There are nearly 900 sites inscribed on the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Council (UNESCO) World Heritage List (WHL). These heritages (defined in this book as forms and sources of knowledge) are significant as sites for tourism and nation-building. However, inscription on the WHL can also have negative consequences, by encouraging the reification of culture as well as the dis-embedding of practices and sites from their substantive and dynamic contexts. UNESCO’s inscription and preservation of heritage includes the qualitative valuation of one’s heritage for the maintenance of cultural diversity and as a symbol of humankind’s creativity. The valuation is significant to the identity and empowerment of African descendants in the southwest Indian Ocean. European enslavement and colonisation of these African descendants involved destroying and subsequently denigrating their contributions to global knowledge and creativity. After independence, emergent local hegemonies also suppressed and mis-represented African traditional heritages, making it difficult to later identify and accurately represent such heritages to the global public. Furthermore, the persistence (and one could argue, the reinforcement of) patriarchy under colonial rule in Zanzibar and Madagascar have affected the contributions of women to the public sphere. Preliminary observations in 2008 also revealed that women’s heritages are absent from considerations on heritage conservation, a situation that is exacerbated by the absence of cohesive heritage management institutions in Zanzibar and Madagascar. With regard to these issues then, the discussion focuses on two key questions: How does one explain the continuation of heritage management in the southwest IOR? And, what role do women play in the management of heritage?
Current reflections on heritage management do not directly discuss the issue of marginalised heritage or the importance of heritage identification to knowledge production/management. The literature also seems to eschew discussions regarding how Africans and their descendants are disempowered by the omission of their heritages from UNESCO’s heritage lists. The literature treats heritage as a category of analysis, suggesting that we thoroughly critique UNESCO’s conceptualisation of culture (Eriksen 2001) and heritage (Ashworth 2008), explore definitions of heritage (Edson 2004), reflect on the preservation of intangible heritages (Goody 2004) and that we adopt a critical view of the valuation discourse and process (Labadi 2007). These critiques are important but do not emphasise heritage as practice (Chambers 2009), nor do they directly address the deeper issue of representation.
This book attempts to discuss heritage as a source of knowledge and as part of everyday practice. It attempts to do this by presenting and examining the rich and sometimes controversial heritages of two island societies: Zanzibar and Madagascar. In the interests of knowledge production, I ask whether we should continue to identify and conserve heritage for future generations as proposed by UNESCO or whether we should break away from this approach and encourage African descendants to develop and conserve their own heritages since the data indicates that heritage continues to survive and develop beyond UNESCO’s heritage regime. Ideally, this would allow for and encourage independent knowledge production. However, the local knowledge production is in itself deeply influenced by social, historical and political conditions. In Zanzibar, the need for tourism income and the long history of colonisation by Omani Arabs is resulting in the re-orienting of heritage to reflect tourism interest and colonial ideals. In Madagascar, a long history of political instability, together with patriarchal practices, is encouraging the impoverishment and marginalisation of women.
A quick glance at the WHL reveals that many of the sites and heritages listed are not from Africa or the southwest Indian Ocean Region (IOR). After centuries of colonisation, this region is still on the global political and economic periphery. There is still a lack of funding for the identification and nomination of heritages, as well as the persistence of political instability in the southwest IOR. Furthermore, a preliminary study of challenges to the management of heritage in the southwest IOR (Boswell 2008a) indicated that management of heritage in this region has to be examined within the context of international tourism, as heritage in the southwest IOR is ‘challenged’ by the commercialisation of heritage for tourism.
The following discussion is therefore a preliminary study on challenges to the management of heritage, especially the management of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) in the southwest IOR. It is motivated by the politics of knowledge production in the region. Using Foucault’s critical reflection on knowledge production, I ask if heritage is a source of and form of knowledge, who determines what knowledge is worthy of recognition and preservation? What counts as acceptable or unacceptable heritage? And what can we learn from the heritage that is left behind or deemed unacceptable?
The findings of the research reveal that a very rich heritage exists in the southwest IOR islands of Zanzibar and Madagascar. In academic literature, this rich heritage is noted only indirectly and often submerged by references to negative political and social change in these societies. Thus in the literature one tends to find a focus on the legacies of colonialism and the contemporary troubles faced by these societies with little reference to the extraordinary creativity and stamina of the inhabitants.
This book does not ignore the contemporary challenges facing Zanzibar and Madagascar. However, it presents an alternative view of the societies, focusing explicitly on cultural production in these societies and the extent to which women (who are on the political margins of Zanzibari and Malagasy society), contribute in very creative and socially integrative ways to these productions. In a way, the findings subvert ‘usual’ narratives about Africans and those living in the African diaspora indicating the richness of Zanzibari and Malagasy existence. As heritage is part of everyday practice, there may be no pressing desire for heritage to be abstracted, labelled, presented and consumed by those ‘outside’ one’s community. The discussion encourages a move away from the centrist model of heritage management to create more participative, insider and locally grounded modes of heritage management. However, this then leaves us with the question of what to do with heritage managers who are employed by UNESCO to practically realise the regime’s discourse of heritage conservation.
The discipline of Social Anthropology allows for and encourages an emic or insider view of societies studied. This study made use of anthropological research methods and perspectives. Since the 1970s, scholars in anthropology and beyond, have critiqued the discipline and its practitioners (Asad 1973; Mafeje 1996) arguing that anthropology and anthropologists cannot objectively and fully represent the experiences of their research subjects and that anthropology was profoundly racist in its choice of research subjects and locales. In this book I have attempted to challenge these critiques, showing how anthropology, through the collection of primary data and the method of participant-observation, can deliver an insider view of Zanzibar and Madagascar and to undertake what Foucault has called ‘an archaeology of knowledge’. This process involves a critical analysis and excavation of the hegemonic discourses on heritage and self-reflection and humility in the face of others’ vast experience. It also involves continuous research and acknowledgement of one’s own subjectivities. For me, it also involved being politically conscious – remaining aware of one’s power as an author to reify experiences and the duty that one has, as an anthropologist to truthfully articulate what we see, hear and experience.