Public Policies and Rural Heritage Traditions: Bangladesh and Greece

Theme: Public Sector Policies and Its Impact on the Rural Communities

by Ms. Reema Islam
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Dhaka, Bangladesh
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
M.A. in Heritage Management, Kent University (UK) and Athens University of Economics and Business

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Cultural heritage policies are some of the lesser-known. Unconventional policies of many countries, wherein the case of Europe, for some countries, they have been in use since the 2000s. The need arose for these countries to start feeling the need to economize this particular aspect of society. This concept is thought to have been further cemented during the economic crises of 2008 and one of the main reasons mentioned was to augment cultural tourism. These terms not only gained credence and credibility during this era but also worked as a catalyst to bring in this new change which saw cultural heritage as an economic commodity rather than just a common heritage and identity. It was seen as a way to not only attract tourists with a firm image and showcasing of a nation’s tangible and intangible heritage, but policies also took the help of earlier laws such as Archaeology laws, rules and acts to further form newer ones. “When dealing with cultural heritage, especially tangible heritage, regulation, in the form of listing, constraints, rules, etc., is the most frequently used tool. However, economists generally frown upon this policy instrument because it creates inefficiency, bears administrative and compliance costs, does not provide an incentive to improve and can be captured through lobbying. On the other hand, regulation is widely used as it presents several advantages: it is often the instrument of last resort when there are no other options when the public interest is at risk when a fast solution is needed.” (Rizzo and Mignosa, 2013). In this mode, Greece’s cultural policies can be safely said are better than countries like Bangladesh, which, although not known globally for its cultural heritage, still has four elements inscribed as Intangible Cultural Heritage (UNESCO ICH, 2019). This simply sheds a light on the fact that cultural heritage is nonetheless considered of due importance, even in countries that are not known for it internationally, whereas nations like Greece which have a better image as archaeologically and culturally rich, have a more organized policy framework.

Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy (En.banglapedia.org, 2019) is the main official cultural centre of Bangladesh. It is a national institution, administered by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, with its principal objectives being presenting the culture of Bangladesh and fostering the arts. The academy actively supports new projects, artists, exhibitions, with soft skills as well as providing a venue and liaising between other cultural institutions and organizations, to sanction grants etc. It also has a wing that conducts research on traditional heritage and culture. UNESCO Dhaka Office in cooperation with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy convened a series of training workshops to strengthen the national institutional capacities of Bangladesh to implement the 2003 Convention under the project “Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Development in Bangladesh” (Ich.unesco.org, 2019). Funding came from UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund and contributions from Azerbaijan. The workshop focused on training relevant stakeholders upon the procedure of ‘nomination’, providing insights on preparing nomination files for the Urgent Safeguarding List and Representative List. UNESCO has also held other workshops in order to strengthen the local knowledge base on safeguarding and promoting local intangible or tangible culture. One of the main purposes of these would be to “sensitize national authorities about the importance and significance of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage and in particular ICH elements in need of urgent safeguarding, by providing some consultative guidance and advisory on ICH Policy development; and by reinforcing their capacities to prepare nomination files for inscription on the Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage.” (ibid) Bangladesh inscribed four elements so far (tradition of Shital Pati weaving; Mangal Shubhojatra on Pohela Baishakh; traditional art of Jamdani weaving; Baul songs) and they have involved training and documenting and also building an infrastructure of these communities where the elements originate. Yet the efforts are not as widely affecting as could be expected, but unfortunately, this information is not well streamlined and remains fairly un-documented or not written or scholarly debated about. The general lack of policies always comes underplay and in this light and the following example is being used to highlight how cultural heritage preservation where communities play a major role in maintaining traditions, has cross-cutting issues and needs to be looked at broadly rather than a single focused topic.

The National Rural Development Policy of 2001 (Rdcd.portal.gov.bd, 2019) has a tiny section that states the following regarding the concept of cultural heritage and rural communities or traditions. “Culture and Heritage: Rich indigenous local culture of different regions of Bangladesh comprising fairytales, myths, folklore and songs will be preserved and a congenial atmosphere will be created for their preservation and improvement; Arrangement will be made to promote an ideal environment for organizing and nursing folklore, rituals, festivals, village fair, etc. peculiar to different parts of the country; A positive attitude will be developed among rural people towards preserving archaeological resources discovered and identified so far in rural areas which are reminiscences of the genesis, evolution and continuity of the country’s culture.” In the case of Shital Pati (Ich.unesco.org, 2019) weaving, certain measures have been taken to safeguard the technique and the continuation of this art form; “the craft is a major source of livelihood and a strong marker of identity; primarily a family-based craft, it helps to reinforce family bonding and create a harmonious social atmosphere. Mastery of the technique commands social prestige, and the practice empowers underprivileged communities, including women. The government promotes awareness of the element through local and national craft fairs, and Shital Pati communities are increasingly being organized into cooperatives to ensure the efficient safeguarding and transmission of the craft and guarantee its profitability. Safeguarding efforts involve the direct participation of the communities concerned and the practice is primarily transmitted from generation to generation within the families of craftspeople.”

