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Heritage Regimes and the State

Regina F. Bendix
Aditya Eggert
Arnika Peselmann

The Reach of (Post-)Colonial Sentiment and Control

Castles Abroad

Nations, Culture and Cosmopolitanisms in African Heritage Sites of Portuguese Origin

Maria Cardeira da Silva

Texte intégral

Acknowledgments. This research was carried out within the Project “Portuguese Castles abroad II. Heritage, Tourism and Portuguese cultural cooperation in African contexts,” funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (Portugal).

1 Introduction

1“The power of heritage is precisely that it is curated, which is why heritage is more easily harmonized with human rights and democratic values than is culture,” says Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (2004: 1). Thus, inscription on the authorized map of world heritage of the communities of nations constructs and exhibits a transnational map of allegedly shared values. However, it would be naïve to adhere to a perspective that views UNESCO as the hegemonic and normative source of the world landscape and cultural values, endowed with the power that produces a map overriding nations.

2Alternatively, and testing the limits of an anthropology that is still excessively focused on the hegemonic power–local resistance axis, different ethnographies have found agency and autonomy in local actors. States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as individuals, negotiate a place, one way or another, through heritage-making processes in the shadow of a would-be cosmopolitan modernity – a modernity that is still being constructed according to the model of a system of nations. This is especially evident in postcolonial contexts.

3This axis of analysis continues, however, to privilege in its verticality a view that obscures horizontal and transversal relations between different states and other organizations that often configure the nomination files put together for UNESCO and that institute the eventual success of such nominations in heritage regimes. In fact, although we come across an increasing number of studies about heritage in postcolonial and post-conflict countries, there are few that focus, in a comparative manner, on the historical and contemporary specificity of the countries in question and on the particular international relations involved in the processes of colonization that are staged in heritage-making operations.

4I present case-studies within this transversal cut based on international networks and relations constructed around Portuguese-influenced heritage sites in Morocco and Mauritania. Through them, it will be possible to see how seemingly contradictory discourses link up with UNESCO rhetoric; I will argue that they seek new forms of cosmopolitanism or at least different types of engagement with modernity for each country and actor concerned, without encroaching upon their own models of nationhood. Although we can observe this kind of process in different contexts, the specificity of the historical, colonial and contemporary relations between Portugal and the countries involved provides a set of stable factors within the comparison.

2 Portugal – Large Country, Small Country

5Portugal’s oldest university, Coimbra University, dates back to the 12th century and it is now applying for World Heritage status. In November 2010, Coimbra University organized the 2nd International Meeting of WHPO (World Heritage of Portuguese Origin), in which 24 countries signed the Coimbra Declaration. The WHPO Network’s main goal is essentially presented as:

to promote cooperation between countries with cultural heritage (tangible and intangible) of Portuguese influence so that the tools and knowledge that facilitate access to UNESCO’s World Heritage and their management instruments are available to all as provided by the UNESCO’s Global Strategy documents. (WHPO 2010)

  • 14 These were official delegates from the Ministries of Tourism, head offices dealing with heritage ma (...)

6A great deal could be said about this encounter, a sort of Portuguese display of the UNESCO regime, but I will merely describe the atmosphere in which the event took place and forgo ethnographical rigor here, in order to share later a few vignettes that might allow us to appreciate in loco the effects of the rhetoric developed and summarized there. To describe in a few words what happened in Coimbra – where, apart from Portuguese delegates, there were representatives14 from 24 other countries – we could speak of a “forum” of investment in a shared colonial past. This was a game in which everyone could take part on the same level, as Portugal alternatively represents itself as a large–small country in a peripheral location but with a global vocation, which allowed each of the other participants to position themselves strategically without losing face. Although it is hard to follow this game, it is easy to imagine how in the case of Brazil, for instance, taking into account its economic and political position in the world today, there appears to be an inversion of colonial relations, with “the empire striking back.” But the multiplicity of Portuguese rhetoric enables all the partners to make their move, and capitalize on it symbolically and financially.

