Cultural heritage for innovation
Cultural heritage is the granary or centre of traditional or historic knowledge in a society or community.
Dr. Subhra Devi
We all know the function of cultural heritage as a symbol of identity, or we mostly talk about the colourful culture of various communities in a society as a colourful flower garden, and we often say that life and society will be monotonous without difference. But is that enough to prove the necessity of preserving cultural heritage for posterity? Cultural heritage is the granary or centre of traditional or historic knowledge in a society or community. When we lose this heritage, we also lose the vast knowledge base inherited over the generations.
For example, at present, the market in Assam is flourishing with plastic dolas, chalani, stools etc. But traditionally, we have a rich heritage of bamboo utensils in northeast India, which are easily available in the region and also eco-friendly. But with the coming of plastic household utensils, the traditional bamboo utensils become almost obsolete, which results in the slow dying of the crafts, and the crafts persons are forced to change their occupation. Thus, we are slowly losing a tremendous amount of knowledge related to these particular crafts. For example, which variety of bamboo is good for which purpose, what is the correct age to cut bamboo for a particular purpose, and hundreds of knots used for different purposes in various basketries, fishing equipment, or household items are slowly forgotten. Sustainable development, a green environment, etc. are the buzzwords of recent times. But we are still not able to realize and perform in the proper direction with the help of traditional technologies, which our country is so rich in. To provide a very crude example, the Nara (a Nishi cane basket) from Arunachal Pradesh is probably the origin of the backpack bags we are all fond of these days. The form and technique are innovative to give us the product we need at the present time.
The present government is opening various schemes for technology innovation, start-ups, and support for entrepreneurship. We definitely can think of innovating our traditional and indigenous knowledge and giving the world the sustainable and energy-efficient ways of life and survival it is searching for.
However, we probably still do not know how to go about heritage preservation or whose job it is. Precisely speaking, heritage preservation needs the efforts of every one of us. Only heritage professionals cannot do all the work, and every one of us has to share his or her bit of contribution for the sake of it. Professionals working in this area, of course, have the majority of responsibilities. However, heritage bearers, craftspeople, performers, etc. need to be aware of their own roles and understand the importance of the work they do or the knowledge they carry with them. Similarly, all the common people in society have a response to the changing socio-cultural situation, changing society, changing atmosphere and landscape, changing demography, and changing work style and occupation. How we adapt to these changes and how we react in response to them determine the flow of traditional knowledge to the future generation and, thus, the preservation of heritage.
Similarly, the preservation of tangible heritage, including monuments and heritage sites, requires the adoption of proper strategies for monuments or historical sites. Creating awareness regarding the need to protect and preserve the cultural heritage of India is also needed for effective results. Sometimes, simple and small steps like preventing ourselves and others from scribbling on the walls, participating in the regular cleanliness drives, trying to refrain from spreading clutter in heritage landscapes, etc. can be our contribution to safeguarding our heritage. Also, common people can contribute by spreading awareness about the monuments and their importance, etc. Traditional craft classes, storytelling sessions by parents and grandparents, and offering a helping hand to the elders in paddy, loom, kitchen, gardening, household chores, etc. can also help the young generation get acquainted with the traditional knowledge of their community and region.
In most probability, the younger generation is not initiated in a way in which they could appreciate the traditional way of life and traditional knowledge around them. We need to first realise that, and the younger ones should be trained to see the normal and ordinary things with an eye through which they can see future prospects in them. In other words, we need ‘out of the box’ thinking in every aspect. The future can be ours if we sincerely think about and plan to utilize the tremendous potential of the cultural heritage and traditional knowledge of all the communities around us. We need to re-learn and establish that the knowledge that has been with us for thousands of years can lead us to a better world, and the only thing we need is a new eye to see its worth and innovate it to suit the requirements of the present time.