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Les intraduisibles du patrimoine en Afrique subsaharienne

 | 
Danièle Wozny
, 
Barbara Cassin

In English. Heritage Untranslatables in Sub-Saharan Africa

4. Towards the future

Texte intégral

Museum and heritage in Sub-Saharan Africa

1In a holistic sense, patrimony is what is inherited, as we have seen. This heritage can be biological, material, or natural, but is also of course always cultural. The Ancients always associated this very broad definition with the notion of Tradition, which they defined as what is worth transmitting. This suggests not only that a patrimony cannot be transmitted in full, but that its status may change, or even that it may be cast away and left to wither, when it is not simply destroyed.

2In every single case, however, a heritage is an assemblage which bears witness to a moment in the history of a community or of a large geographical area. It can take the form of natural or cultural remains, or of living forms of expression rather awkwardly called the “intangible cultural heritage”.

3The African cultural and natural heritage is in some cases in great danger, including some of the sites inscribed on the World heritage List. Archaeological sites, the colonial heritage and even funerary structures are sometimes the target of deliberate acts of vandalism. The same is not true of the intangible cultural heritage, which actors preserve within their local communities.

4Some things are clear, however. There is a troubling analogy between the white-collar workers who ruin classified sites in African cities and the religious fanatics who, in 2013, destroyed mausoleums in Gao and Timbuktu (Mali), spreading desolation in their wake. These predatory groups have one thing in common, besides performing acts of vandalism on the African heritage: they both position themselves as other. They do not recognise this heritage as theirs and therefore consider that it does not deserve to be transmitted. In this perspective, religious fanatics and “captains of industry” are waging the same war: they negate otherness. Yet, recognising colonialism as a historical fact does not mean paying homage to it.

5This context makes the preservation of the African heritage all the more problematic. The identification and documentation of sites of memory, and of sites and monuments in general, must take place in the context of cultural development planning. Developing sites of memory ensures the physical preservation of the values they represent. Whenever possible, monumentalising sites of memory with the support of bearers of traditions should help to document and advertise the location of all those historical markers where major events have taken place.

6Not only would this safeguard the future of some traditions, but it would certainly preserve them all from oblivion. This is the best way to advertise sites which have silently witnessed the unfolding history of populations. Our actions today will also doubtlessly be part of an ever-shifting heritage.

A question of borders? Promoting cross-border cultures

7Border conflicts and inter-state wars have been rife in Africa ever since its countries achieved international sovereignty. In several cases, border lines themselves have been the cause of repeated armed conflicts, with incalculable consequences for the economic and human development of the countries concerned. It may be necessary to re-examine both the consecration of these borders during the 1884 Berlin Conference and the way newly-independent states proclaimed the intangibility of borders inherited from the colonial period (Charter of the Organisation of African Unity). We have still not managed to put an end to suffering on the African Continent, its stated objective at the time. People who ought to be united are kept separate by borders inherited from the colonial era, which have interrupted transhumance trails and locked once flourishing forms of cultural expression into ghettos walled by so-called sovereign borders.

8The best way to eradicate the political borders inherited from the colonial era is to emphasise cultural and natural continuities. Strengthening the foundations of a genuinely united continent means promoting examples of cross-border sites, including “serial properties” such as the Senegambian megaliths, the W National Park, the Iron Roads, etc.

The economic stakes of heritage: the role of tourism

9Actors and national authorities are conscious of the economic stakes of “heritage” tourism in all its forms, and of the great amount of leverage attached to UNESCO recognition. Although tourism can bolster the fight against poverty by creating jobs and by giving new economic opportunities to local providers of goods and services, it can also be an instrument of destruction for vulnerable heritages threatened by urban development or by the unanticipated effects of climate change. This is why UNESCO and international organisations are calling for “sustainable” and “fair trade” tourism: great care must be taken over the preservation of cultural and environmental riches and the fair distribution of the income generated.

10The great cultural riches revealed by our attempts at translation – indeed by the very difficulties this exercise poses – are a vast store of resources worth promoting in a touristic perspective where each region would have something different to offer. Is it possible to hope that one day local populations will be able to decide what they wish to share (or see shared) with visitors, and be able to settle on instruments of mediation together with their local authorities?

11Today, UNESCO is concerned about the impact of recognition as it turns sites into sanctuaries: although this process does ensure the protection of a site, it also makes the site as well as its social and natural environment vulnerable to new threats.

12There are dangers associated to opening a site up to tourism and international standards, to foreign capital, and to the comings and goings of large numbers of actors whose touristic and patrimonial sensibilities only lead them to take a limited interest in what makes sense for local populations, as evidenced by the touristic exploitation of the sites of Angkor, Luang Prabang and Mont Saint-Michel.

