Expert: Region failing to safeguard cultural heritage

BY RHOMA TOMLINSON Observer writer

Monday, March 03, 2014    

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IN the context of the just concluded Black History Month, world heritage consultant Dr Janice Lindsay is calling on Caribbean States, to step up efforts to safeguard their music from economic exploitation, and do more to turn it into an economic powerhouse for local communities.

Dr Lindsay, who was speaking at the recently held Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) Conference at the University of the West Indies, said the region was not making full use of safeguards put in place by the United Nation's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to guard their intangible cultural heritage, despite being signatory to a 2003 UN convention.

Lindsay said there are 63 files to be reviewed by UNESCO's inter-governmental committee in November this year, and none of them are from any country in the region.

"It is never enough to simply ratify a convention like this. It does nothing for the cultures and peoples of the respective State parties if the instruments that are designated to assist in safeguarding are not utilised... Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage is not a luxury, it is a necessity to meet the challenges of today's world," she said.

She said UNESCO had three separate lists in place, which she referred to as "complementary safeguarding mechanisms". They are: the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of Urgent Safeguarding; a Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, loosely referred to as the world intangible heritage list, and finally, a Register of Best Safeguarding Practices.

"The instruments of safeguarding are there to give us that power of protection, ...that voice to ensure that in as much as our music belongs to the world, it is first and foremost the inalienable asset of the respective country within the Caribbean," Dr Lindsay said.

Pointing to the region's music, which is perhaps its most popular intangible cultural heritage, Dr Lindsay said safeguarding it should not merely be about copyrighting, but about "securing the interests -- cultural, social and economic -- of all associated with the music".

She said well-known communities such as Nine Miles in St Ann, where Bob Marley was born, and Trench Town in Kingston, where he spent much of his life, could be better positioned to attract tourists and reggae lovers alike. "I am certain I do not need to break down the potential economics for this community. But the domino effect of that economics is what we should not lose sight of," she said.

She said Trench Town in particular, "has been limping along with its legacy" despite being named a protected heritage sight. "And I say limping not to discount the work that is taking place, but to make the point that the community members have yet to realise the maximum benefits from the cultural heritage entrenched in their environs."

While commending the efforts of the government and JIPO in pushing for reggae to be placed on the world intangible heritage list, Dr Lindsay cautioned against overlooking these communities "in the benefits that will redound from the international designation, if and when it comes".

She says the answer lies in "basic heritage economics, which essentially pulls on sustainable initiatives that will responsibly exploit the assets of the communities if, and only if, the community wishes to put forward those assets for development. Initiatives can increase tourism activity, research and development and create entrepreneurship," she said.

The world heritage expert called on communities across the country to stop merely "accommodating" interviews, panel discussions, participation in film and other productions, for which they are not usually paid.

"As subjects and not objects... members of these cultural communities can and should demand compensation for sharing their rich music heritage," she said.





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