Thursday, May 24, 2012
When researching examples of Intangible Cultural Heritage, I found it more difficult than I had expected to find anything at all. UNESCO gave no examples. I understand that this is most likely due to the intense political problems the country has been facing and it does make sense that the country has been too preoccupied by these more urgent matters to work with UNESCO to preserve ICH. However this is not entirely true I did find an UNESCO article documenting the country's plan to preserve their ICH, however through the whole document they did not venture to give any example of what they planned to preserve, only that they beleived preservation to be vital (
http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=48153&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html) . In the Programs section of the UNESCO website I finally found a description of a "Technical Assistance Mission." There were actually two missions documented on this pager. The first just took place in April of this year. The mission was describes as being an assesment of the cultures condition with a focus on the "music sector" (http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/cultural-diversity/diversity-of-cultural-expressions/programmes/technical-assistance/missions/dr-congo/). They explain that it is their plan to use the information gained on this mission to develop a "cultural policy" that will aid in the cultivation of the DRC's cultural industry. This UNESCO page also explains that the country has already succesfully achieved a few tasks with the goal developing their “cultural industry” like finding a way to manage intellectual property rights and creating a “Cinema Week” which made easy documentation of the film industry possible. Most of these efforts sounded business related, which makes sense since the DRC is so rich in resources and must be very conscious of its business opportunities. However, they did mention the “music sector” which makes me believe this may be UNESCO’s beginning stages of identifying which kinds of ICH need to be preserved.
Hoping to find examples of ICH preservation projects outside of UNESCO I kept searching and found a resource called the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation (http://kinshasa.usembassy.gov/highlight_english_11222011.html). This fund was created by the U.S. Government and issues grants to support cultural preservation projects. The article I found featured a $24,500 grant given to Democratic Republic of Congo’s National Institute of Museums for the purposes of renovating one of the Museum’s annexes and preserving and storing the objects within it. While this is not an example of ICH the article also mentioned that the AFCP had funded the DRC in the past. Looking through their past reward letters I found that in 2010 the AFCP rewarded The DRC $30,466 toward the “Documentation of Traditional Pygmy Music” (http://exchanges.state.gov/media/pdfs/office-of-policy-and-evaluations/ambassadors-fund/afcp2010list.pdf). This was the best example I could find, yet I could not find any information on the process or result of the documentation.
Another source of funding I found was very surprising. It was from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. I was not expecting funding for the DRC from Japan, however it seems Japan has a ICH Preservation Fund with UNESCO. In their list of completed Projects is “The Polyphonic Singing of the Aka Pygmies of Central Africa” which was conducted from 2004 to 2008 in the DRC. http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/culture/coop/unesco/c_heritage/i_heritage/preservation/index.html The funding purposes here are echoed in the 2010 AFCP grant. However the title of this project is a little more descriptive, specifying the Pygmies “Polphonic Singing” rather than just “Traditional Pygmy Music.”
One other interesting sources I found was a dancing company called Fua Dia Congo, which apparently means “Congolese Heritage” (http://www.dancersgroup.org/content/programs/articles/2007/2007December_54.html). This company boasts of 30 years of “preservation, promotion, and study” of Kongo Kingdom culture (culture of Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Gabon, and the Central African Republic). On their website they explain that “the company presents the region’s cultural values through performances incorporating song, music, and dance, and offers lecture-demonstrations, dance camps, guest workshops with visiting African masters, and weekly dance classes.” However the catch is that this company is based in Palo Alto, California and aside from a trip to the Congo in 2008 they do not seem to be connected with the roots where this culture is from.
This brings us to the questions of who is preserving the culture and for whom are they preserving it. We see the U.S. give grants on behalf of ICH preservation, we see Japan fund ICH preservation, and we see this money go toward the safeguarding of traditional Pygmy music. It is significant to me that this is the only form of ICH I can find being funded for safeguarding. As far as I know, pygmy traditions are not a good example of the current culture in the DRC. However I do know that the DRC is rich in different kinds musical and dance culture. It seems like very narrow and very, forgive me, “tribal” focus. As if it is important to the rest of the world that the very old very tribal-like music and dances be representative of African Culture. While in this journal I did focus on some aspects of Congolese culture that some could consider “tribal,” like masks, I also found it important to look at what is still alive in Congolese modern culture, like contemporary music. This kind of balance is what I would like to see more from UNESCO,