  • 15 One among the latter is directly related to the period of colonial expansion. This is the Hieronymi (...)
  • 16 There were different phases of Portuguese colonisation. Lusofonia applies to the so-calledThird P (...)

7There are many more World Heritage Sites of Portuguese origin or influence in the world (of which there are 22) than in Portugal itself (of which there are 13)15. Portugal is a country with few resources to invest in economic cooperation. In the name of Lusofonia, it prefers to channel them into its more recent former colonies16. Cultural cooperation is, therefore, a way to lubricate diplomatic relations with other African countries with which it had more remote historical connections. This paper limits itself to African cases, but Portugal’s indirect involvement in places on the UNESCO map of classifications extends to three continents – Africa, Asia and America.

8Outside Portugal, World Heritage of Portuguese influence is of colonial origin, or as successive Portuguese governments like to put it, the result of the “first globalization” which was allegedly carried out by the Portuguese. This rhetoric is based on an assumption that simultaneously explains its heritage policies as well as its major forms of bilateral cultural cooperation.

  • 17 “Portuguese colonialism can be said to have been in a subaltern position vis-à-vis other internatio (...)

9Nearly all diplomatic speeches in this setting are rooted in the idea of Lusotropicalism. Lusotropicalism is an underlying rhetoric of Portuguese colonialism that praises the distinctively Portuguese soft form of colonialism, promoting racial and cultural miscegenation. This concept was proposed by Gilberto Freire – a well-known Brazilian ideologist – to glorify the virtues of Brazilian hybridism and support multiculturalism. According to Freire, the historical roots of Lusotropicalism were to be found in the multicultural layers of Portugal’s own national history: Since its origin, Portugal has known how to incorporate difference into its identity. It was this legacy of genuine tolerance and miscegenation that later on softened Portuguese colonialism and produced what he called Lusotropicalism (cf. Castelo 1998). This alleged Lusotropical distinctiveness of Portuguese colonialism was very useful during the final phase of colonialism and dictatorship – especially after the Bandung Conference, which once and for all stigmatized Portuguese colonialism in 195517 – and still lasts today, deeply embedded and barely undisputed, in the construct of “the Portuguese way of being,” and present either in institutional or individual rhetoric.

10Cooperation and heritage-making projects at an international level are mainly undertaken in Portugal by the government and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. This important foundation was designed and donated by Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian in his will dated June 18, 1953. It is a private institution of general public utility and the largest provider of funds for projects within the area of heritage of Portuguese origin. It is part of the European Foundation Centre (EFC) and is involved in several artistic activities, development, science, and education. Its international services provide support for projects that aim – among other things – at promoting and disseminating Portuguese culture within the areas of historical heritage and expressions of Portuguese culture through scholarships, subsidies for IT and audiovisual equipment, and donations of sets of works by Portuguese authors. The history of this foundation and the personality of its founder should be taken into consideration in order to understand the resilience of some cultural policies that have remained relatively uncontested in Portugal until today. It should be said (and this still needs further investigation) that in the last years of Salazar’s fascist regime, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (FCG) was the main provider of stages and performances for an exercise, albeit restricted, of cosmopolitanism among the Portuguese elites. Among the lower classes, too, the foundation promoted literacy and the arts in creative and effective ways, such as itinerant libraries, concerts and exhibitions throughout Portugal. This lent the FCG an aura of charismatic cosmopolitanism and might explain why – along with the population’s gratitude for its generosity and the genuine excellence of its activities in times of a dearth of cultural and artistic events – its cultural policies are approved a priori by most within a civil society. The FCG is still looked upon as a supplier of social distinction, in Bourdieu’s terms.

