Intangible Heritage – Why should we care? | Prof. Máiréad Nic Craith | TEDxHeriotWattUniversity

Intangible Heritage – Why should we care? | Prof. Máiréad Nic Craith | TEDxHeriotWattUniversity


Translator: Katie Poole
Reviewer: Tanya Cushman Hi, guys. Today I want to talk to you about ICH,
intangible cultural heritage. It’s a very unfortunate term. Intangible cultural heritage –
what does that mean? In French it translates
as “immaterial heritage,” but is it immaterial? Well, yes, but no. I prefer to call it living culture
or dynamic traditions. Now, my interest in ICH,
I think came from my childhood. I grew up in a bilingual home,
so my mother would speak Irish to me, but the rest of the family spoke English, so as a child, I was aware
of different cultures and traditions. This was no help to me, though, in 1992, when I met my future German mother-in-law. She didn’t speak English,
and I didn’t speak German. Imagine not being on speaking terms
with your mother-in-law. I think most of you
are too young for that, but believe you me, not being able to speak
to your German mother-in-law is an incredibly difficult experience. And I soon realized that there is
much more differences between us, even though we’re near neighbors,
in European terms, than simply language. Later on, when I went to work in Germany, I found even more problems. Um, marking time is one issue. If I make an appointment
with you at 10:30, that is the time I expect you to turn up. However, in Germany, if you make an appointment
with someone for halb zehn, they will actually turn up
an hour earlier. We mark time in terms
of time that is gone past; they mark time in terms
of time that is to come. My German husband and myself
often disagree on colors. I come from a land that is often described
as having 40 shades of green, and actually, in Irish Gaelic,
we have two words for green: we have “glas” and we have “uaine.” Now, glas is for a chilly morning,
a gray horse, green grass, but we would use uaine for a bus. Now, you say to me, “What’s the difference between
the green bus and the green grass?” Well, actually, it’s very hard
to translate into English, but I suppose the best I could say
is grass grows, therefore grass is glas; a bus does not grow,
therefore the bus is uaine. So, many cultures have many different
languages, expressions, traditions – all part of intangible
cultural heritage, or ICH. Now, you may have seen
in last week’s newspapers how it has been discovered
with the new thesaurus that there are 421 words
in Scots for snow. That actually surprises me a bit. If you said to me
it was 421 words for rain, I would expect that. But apparently, the Scots
beat the Inuit for words for snow. The Inuit are supposed to have
50 words for snow, but actually that has since
been described as a hoax. Okay, so what is the value of that? Well, I think the value of that is huge. First of all, local languages
reflect the local biodiversity. They also create a sense
of belonging and social cohesion, but also there’s a whole
industry about Scots. You can buy Gruffalo in Scots;
you can buy loads of books in Scots. You know yourselves,
you can buy tea towels, you can buy cups,
you can buy baby T-shirts – all expressing the words in Scots. So there’s a whole economic industry
going on here as well. Now, oral traditions and expressions
are just one part of ICH, but there are many others. Performing arts is another, and here I put up a picture of what we would call
one of our local folk stars, Gary West. Now, Gary West is one of the many people that have played in
the Celtic Connection festivals, which happens every January in Glasgow. Now, the Celtic Connections
festival started in 1994, and since then, it has grown
year after year after year, and a study in 2007 found that for every pound
invested in this festival, 31 pounds came back, so ICH has strong economic potential. Performing arts is another example of ICH. I don’t know how many of you have enjoyed
the Beltane Festival like I did, but Beltane is one of the many rituals
and social practices and festivals that takes place in Scotland every year. Now, rituals, social
practices, and festivals are another very important part of ICH. And what are they good for? They’re good for the economy. Think of all the tourists
that come to see Beltane. They’re good for our
mental health and well-being. I mean, consider how good
you feel at a fire festival. Basically, Beltane is a fire festival. They’re also good for tourism
and mixing with the locals and marking the seasons,
so they create a sense of environment. I think one of the most underestimated
contributions Scotland makes to ICH is in terms of knowledge and practices
concerning the universe. And I just take as an example, John Muir. Now, John Muir was born in Dunbar,
but spent a lot of time in America, and there he is known
as the “Father of National Parks,” because John Muir had a vision for nature, a vision that we should all
enjoy our leisure in nature, that we should all feel good in nature, and that nature should be
available to everybody. Well, it’s not just about nature
and mental health and well-being; it’s also about the economy. So, we now have a new John Muir Way, a 130-mile-long route which is bound
to bring in the nature tourists. Traditional skills is also
a very important part of ICH, and I would like to
point to just one example. In the photograph here,
we have basket-making, but the example I would like to point to is a special example to me
which is in government, and it’s called the GalGael Trust. And the GalGael Trust
was set up in the ’90s with a desire to give people
who had been marginalized or people who find life challenging, a new aim in life. They describe it as giving people a chisel
with which to carve out the future. And they particularly
focus on boat-building. Now, you may say, “What’s the value
of traditional craftsmanship?” But as you know,
in this technological age, there is a great desire for people to purchase and engage
with traditional crafts. That’s, of course,
also good for the environment because usually people like this
don’t exploit local resources, but think about what they
can hand on for the next generation. Now, if all of that