Regional development and heritage promotion

13Heritage promotion and development must be perceived to work in synergy and it must be understood that there is no conflict between them. It is easy to forget that tomorrow’s heritage will partially reflect our productions and choices today. Moreover, if we agree with the Ancients that tradition is what deserves to be transmitted, this makes us entirely responsible for the protection of our heritages, since the wide variety of environments and forms of land-use that our predecessors left us constitute so many shared heritages.

14Ever since the dawn of time, human beings have sought to adapt their environment to their needs in order to survive. In this sense, land-use is a dimension of development that cannot be deferred. When, as sometimes happens, contemporary land-uses clash with those of our forebears, we run the risk of suddenly erasing whole periods of our history.

15Heritage conservationists often used to be told that even if their concerns were understood, cultural or environmental matters could not come in the way of development. The chances are that they would be told the same thing today, since our productivist civilisation does not leave much space for improvisation.

16Action is therefore needed at several levels if we are to achieve the genuine “enculturation” of heritage.

  • The perception of patrimony will often be negative when what is at stake is the protection of natural or cultural sites in the face of imminent development. This perception needs to be turned on its head: the assumption should be that heritage preservation is an integral part of regional development. What needs to be done in Africa today is in many ways similar to what was done by the architects whose successful campaign led to the Venice Charter, which itself prefigured the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

  • Preventive heritage work is often perceived as a spoke in the wheels of the economy, even though its purpose today is very clearly to drive economic opportunity. In this sense, heritage preservation might be dynamically understood to be the virtuous partner of regional development, considering that development should not sacrifice cultural and natural values. Heritage supports the interests of developers, because the preservation and/or development of sites may not only be economically profitable, but may also promote the creation of new industries.

  • Legislations and practices must be reformed in order to ensure that preventive heritage work is done pre-and post-development. Legislations must be both preventive and reactive in order to be suitable. They must be preventive in the sense that inventories, where they exist, may be considered to be instruments for managing the planning of site development work. Whatever the particulars, legislations must also remain reactive, to allow so-called fortuitous discoveries to be dealt with appropriately.

  • Initiatives must be created to train and sensitise the general public, in order to promote a culture of heritage preservation. The scarcity of schools providing training for heritage professionals shows how far behind the African continent lags in this area.

17The objective of all these actions is to provide the African continent with a range of cultural and natural parks representative of the diversity of its various forms of cultural expression, natural landscapes, and ancient historical centres, and to ensure that these sites bear witness to the past while also being spaces for living, conviviality and economic opportunity

18In the same perspective, international conventions should also evolve, particularly the 1972 Convention Concerning the Cultural and Natural Heritage. The negative impact of development and the exploitation of resources often conflicts with the preservation of the outstanding universal values which led to the inscription of a site. In the wake of the 1994 Nara Document on Authenticity and the Yamato Declaration on Integrated Approaches for Safeguarding Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage, the debate in Africa ought to focus on a prospective approach to universal values. Concretely, this means that nomination dossiers should identify the resources of the relevant area and consider how to achieve the virtuous coexistence of their exploitation with the preservation of the outstanding universal values of the property in question. There is nothing utopian about this proposition, when we consider that UNESCO has just produced a series of Retrospective Statements of Outstanding Universal Value for properties which had been classified without such a statement.

***

19Over the last fifty years or so, heritage questions have attracted an increasing amount of attention, largely because of the creation of new spaces as a result of the dynamic of globalisation, which transcends traditional borders. The territorial world order underpinning the global balance of power is in crisis because it is at once too narrow to accommodate the development of trade and too large to adapt to new identity politics. Heritage operates as the referent, guarantee, witness, alibi and hostage of these re-invented spaces.

20Today, UNESCO finds itself in the eye of the storm, because it must reconcile the global definition of heritage politics with its application in a wide range of geographical and political contexts. Yet, the problem does not lie with the global/local disconnect. UNESCO’s patrimonial categories are the outcome of repeated negotiations between states or groups of states which differ in their political outlook as well as in their perspective on development and the transmission of culture.

21Every ethno-cultural community is the product of a unique experience and a specific world view. Some concepts are not universal, but have specific semantic fields: in particular, all communities have their own particular organisation and conception of heritage. This is why it is so difficult to find equivalent translations for concepts such as “heritage”, “site”, “museum”, “cultural landscape”, “outstanding universal value”, or “site integrity”.

22In the context of these oscillations between relative and universal, local and global perspectives, we have focused on what we can learn from the words for “museum” or “heritage” in languages spoken by flesh and blood human beings. How to translate untranslatable notions? What does their resistance to translation tell us? Does it allow us to put our finger more clearly on the nature of problems that will soon have to be solved by the international organisations responsible for the preservation of cultural diversity? Why are African heritage legislations so often unable to respond to appropriately local issues?

