UNESCO Constructs in Context: Official Cultural Heritage in Southeast Asian States and Communities
Thu 09:00-10:30 Room 3.03
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From Residential Area to Heritage Site: Tourism as A Vehicle for Regenerating Buddhist Pilgrimage Site in Bagan (Myanmar)
Shengxi Zeng Institut de Recherche et d'Etudes Supérieures du Tourisme/Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
As the former capital of the Kingdom of Burma, Bagan is often described as “the city of a thousand temples”. This ancient city is not only a place to live for its inhabitants but also an important Buddhist pilgrimage site. The Myanmar government, well aware of the appeal of this heritage, succeeded in having it inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for 2019. This effort intends both to protect it and to make it one of the driving forces behind the development of local tourism. To demonstrate the appropriation of heritage by powerful local and external actors, this paper uses the theory regarding “the production of space” (Lefebvre 1991, Guy 2003) to discover how the landscape, the cultural policies, the tourism practices and the daily lives of inhabitants have changed over the years. From a geographical perspective, I question the social relations of possession and the conflicting processes of appropriation that can be observed in the production of space. First, I examine three key junctures of state appropriation—1999, 2005 and 2018, which correspond to three distinct stages in the production of space in this pilgrimage site by the state. Second, I turn to the communities that proclaim their sovereignty and legitimacy to occupy the space in the name of preserving traditional rituals and regenerating the pilgrimage site. From residential area to heritage site, this paper examines how the local population use tourism to imagine and mark their territory in their own ways.
Legal Protection of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Sea Nomadic Bajau Laut Community in Malaysia
Diyana Sulaiman Universiti Teknologi MARA
The sea nomadic Bajau Laut (also known as Sama Dilaut) community living in the maritime region between Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia is also one of three main groups of sea nomads known to reside in a region which include the Malaysian waters. The community’s intangible cultural heritage includes the traditional skills of boatmaking and the igal dance. The community’s interactions with the maritime area in Semporna, Sabah and the surrounding natural environment enable them to safeguard the maritime environment. However, as a stateless group in Malaysia, the continuity of the community’s intangible cultural heritage is at risk. Through analysis of applicable international treaties, national laws and policies, as well as scholarly works in this area, this paper seeks to uncover the tangles between the expectations and the reality experienced by the sea nomadic Bajau Laut community in Malaysia concerning the protection of the community’s intangible cultural heritage.
The (De)Construction of Rural Identity as Cultural Heritage in Vietnam – Agricultural Peripheries as New Centers of Tourism Development
Franziska Nicolaisen Passau University
This paper analyzes the role of nature in the production of cultural heritage in Vietnam, using the case study of the UNESCO world heritage site, H?i An ancient town. In recent years rural peripheries have been increasingly integrated into urban centers of heritage sites to serve tourism development, for example, in the form of “agritourism”. Visitors include the emerging Vietnamese urban middle class, who visits these spaces to fulfill aspirations of rural nostalgia. The question is how this integration of the agricultural hinterland is embedded in local discourses of authenticity, rural nostalgia, and Vietnamese identity. This paper engages with the concept of authenticity as defined by UNESCO and discusses its application in the context of H?i An ancient town. Furthermore, current processes of rural integration are traced based on official planning documents and newspaper articles related to agritourism. Finally, based on a review of academic literature on tourism, heritage production, and rural nostalgia, this paper conceptualizes the role of authenticity and rural identity in cultural heritage sites in Vietnam. Rural lifestyle and identity are part of Vietnamese folklore and history, in which they are depicted as peaceful and desirable. In contemporary Vietnam, nature serves as a marketing tool to attract tourists and as a backdrop for pictures, to share a specific image with the outside world. Furthermore, agricultural production shifts towards serving the needs of tourists. While offering economic opportunities, these emerging practices create new power hierarchies and transfer ownership of local traditions and material spaces to the national level.
World Heritage registration, national ideals and economic development: Ban Chiang, Thailand
Roberto B Gozzoli Mahidol University International College
In many parts of the world, Southeast Asia included, there has been a rush to register as many sites as possible within the World Heritage list, both for its presumed Outstanding Universal Value, and the hope of the tourism generated income. Such a rush to registration to registration however, can be a double edge sword and justification for this statement can come from the site of Ban Chiang, Thailand. It was registered in the World Heritage list in 1992, based on the presumed antiquity of rice farming and bronze smelting, as stated by the original field archaeologists in mid-1970s. The national heritage discourse promoted such antiquity of the site, but researches in late 1980s had already raised doubts over such early dating. And yet, the shops selling souvenirs still have T-shirts and memorabilia celebrating 5,000 years of the site, when the site has been recognised to be no more than 3,500 years old and not the “first” any longer. The site was severely looted since late 1960s, as soon as the pottery typical of Ban Chiang culture was sold to visitors to the site – among them, American GIs stationed nearby during the Vietnam War. It was supposed that the UNESCO brand would contribute to bring more tourists to the site, but as researches conducted in the last couple have demonstrated, since the registration, the site has not been able to attract visitors in sufficient number to create an alternative tourism economy within the village. Moreover, any community’s aspiration about the site has been essentially ignored during the planning stage, as Ban Chiang community was simply considered as the looters. Based on such experience, any push toward World Heritage registration should be considered with attention by national cultural heritage management organisations.
The near-universal acceptance of UNESCO’s world heritage and intangible heritage conventions have recontextualised state-sponsored preservations of the past. Antiquities, archaeological resources, and living traditions become “cultural heritage” whose preservation symbolises not only the commitment to sanctifying the national identity, but also the assertion of sovereignty through international pageantry that is expected to boost domestic tourism. In their attempt to do so, states regularly come into conflict with local communities whose grassroots aspirations and concerns are often far removed from the nation building and cultural Disneyfication consequent from the implementation of these UNESCO constructs on the ground. How has this story, welltold elsewhere, played out in under-studied Southeast Asia?
This panel invites scholars on either side of this dynamic. We welcome papers that, on the one hand, explore how Southeast Asian states absorb and contextualise the heritage conventions into their respective laws and policies. What are the meanings instilled into cultural heritage as a domestic legal construct in Southeast Asian states? What are the uses envisioned from the preservation of official heritage and to what extent have they been achieved? On the other hand, we also seek to spotlight papers that delve into the various ways through which Southeast Asian communities, defined broadly, respond to the state’s heritage ambitions or otherwise engage with these UNESCO constructs. How are Southeast Asian artists, businesses, and, more importantly, marginalised communities such as the indigenous peoples, affected by top-down heritage projects? What types of tension have emerged in the implementation of heritage laws and policies on the ground—and how does the state navigate this fraught relationship with the people in the preservation of the(ir) past?