Meeting Of Minds For Heritage
In a country like Nepal where 123 languages and more than 125 ethnic groups live in the spirit of harmony, mutual understanding, respect and participation, culture becomes an icon to create soothing and melodic sounds all the time. It does make sense when individuals, groups and communities on the one side and the government (now in three separate but constitutionally and legally linked entities) on the other meet, interact and do the needful to promote and preserve culture. One would be surprised and even shocked, if nothing or not much happens in this area given the conducive political and developmental atmosphere for such activities.
Institutions under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) function individually or collectively in the field of culture. Their unity and strong network keeps the agenda on the move even when MoCTCA often needs to function without a head, the minister to preside over activities outlined in the constitution and ‘inscribed’ in the tradition. It sounds strange but it is the reality of the day: At a time when the government enjoys 2/3 majority in the house and there is no dearth of one individual MP to lead the ministry, this has not happened for months.
Facing hurdles here and there the headless MoCTCA organises a host of activities for the promotion of culture as planned. Also, there are institutions like academies, indigenous organisations at home and abroad seeking collaboration with the ministry to make things happen. For those who also find shelter in the ministry in this capacity or that, find it a positive situation to stay engaged and fulfill assignments.
A fresh memory is related to a workshop/training organised in Kathmandu involving at least eleven communities and regions – Rong/Lapcha of Ilam, Meche, Dhimal and Santhal of Jhapa and Morang, Tharu of Sunsari and Saptari, Limbu of Pahchthar and Lalitpur, Kirat Rai of Bhojpur, Sunsari and Lalitpur, Kirat Koich from Ramechhap, Tamang from Ilam and Kathmandu, and representatives from Achham, Bajura and Kailali of far-western region of Nepal.
The theme chosen by the ministry was set few years ago – capacity building through training in the field of culture documentation, safeguarding and related activities from grass-root level. Such documentation training and workshops have been running through the auspices of MoCTCA with the help of Nepali expert-trainers.
The basic and main objective of the workshop held in Kathmandu this time was to provide skill to participants representing their ethnic groups and the regions, or both. The discussion was focused on the UNESCO standard tool developed by the experts in the ministry. The tools have been tested successfully as there have been series of workshops with or without UNESCO collaboration. The tools have worked well in previous workshops and field works leading to the documentation of ICH (ex. Kirati Rai of east Nepal).
The MoCTCA team led by Chief of Culture Division played facilitator in the workshop while former Head of Archives, Bhim Nepal and Dr. Bhakta Rai in most part conducted the workshop using the ICH tool developed in the ministry. One of the main highlight of the workshop was a representative participation in terms of age, experience and exposure. There were senior participants retired from Nepal Police and Singapore Police representing their indigenous cultures and working as active promoters of cultures on the ground. Next, out of 41 participants, 18 were young and energetic females, some of them holding leading status in their organisations.
There were two major themes for the workshop- documentation/listing of ICH in a given community and planning for preservation. For the first time in recent years, several minority and marginalised like Santhal, Lapcha and Dalits made their debut in the documentation and planning exercises. Bhim Nepal, the well-recognised expert in these fields did his best to simplify the concept and offer his assistance. He has been with the ministry since the time a full-fledged 5-day program was organised at Halesi for the four Kirat Rai of four districts. The last Kirati focused workshop was held in Sankhuwasabha involving the rest of the language speakers and concluding the Kirati chapter of training-workshop. Dr. Bhakta Rai offered his service through his presentation and overall management of the event.
Natural for such events, the participants had a bunch of queries and curiosity laid out for the ministry. Chief of Culture Division Bharat Mani Subedi offered his explanation in relation to government policy and planning. His emphasis was on the need to own culture and do the needful keeping the government part in the background as a facilitator. The participants were told financial support for any project related to ethnic culture was the agenda of the provincial and local governments. That location was thus vital for the communities to focus on and go about culture documentation and preservation.
One important achievement of the programme was to encourage participants to practice language, culture and respect their good practices to enhance their capacity to preserve. Shy participants from Meche, Santhal and Rong communities demonstrated their energy as time went on. Acting Secretary Suresh Acharya offered his best in people’s quest for their identity while distributing the certificate and presiding over the final ceremony.
Finally, participants and the facilitators realised that 3-4 days program was not sufficient to learn even the basics of documentation and preservation planning. At least five days are required to have good discussion, practice and field visit like the one organised here for a short time. The participants were shown the metal, stone and wood works in a workshops instead a settlement owing to time shortage.
Final comment from the experts was that at least five to ten such programmes a year could be fruitful to complete the ICH documentation and preservation activities in few years’ time. MoCTCA must realise a national register of ICH is in urgent need now. Before that appointment of a cabinet minister is essential considering Visit Nepal Year 2000 also.
(Former Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences, TU and Fulbright scholar from University of California, Khatry writes on cultural issues)