Figure 1 Masks for the Shubho Mongoljatri Procession (UNESCO ICH (2019). Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Development in Bangladesh – Capacity-building Training Workshop on ICH Nomination. Available at: https://ich.unesco.org/en/news/safeguarding-intangible-cultural-heritage-for-sustainable-development-in-bangladesh-capacity-building-training-workshop-on-ich-nomination-00287 [Accessed 23 Dec. 2019])

However, in the following example, we need to consider that the unique system of using otters may be considered as a very integral part of the intangible heritage of this region. However, instead of using a cultural policy here, rural development policies and also, fisheries policies were applied to justify salvaging a particular form of agricultural practice, to maintain the balance of the eco-system, wherein the traditional practices involved in farming etc. This might be a roundabout way of approaching the subject but in a country where cultural policies are not properly delineated, it has to be cross-cutting issues that address this issue instead.

Figure 2 Otter Fishing Bangladesh(Turner, C. (2014), Bangladesh’s Otter Fishing Tradition Faces Extinction. Available at: https://phys.org/news/2014-03-bangladesh-otter-fishing-tradition-extinction.html [Accessed 23 Dec. 2019])

Otter fishing in the World Heritage Site of Sundarbans in South-Western Bangladesh, has a unique form of fishing, using otters to aid the fishermen to spot the cluster of fish in the narrow canals or the big rivers that form a crisscross network running along the periphery of the core area of the forest (Press and Journal, 2019). These otters are traditionally used and continue to offer the fishermen with a livelihood through their contributions. The fishermen depend on them and form a unique system wherein the otter is also being conserved through its beneficial use to the community. The area is severely impacted due to climate change issues and fishermen have been losing the rights to fish as the Forest Department would like to allow the fish to reach not only a certain size but also for their populations to replenish. The idea is to foster sustainable fishing and preserve the various aquatic species. The fishermen have suffered immensely through even a recent two-month ban (Dhaka Tribune, 2019) implemented by the forest dept, which was detrimental to their livelihoods as they were not provided with an alternate source of income. The authorities justified the ban, stating that the said period is the breeding season for most of the fish available in the rivers. However, fishing has been going on in the Sundarbans for a long time now and traditional methods like using otters make in an integral part of intangible heritage that deserves protection and salvaging. A training workshop was held in a bid to prevent the creatures from being hunted to extinction and efforts included encouraging local people to value the otters is to encourage them to use the animals to help them catch fish. An international organization arranged this workshop and aimed to use the knowledge gained from Bangladesh for other countries to encourage the sustainable use of otters, fostering their preservation and conservation.

With Greece, being a nation a Directorate of Intangible Cultural Heritage, under the Ministry of Culture and Sports, looks after all the measures required to undertake the sustainable and economically viable tasks to encourage communities and promote their rural traditions and practices for the promotion of cultural heritage. However, in cases where local knowledge and know-how was extensively used as in the case of mastic (mastic, a gum resin from a tree, an endemic of the island of Chios) growers and inscribing this as an element, locals had to form and organised cooperatively. The Mastic Growers’ Association acts as a go-between for the growers with the market and a non-exclusive committee. Planned measures include establishing a Centre for Mastic Safeguarding in the local museums, to undertake research, educational and promotional activities. So it can be observed that similarly in Greece, which seems to have a more streamlined approach towards intangible cultural heritage, locals still had to take an initiative and form an organized body. This does go to show that despite having policies that promote and support cultural activities, local communities need to unite and work as a single body with other partners, in order to continue with their traditions and heritage. A study has shown that cultural heritage in Greece is now heavily contributing to tourism. This has been a major encouragement for the locals trying to bolster their economy and it also contributes to the national economy. This contribution of “conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage (measure 323; 7%)”, (Enrd.ec.europa.eu, 2019) shows a definite bend towards economizing or monetizing rural traditions and culture.