11I would argue that governmental heritage-making projects together with those implemented by the FCG at an international level are configured by six fundamental factors. Together, they outline these endeavors’ specificities with regard to the bilateral relations with former colonized countries:

  1. The discourse of – and belief in – Lusotropicalism and its corresponding political performance;

  2. the harmony between the rhetoric of Lusotropicalism and the “creative diversity” oratory of the UNESCO regime;

  3. the distant past of Portuguese colonialism in many of the contexts involving this kind of cooperation;

  4. the fact that Portugal’s political and economic power in global terms today is innocuous or irrelevant together with

  5. its – nevertheless – strategic position in the European Union and its Atlantic vocation; and

  6. the boom of colonial nostalgia (Werbner 1998) across the entire world.

12It is within this framework that Portugal has been administrating its cultural and participative relations of cooperation, both real and symbolical, in promoting many heritage sites of Portuguese origin. These assumptions have allowed Portugal to replicate a model of nation strongly based on a romanticization of its colonial past, enhancing these global connections under the umbrella of UNESCO’s heritagization projects.

13Countries with whom Portugal has at times had less friendly relations, nonetheless permit the country to project into the past an idea of cultural co-existence and miscegenation. This sustains, today and internally, an undisputed image of a once great and now as always tolerant nation. This is in line with the vague but unquestionable principles of “creative diversity” that UNESCO broadcasts, possibly relieving the Portuguese people and their governments of the responsibility of having to comply with them in the present and within their national borders.

14Nostalgia is both a way of remembering and forgetting. Although Portugal has based its image on miscegenation and cultural tolerance, it is careless about managing its cultural diversity politically. Such diversity increasingly characterizes Portugal as a result of the growing influx of immigrants. Unlike Great Britain or France, there is no clear historical continuity – colonial and postcolonial – in the political guidelines for handling immigration. Throughout its colonialist period, Portugal followed a case-by-case policy, oscillating between models of assimilation and segregation according to the different colonial contexts and moments (see Machaqueiro 2011). Portugal’s somewhat casual attitude to its cultural integration policies is supported by the naturalist perception of the Lusotropical “tolerant Portuguese:” Portugal is a large country with a global vocation. The responsibilities in this domain, however, are more easily shrugged off by assuming the obligatory conformity with regard to the European directives on these issues: Portugal is, after all, a small and peripheral country.

  • 18 The Moroccan kingdom administrative machinery.

15The FCG strategy on heritage building seems to rely on the decisions of a restricted number of architects that worked for the Gulbenkian Foundation from the last quarter of the 20th century. Their names and memorials to their attendance can be found in most of the heritage sites of Portuguese influence, from Safi in Morocco to Ormuz in Iran. Prominent historians and archeologists participate in concomitant celebratory processes, as was the case in the publications of four huge and expensive volumes on the Património de Origem Portuguesa no Mundo (Mattoso 2011). The fact that the FCG interventions usually involve a great amount of money for structural rehabilitation might well explain why local agents do not complain about its general neglect of local participation. This might also be explained, especially in the case of some impoverished citadels in Morocco, by the fact that the state (or the makzhen18) controls most of the heritage ventures.

  • 19 The IGESPAR has been recently merged with the Museums and Conservation Institute (IMC), responsible (...)

16Portuguese governmental investment on heritage building abroad relies on the national expertise of its ministry departments (especially the IGESPAR, the Institute for the Architectural and Archaeological Heritage, run by architects, historians and archaeologists19). However, local specialists are also involved, for instance, in Mauritania where a local architect’s atelier was hired. Heritagization processes of “Portuguese Discoveries” led by the government are usually developed under the scope of bilateral cooperation programs of development, which would, at least in name, suggest some kind of mutual participation. Nevertheless, these projects are random and subject to political alternation, and subject to the personal approaches and resolutions of the different experts involved. Contingent encounters, such as those resulting from occasional strategies and frail heritage policies, seem to allow for a larger role of local and informal participation in heritage building, even when the states are involved. This was, as we will see, the case in Mauritania where heritage and tourism enabled the emergence of unexpected actors.