hasn’t convinced you yet that ICH is really important, I’d like to take a few more examples. You may say to me, “Yeah,
that’s all old-fashioned stuff. It’s all for old people;
it’s nothing to do with me.” But actually, it isn’t. Many of the tradition bearers of ICH
are way ahead of us in technology. Consider, for example, the Samis. They, in the old days, would,
with their reindeer husbandry, would gather the reindeer on sleighs. Do they do that now? No. They use snow scooters. Or here, I have an example
of the Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut, a huge enterprise with casinos,
spas, golf courses – a huge industry. Now, that huge industry is owned
by one of the Native American people, who use the income from that
for their tribal reservations. So again, the economic dimension
of ICH is extremely important. Another example would be
the Amazon Indians who use Google Earth. Now, let me tell you how this happened. It happened very simply. One day, the local chief
went into an internet café. He saw Google Earth and quickly realized the potential
it would have for his people. So he invited Google Earth in, and they came, and they trained the tribespeople to make YouTubes of their elders
recording their stories, how to tag their stories,
and put them up on the internet. Later on, they came back, and they trained these people
how to use mobile phones because one of the problems
the Amazon Indians have is illegal logging or illegal
deforestation of their lands. So now what they do is,
if somebody’s up to something, they take photographs
and put it up on Google Earth. So that is a perfect example of traditional wisdom
with modern technology. But of course, there’s more. ICH, intangible cultural heritage,
is all about social inclusion, and here I have an example. I was with guests last Saturday night,
and they were telling me about this festival from Bengali
which celebrates the goddess Durga, and it’s about gathering clay
from the homes of prostitutes to make the icon
of this goddess every year. All the activities around this festival place a very strong emphasis
on social inclusion. Another example I would like to take
is one called Art for India, and this was an initiative
which looked at traditional art forms and discovered they were dying, and they were dying –
it was a bit of a catch-22 – they were dying, there was
no opportunities for artists to perform, there was no income coming from it, so they generated
a whole new revival of these arts, created opportunities for the artists
to showcase their art, and created networks. So here we’ve another example
of traditional crafts plus the economy – everybody gains. Now, if all that doesn’t convince you
that ICH is worth being passionate about, I would like to turn finally
to the notion of ICH being used as a tool of reconciliation
or conflict amelioration. We’re all familiar with examples
from ISIS recently, destroying heritage sites –
tangible heritage – as acts of war. Well, ICH can be harnessed
to ameliorate those acts of war. Um, here, um – another example of intangible heritage
that I should refer to first is the Mostar Bridge, which was really destroyed to destroy the memory
of peoples working together. In this case, it was
the Bosnians and the Croats. So destroy the tangible heritage,
destroy the memory. And of course, ICH is all about memory, and lots of wars are about memory
and about the past. The problem is that these wars are not necessarily
about the facts of the past; they are about
the interpretation of the past. And very often war is caused because different people
interpret the past differently, and they’re often in conflict
with one another. And here’s where ICH can come in, because ICH can be used to sit down, get people to talk about
their understandings of the past, and at least – even if one doesn’t agree
with the other side – at least come into dialogue with them. A very good example of that
happened in Northern Ireland, where they called it
“healing through remembering,” and basically they set up
conversation workshops for people who had different and
conflicting interpretations of the past so that at least they
could come to an understanding of what the other side thought. And so it was with
great pleasure, actually, that I attended Derry / Londonderry celebrating its first
UK City of Culture in 2013. Hopefully you recognize
the character of Nessie here. This was a big pageant
about the character Columba, who in the past had divided communities
known as Columba or Colmcille, but with the UK City of Culture, they sat down, reconciled their memories,
told a new story – a new story which harnessed ICH, or intangible cultural heritage, to create a new common
shared heritage for the city with a view to economic benefit for all. So hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that ICH is something
worth thinking about. It’s not just about the past;
it’s about the future. It’s about social inclusion. It’s about the economy. It’s about caring for our environment. It’s about me; it’s about you; it’s about future generations. Go raibh maith agat. (Applause)

2 thoughts on “Intangible Heritage – Why should we care? | Prof. Máiréad Nic Craith | TEDxHeriotWattUniversity

  1. Why should anyone listen to the Irish? After almost a century of independence they ought to be the leading light of the Celtic world, just as they were back in the ¨dark ages¨. But in fact their language and culture continues to decline, they prefer to be second-rate Anglo-Americans. Tha mi an dòchas gun dèan Alba ´nas fheàrr nuair a thig an t-am.

  2. i ben teaching about this topic for the last 3 years in my home land honduras, working with the garifuna people, i do workshops based on ethnographic documentary filmaking for intangible heritage documentation preservation and difussion, this speech give more substance to my arguments so i can show this in any future workshop, empowering these groups to tell their storys from their own culture and interpretation and cosmovision allows the respect and combats any type of stigma that can be generated through poor comunication though comercial media productions.

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