Going over the above-mentioned facts and scenarios, it seems that cultural traditions are somewhat embedded in other concepts, for instance, the promotion of local tourism. Greece is gradually coming out of economic crises and the lack of business did leave tourism as one of its major economic contributors. Annual tourists have reached 3 million and (Ekathimerini.com, 2019) and this is largely drawing in people who would like to try the culinary heritage of Greece. Rural communities and their environmental issues need to be considered if Greece, or any country for that matter, wants to continue providing guests with the same quality of food. Climate change and other impacts need to be taken into account as in the case of Sundarbans where a fishing ban in order to help the variety of species survive, is just a small example of how the rural environment has an impact on traditions and their sustainability. Also, in the case of Shital Pati, the basic material used to make it is also at risk of being lost or going extinct, given the overpopulation and overuse of it (Alo, 2019). However, at the same time, one must consider the fact that this is the right time for small-time entrepreneurs to come up. The general climate of investment being low, Greece can benefit from entrepreneurs taking up small-time projects. The financial margin kept at a minimum, small businesses can create a value chain, committed to maintaining a certain tradition.

Figure 3 Shital Pati (Prothom Alo English Desk (2017), UNESCO Recognizes ‘Shital Pati’ as Cultural Heritage. Available at: https://en.prothomalo.com/lifestyle/UNESCO-recognises-%E2%80%98Shital-Pati%E2%80%99-as-cultural [Accessed 20 Dec. 2019])

Bibliography:

  1. Rizzo, I., & Mignosa, A. (Eds.). (2013). Handbook on the Economics of Cultural Heritage. Edward Elgar Publishing.
  2. Banglapedia National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (n.d.). Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy. Available at: http://en.banglapedia.org/index.php?title=Bangladesh_Shilpakala_Academy [Accessed 22 Dec. 2019].
  3. UNESCO ICH (n.d.). Strengthening National Capacities for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Development in Bangladesh. Available at: https://ich.unesco.org/en/projects/strengthening-national-capacities-for-safeguarding-intangible-cultural-heritage-for-sustainable-development-in-bangladesh-00371 [Accessed 23 Dec. 2019].
  4. Restan, S. (2014). Skye Charity Helps to Protect Otters in Bangladesh. Available at: www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/407614/skye-charity-helps-to-protect-otters-in-bangladesh/ [Accessed 23 Dec. 2019].
  5. UNB (2019). Fishermen Decry Sundarbans Fishing Ban. Available at: http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2019/08/27/fishermen-decry-sundarbans-fishing-ban [Accessed 23 Dec. 2019].
  6. Rural Development and Cooperatives Division Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (2001). National Rural Development Policy -2001. Available at: https://rdcd.portal.gov.bd/sites/default/files/files/rdcd.portal.gov.bd/policies/1b246ad9_1a74_4041_8573_6e671d858310/NRD.pdf.pdf [Accessed 23 Dec. 2019].
  7. UNESCO ICH (2017). Traditional Art of Shital Pati Weaving of Sylhet. Available at: https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/traditional-art-of-shital-pati-weaving-of-sylhet-01112 [Accessed 23 Dec. 2019].
  8. UNESCO ICH (n.d.). Bangladesh – UNESCO State Party and the 2003 Convention. Available at: https://ich.unesco.org/en/state/bangladesh-BD [Accessed 23 Dec. 2019].
  9. UNESCO ICH (n.d.). Greece – UNESCO State Party and the 2003 Convention. Available at: https://ich.unesco.org/en/state/greece-GR [Accessed 23 Dec. 2019].
  10. Hellenic Republic Ministry of Culture and Sports (2016). Greece Quadrennial Periodic Report on Policies and Measures to Protect and Promote the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Available at: https://fr.unesco.org/creativity/sites/creativity/files/periodic_reports/files/2016_greece_quadrennial_periodic_report_on_2005_unesco_convention_final.29.11.2016.pdf [Accessed 24 Dec. 2019].
  11. European Network for Rural Development (2010). Rural Development Programme of Greece “Alexandros Baltatzis” 2007 – 2013. Available at: http://enrd.ec.europa.eu/enrd-static/fms/pdf/BC9DBA4E-FD9F-AC8F-E72D-B5C0CAE18C17.pdf [Accessed 23 Dec. 2019].
  12. Bellos, I. (2019). Greece is Over-reliant on Tourism. Available at: www.ekathimerini.com/241056/article/ekathimerini/business/greece-is-over-reliant-on-tourism [Accessed 23 Dec. 2019].

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