Reaching Out For Culture

 

Prem Khatry

 

Very far away from day to day doldrums of life, far away from vexing political debates and unnecessary mud splashing at others, still far away from the dozing, ‘bunking-friendly’ parliament of this poor country, there is something serious, something soothing and something uniting all the divergent poles and fractions in one identity and oneness – Culture. It can be ‘mine,’ it can be ‘yours’, it can be ‘hers’ and ‘theirs’ but sincerely and truly speaking it is all ‘ours’ a common identity, a phenomenon, a symbol being what we are and why we are.
If anything on the ground amazes the people from different time, geographic and cultural zones of this vast Earth, it is our Culture, Nepali Culture. Despite systematic efforts to do us separate and render into unrecognizable pieces, by sowing the seeds of misunderstanding, conflict and other forms of (artificial) differences, Nepalis have harboured the spirit of fraternity, understanding and long lasting, permanent friendship and deep bond of neighbourhood. This quality of Nepali culture has cemented many cultural features with one another for millions of years.

Big entity
The geographic and historic realities have made Nepalis unique and separate if taken in the face value. But in essence these differences and uniqueness dissolve into one reality – the territorially small but ethno-culturally big entity, the Nepali nation. Live here we must and stay united we must in order not to experience any humpty-dumpty type fall. In the eyes of many, cultural diversity is the strength of our country. Each of us cherishes this strength till our last breath.
The UN, more specifically UNESCO, is the promoter of Culture worldwide. It functions with member nations of the world in the field of preservation (intangible) and conservation (tangible) of cultures of the member nations. With provisions like ILO 169, special focus on Cultural and Educational rights many indigenous cultures worldwide have benefitted and many are on the way to achieve their cherished goals of preserving their cultures and best practices for the posterity.
In Nepal UNESCO has been making all efforts to function collaboratively with MoCTCA for quite some years. This collaboration has created space for many ethnic groups and communities to make plans for the promotion and preservation of their culture. There are few examples that need mention here. These programs need to be expanded further to reach out to many communities where culture is the mainstay of their life style but knowledge about their sustainability and documentation needs specially focused programs.
UNESCO has successfully convened at least five successive workshop seminars and training programs for the enhancement of understanding in the field of inventorying, safeguarding and nomination. A solid group of young elites has thus been created and the result is now visible. These experts have undertaken such activities in their own cultures and regions. MoCTCA is also making UNESCO’s job easier through several orientation programs.
Early this year, MoCTCA devised such plans to reach out to few specific culture zones where orientation on the significance of culture was considered very urgent in order to bring several zones and people to the mainstream inventorying and safeguarding plans and programs. The ministry took academic support from several scholars, listed the local elites as speakers and sources and began to organize these programs. The Gopali Newar of Chitlang Valley along with several other tribes, the Darai of Damauli area, and the Kirati of Halesi area were listed for the first phase.
The objectives of carrying out such ‘meet the people’ type programs were designed by the Ministry in consultation with experts such as senior cultural historians and anthropologist from the university. The main objectives of such interaction type programs were: a) to awaken the local people, the culture creators and bearers about the long history and importance of their culture and urgent need to revamp them in the present context, b) to reach out to the people with special focus on their intangible cultural heritages and suggesting ways to work together for their inventorying and safeguarding, c) to enhance their spirit and affection for the promotion and protection of their culture, d) locate the viable ethnic groups and communities to re-visit them for future promotional activities including inventorying and safeguarding, d) enable people to know the tourism significance of their settlements and link the industry with local production as well as marketing for their self-employment and march towards their prosperity.
In all the three events the local participation was higher than expected. The visit of high ranking officials from the Ministry boosted both the morale and spirit of the local people. The participation and contribution of local elites were also highly appreciable.
All the three sites demonstrated willingness to cooperate with the government and showed their commitment to preserve their heritage. With the experience in the field and the cooperation of the local elites and scholars from Kathmandu, the Ministry was able to start a new publication – a journal - dedicated to Intangible Cultural Heritages of Nepal. The first issue was launched in the first week of August, 2017.
Another example of people’s participation came from the Kirati region of East Nepal, particularly Khotang District. Following the government’s ‘Culture Orientation’ program MoCTCA and UNESCO jointly launched the first such program to carry out Inventorying and Safeguarding plans in the Kirati culture of four districts – Solu, Okhaldhunga, Khotang and Udaypur.
A week long workshop refreshing program was organized to enhance the capacity of candidates of earlier (five workshops mentioned above) programs along with few local scholars and youths. The practice inventorying and safeguarding helped the participants to assume the responsibility. Hence about 11 trainees who had successfully completed the (Halesi, Khotang) workshop, were assigned the work. Of them 9 were Kirati themselves while two facilitators came from other regions.
The inventorying and safeguarding plan met the basic requirements of UNESCO. The Kirati community activists and representatives of the region who attended the workshop had officially requested the Ministry and UNESCO field team in written form to carry out inventorying and safeguarding activities in their villages. One major requirement was thus fulfilled during the inventorying.
Finally, the Kirati people were concerned that several of their priceless intangible cultural elements such as Mundum, the Kirati Kitchen, the seasonal (Sakela) dances, the handlooms, and sacraments such as birth to death rites could disappear over time if no timely step was taken. The four teams engaged in the documentation activities spared no effort to document the elements with full support of the local Kirati communities from four language regions of the chosen districts.

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