owned by the Zambia Tourism Agency lists more than 4,000 heritage sites.
However, as the definition shows, heritage is a very broad subject covering monuments such as waterfalls, canyons, built heritage; environmental heritage, natural heritage and natural landscapes such as game management areas, national parks, wildlife itself; cultural landscapes, etc. In Zambia, it is safe to say that minerals are also our heritage. The subject also encompasses galleries, libraries, archives and museums – known collectively by their early letters as GLAM institutions. Interestingly, I had classmates with an engineering background who studied architectural heritage. The list is endless which makes the field as diverse as life itself.
Our bone of contention – what is ICH?
According to the 2003 UNESCO Safeguarding Convention listed above, ICH designates âthe practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, know-how – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated with them – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize it as part of their cultural heritage. Another term used to refer to ICH is âLiving Heritageâ. Indeed, this form of heritage is constantly changing state in the light of the many changes in society.
Ultimately, contentious issues such as language, religion (including witchcraft), and practices that violate human rights (eg, female genital mutilation) cannot be classified as PCI. This is in line with the ultimate objective of the United Nations – to promote world peace and security and respect for human rights.
These provisions are the fruit of a long process of deliberations of ten years carried out in many regions of the world by experts through interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches. Next week’s article will explore this process and discuss the 2003 Safeguarding Convention itself.
The author is a cultural consultant and lecturer in cultural studies at the University of Zambia. Email: [email protected], WhatsApp: +260 979 443150.