23The debate is open.

Bibliography : Cf. p. 85.

Conservatoire permanent et vivant de savoir-faire et de traditions
Crépissage le 3 juin 2014 du tombeau des Askia, à Gao, au Nord du Mali. Un des lieux saints pris en otage par les «djihadistes»en 2012. Ce qui est continuité entre passé et présent pour les Maliens est «monument»pour les défenseurs du patrimoine. D’où la difficulté à définir la juste «intervention post –conflit»pour des instances internationales comme l’Unesco.
A permanent and living repository of know-how and of traditions
Roughcasting of the tomb of the Askia, in Gao, Northern Mali, one the holy sites held hostage by the “jihadists” in 2012. What is seen in Mali as continuity between past and present appears as a “monument” to those in charge of heritage protection. Hence the difficulty of international organisations likes UNESCO to define the proper form of “post-conflict intervention”.
Seko ni laadaw badaa-badaa lamarayᴐrᴐ kɛnɛman
Asikiyaw kaburu barili, zuwɛnkalo tile 3, san 2014, Gawo, Mali kɔrɔnyanfan na. Yɔrɔ saniman dɔ dankari kɛra min na «Jihadimɔgɔw»fɛ san 2012. Min ye malidenw bolo fɛn kɔtigɛbali ye kunun ni bi cɛ, o ye forobaciyɛn lafasabagaw bolo hakilimaralan (moniman) ye. Gɛlɛya bɛ yan de diɲɛ jɛkuluw bolo, i n’a fɔ INƐSIKO, ka «fɔɲɔgɔnw kɔ»baaraw dantigɛli la.
Mooftirde duumiinnde, wuurnde, wonande waaw-waɗde e aadaaji.
Laaltagol yenaande Askiyaa’en, to Gawo, Rewo Mali, ñande 3 suweŋ (korse) 2014. Gooto e nokkuuji ceniiɗi, ɗi «jihaadiyankooɓe»ɓee pawnoo junngo e hitaannde 2012 ɗii. Ko woni koo jokkondiral hakkunde hanki e hannde, to Malinaaɓe, ko ɗum «monimaa»to haɓanteeɓe ndonaandi ɓee kam. Ko ɗuum addi caɗeele ganndingol ko foti koo wonde «golle caggal-luhral»moƴƴe, wonande pelle hakkundeleyɗe hono Unesco ɗee.

© DPCM (Direction du Patrimoine culturel du Mali)

Table des illustrations

Légende Conservatoire permanent et vivant de savoir-faire et de traditionsCrépissage le 3 juin 2014 du tombeau des Askia, à Gao, au Nord du Mali. Un des lieux saints pris en otage par les «djihadistes»en 2012. Ce qui est continuité entre passé et présent pour les Maliens est «monument»pour les défenseurs du patrimoine. D’où la difficulté à définir la juste «intervention post –conflit»pour des instances internationales comme l’Unesco.A permanent and living repository of know-how and of traditionsRoughcasting of the tomb of the Askia, in Gao, Northern Mali, one the holy sites held hostage by the “jihadists” in 2012. What is seen in Mali as continuity between past and present appears as a “monument” to those in charge of heritage protection. Hence the difficulty of international organisations likes UNESCO to define the proper form of “post-conflict intervention”.Seko ni laadaw badaa-badaa lamarayᴐrᴐ kɛnɛmanAsikiyaw kaburu barili, zuwɛnkalo tile 3, san 2014, Gawo, Mali kɔrɔnyanfan na. Yɔrɔ saniman dɔ dankari kɛra min na «Jihadimɔgɔw»fɛ san 2012. Min ye malidenw bolo fɛn kɔtigɛbali ye kunun ni bi cɛ, o ye forobaciyɛn lafasabagaw bolo hakilimaralan (moniman) ye. Gɛlɛya bɛ yan de diɲɛ jɛkuluw bolo, i n’a fɔ INƐSIKO, ka «fɔɲɔgɔnw kɔ»baaraw dantigɛli la.Mooftirde duumiinnde, wuurnde, wonande waaw-waɗde e aadaaji.Laaltagol yenaande Askiyaa’en, to Gawo, Rewo Mali, ñande 3 suweŋ (korse) 2014. Gooto e nokkuuji ceniiɗi, ɗi «jihaadiyankooɓe»ɓee pawnoo junngo e hitaannde 2012 ɗii. Ko woni koo jokkondiral hakkunde hanki e hannde, to Malinaaɓe, ko ɗum «monimaa»to haɓanteeɓe ndonaandi ɓee kam. Ko ɗuum addi caɗeele ganndingol ko foti koo wonde «golle caggal-luhral»moƴƴe, wonande pelle hakkundeleyɗe hono Unesco ɗee.
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