Cultural Heritage Conservation: Challenges and Responses
The hostage-taking on 8 SeptemberÂ 2009 of MrÂ Thanasis Lerounis from the
Kalashadur Museum and cultural centre which he hadÂ helped to create has
highlighted for many the issues of cultural heritageÂ preservation. Professor
Lerounis, President of the non-governmental organizationÂ Greek Volunteers is an outstanding example of a person devoted toÂ safeguarding the rights and heritage of a small minority who carry with them anÂ ancient culture. The Kalasha, most of whom live in three valleys in the ChitralÂ District ofÂ Pakistan, number around 4000 people.Â They are believed by many to be relatedÂ to the soldiers and merchants of the Asian empire of Alexander.Â Their religious practices have elementsÂ of the 4th century Helenistic faiths. As with all societies, theÂ Kalash people have interacted with their neighbours so that the fire rituals ofÂ the Indo-European Vedic faiths play an important role in Kalash practice as doesÂ the role of shaman who are the living link between the spirit and the humanÂ world.Â
The hostage-takers have taken Lerounis to the Nuristan area of Afghanistan
and are demanding $2 million inÂ cash, the conversion of Lerounis to Islam
and the release of three Pakistan insurgents from jail.Â The Kalasha
negotiators, who have metÂ the hostage-takers three times have no authority to deal with any of theseÂ demands and so for the moment, there has been no progress on theÂ case.
Conserving a cultural heritage is always difficult.Â Weak institutional
capabilities, lack ofÂ appropriate resources and isolation of many culturally
essential sites areÂ compounded by a lack of awareness of the value of
cultural heritageÂ conservation.Â On the other hand,Â the dynamism of local
initiatives and community solidarity systems areÂ impressive assets.Â These forces Â should be enlisted, enlarged, and empowered to preserve and protect aÂ heritage.Â Involving people inÂ cultural heritage conservation both increases the efficiency of culturalÂ heritage conservation and raises awareness of the importance of the past forÂ people facing rapid changes in their environment andÂ values.
Knowledge and understanding of a people?s past can help currentÂ
inhabitants to develop and sustain identity and to appreciate the value of theirÂ own culture and heritage. This knowledge and understanding enriches their livesÂ and enables them to manage contemporary problems more successfully. It isÂ important to retain the best of traditional self-reliance and skills ofÂ ruralÂ life and economies as people adapt toÂ change.
Traditional systems of knowledge are rarely written down: they areÂ
implicit, learnt by practice and example, rarely codified or even articulated byÂ the spoken word.Â They continue toÂ exist as long as they are useful, as longÂ as they are not supplanted by newÂ techniques.Â They are far too easilyÂ
lost.Â It is the objects that comeÂ into being through these systems of
knowledge that ultimately become criticallyÂ important.
Thus, museums, such as the Kalashadur, must become key institutions atÂ the local level.Â The objects thatÂ bear witness to systems of knowledge must
be accessible to those who would visitÂ and learn from them. Culture must be seen in its entirety: how women and menÂ live in the world, how they use it,
preserve it and enjoy it for a betterÂ life.Â Museums allow objects toÂ
speak, to bear witness to past experiences and future possibilities and thus toÂ Â reflect on how things are and how things might otherwiseÂ be.
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