We woke up to a wonderful news yesterday morning in my homeland, when we found out that one of our traditions was added to the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of UNESCO – a group of major festivals held throughout our nation with the common feature of large floats being pulled around the streets.
(I believe the idea behind it is similar to festivals with shrine carriages marching around the streets, like the one here, in which it is believed God(s) are on these vehicles to spread fortune and/or provide protection from misfortunes to the people.)
One of the reasons why my people had been working to get this tradition inscribed on the list of ICH is to gain new sources of funds and subsequent generations to continue the tradition. The festivals used to be organized and operated, and therefore sponsored and passed on, within a fairly closed society in which they are held. But with a surge in people’s mobility, both in and out as well as temporary and permanent, which only seems to accelerate in this day and age, they had to start looking outside – not just the closed societies but our nation – for sustainable resources.
Now, to be honest, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I feel that “cultural heritage” is something that has a strong influence on how you think and feel, and thus, although it can be equally respected, it cannot be equally understood by those within and outside the culture. If looking in from the outside, it could interest you as to why or how it is, but it may not invigorate you to want to keep it be as it is.
I know this from my own experience… being brought up abroad, there are parts of my culture I simply cannot accept as my own, whether for lack of ability or will. I cannot tell you just how many times I have gotten into trouble not being able to go along with the ambiguity my people so values!
On the other hand, I am beginning to see some changes in the way we pass on our traditions. Whereas before, we were an extremely homogeneous population and we all thought and felt the same (or so it was believed), so we were never explicitly taught but expected to learn to act the same just through observation – now, we are quickly becoming aware that we all think and feel differently, even within our own people and especially from those outside our population, so we are articulating not only how to act but also what to appreciate and enjoy.
I know this from my own experience… I used to ask my former teacher for the traditional art of tea many questions she had never been asked, but she always tried to give explanations she never needed to until I became her student to the best she could.
So, maybe I fear that every time we invite in some outside resources, we will not be able to pass on our culture as a whole and lose a part.
But maybe I am also hopeful that every time we invite in some outside resources, we will be able to gain new insight into parts of our culture, whose sum could lead to a greater whole of our culture than as we see it at the moment.
Maybe I know this from my own experience… as I continue to learn to tat in Asia, I am witnessing contributions from around the world to share skills and knowledge, both old and new, on this European cultural heritage so it can be passed on to future generations of tatters. I am certain the whole of it today is much greater than the sum of its parts in the past!
I am still a novice so I may not understand this cultural heritage in its entirety, but I am so glad to be a part of it.