3 Morocco – Enhancing Creative Diversity in Lopsided Neighborhoods

17Despite an evident lack of cultural knowledge on both sides (greater on the part of the Portuguese), one can say that relations between Portugal and Morocco are diplomatically translated into a social terminology of contemporaneous “neighborhood” and genealogical “kinship.” Shared Mediterranean cultural values are displayed and honored mainly in a convention significantly called the Treaty of Good Neighborhood, Friendship and Cooperation, signed on May 30, 1994. The common past between both countries is frequently highlighted either recalling the Arab presence in Portugal (8th to 12th centuries) or the Portuguese presence in North Africa (15th to 18th centuries). This is the substance of official speeches designed to embellish economic interests and investments with Morocco, for instance, in telecommunications, road construction and tourism infrastructures. The lopsidedness or asymmetry underpinning this discourses is, however, evident. On a political level, it translates into free circulation of Portuguese citizens in Morocco, while Moroccan citizens must have a visa to come to Portugal. On the symbolic level, heritage of Portuguese origin or influence (as it is diplomatically called) in Morocco is classified, but heritage of Islamic origin in Portugal is still not on the Portuguese list.

18Morocco is one of the countries (together with Yemen and Albania) with a classified World Heritage list that includes only walled sites (Creighton 2007). These refer to kasbahs and medinas – Arab cities frozen in time largely as a result of a kind of urban apartheid (Abu-Lughod 1980) practiced by the French – as well as the old Portuguese citadels also preserved by the French with the same political objectives. Both reify a Western presence. Even if connected in colonial times in terms of rules of urban apartheid and cultural disjunction, these are completely different historical and cultural products. Yet it is interesting to note the similarity between the display models and forms adopted for both in terms of heritagization, commodification and consumption. Both also generated identical processes of gentrification and romantic residence tourism.

  • 20 Significantly named Mazagan, the old Portuguese name of AlJadida, as well. This is a huge luxury “t (...)

19In 2004, AlJadida succeeded on its second attempt in having its application as UNESCO World Heritage accepted after its name was changed for the sake of its application from the “Portuguese City of AlJadida (Mazagan)” to the “Portuguese City of Mazagan (AlJadida)” – the pressure for the name change came from the Portuguese UNESCO delegation. What was highlighted most in UNESCO’s final decision to include the site was the past Portuguese connection of AlJadida. Although the citadel underwent several phases of occupation, in particular as a Jewish quarter or mellah (as the whole site is still known today) until the early–20th century, these cultural connections were not foregrounded as a reason for heritagization. This obviously serves Portugal’s purposes. However, from an economic point of view, it was also very much in Morocco’s interest to gain UNESCO’s approval given the concomitant development of a tourist project along the coastal area between AlJadida and Azamor20, a few kilometers to the north, where another citadel was being restored with the help of the Portuguese government. Moroccan officials involved in this process may for this reason have been moved to allow this form of territorial alienation leading to what has been termed dissonant heritage (Tunbridge and Ashworth 1996). As the phase of Portuguese colonization is historically increasingly distant, it is also less threatening in Moroccan memory. The management of heritage of Portuguese origin is in a privileged position in comparison to that of France or Spain, whose colonial past in Morocco is more recent and whose relations with Morocco are strained.

20Whatever the case may be, Moroccan concessions to Portuguese requests about its heritage are underscored by the possibility of initiating another discourse, an alternative yet corresponding one in Portugal’s favor: A discourse that also falls back on the military and architectural magnificence of the monuments in order not to sing the praises of those who built them but to glorify all the better those who managed to get rid of them.

21In AlJadida, as in other sites of Portuguese influence in Morocco, such as Arzila or Essaouira, it is not so much the heritage criteria as advanced by UNESCO that are featured as a tourist attraction. In fact, the Portuguese citadels are in themselves, just as walled-in medinas are, features that are in line with the contemporary tourists’ taste as a whole. They are framed and thus displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of tourists, enabling a view of the different strata of occupations following one another through the centuries inside a space that will not allow for large structural and urban changes – a result of “Arab urban structure” throughout centuries and “French cultural apartheid.” Therefore, they are, as a rule, centers of huge historical and cultural density with a very active contemporary social life. This is why, in many cases, it is easy to insist on the notion of conviviality, which really only conceals and estheticizes a succession of historical events and frequently hides moments of conflict and “multiculturalist” policies of segregation. Churches that became mosques or synagogues reflect the presence of different religious groups at different times, but the synthetic and uncritical argument is that of a timeless fusion of a common heritage.

22As in so many other historical centers, gentrification fluxes interfere with the residents’ habitat and daily lives. In AlJadida, urban requalification processes set inflation and real estate speculation soaring. “Like in Palestine” say some young people of AlJadida seated at the entrance to the Portuguese cistern – which is the most important tourist attraction – as they see several houses being bought and restored by foreigners. However, this does not prevent these same young people from displaying a Barcelos rooster – a symbol of Portuguese popular culture as emblematized during Salazar’s fascist dictatorship – in one of their tourist shops. They call it, ironically, Dom Sebastião, the king who in Portuguese legends disappeared one misty morning in Morocco and is to return to save Portugal, but whose tomb is well identified by the Moroccans near Alkasr alkibir, where the Portuguese army was vanquished. This is not only parody, or mimicry (Ferguson 2002), but engagement in colonial nostalgia, using different versions of the past, and “jumping scales” (Smith 1993) as a response to neoliberal policies of urban restructuring (Bissell 2005).

  • 21 Religious endowment, mainly property, for religious and charitable purposes.

23In fact, it is not only Portugal that has benefited politically from these heritage negotiations. When members of the Portuguese government visit Morocco, for instance, official committees are sometimes invited to visit Cape Bojador – a headland which is nowadays located in Saharaui territories and has become emblematic in narratives of Portuguese identity such as Lusíadas, Portugal’s epic poem. Tacitly or inadvertently, this legitimizes Morocco’s sovereignty in this contested region which is still waiting for a referendum on self-determination mandated by the United Nations to be carried out. One of the most recent processes of heritagization in which Portugal has been involved in Morocco is the restoration of a Portuguese cathedral in Safi, also on the Atlantic coast, that hopes to get a World Heritage nomination. The process has been slow and is regularly postponed. The CGF drew up and financed the project which involves evacuating people from about ten medina houses (funded by the Moroccan government) in order to set up an interpretation center close to the cathedral flanked by the mosque. The land on which this project is built is habus (waqf)21 property. The Moroccan ministry concerned has not raised any objection. Nevertheless, setting up this project involving evacuation for the restoration of the cathedral is obviously a delicate matter as it is located in such a strongly Muslim and poverty-stricken area.

  • 22 But then, he also seems to be repeating the Moroccan king’s speech when he visited the kissayria of (...)

24On my last visit to Safi in June 2011, the guard at the cathedral (canyssa) proudly showed me this “Portuguese Jewel” and told me about the restoration plans. He replicated the rhetoric – as repetitive as that of the almuezin call to prayer – that one can hear in every medina that has undergone heritage work: One that echoes UNESCO’s proclaimed creative diversity. Performing this, he pointed out the closeness between the minaret of the djema al kabira (the big mosque) and the cathedral’s dome; but in this case, in order for the model to conform, the Jewish part was missing. Unlike most medinas (and also the Portuguese citadel in AlJadida), Safi has never had a mellah, probably because the number of resident Jews did not justify one. However, for the sake of conformity with the diversity model, the fact that it did not exist has been converted into an added value: The guard explained that over here, everyone lived together, they shared housing, food and marriages, with no walls to separate them. There had been no need for a mellah. In its rhetoric, the “assimilationist” model seems to be of greater value than the “multicultural” one22. Not all discourses on heritage of Portuguese origin in Morocco fall in line with this rhetoric. Space does not permit a thick description of all the political negotiations that are voiced apart from this one. The Safi discourse seems to be hegemonic and not always consensual, seeing that areas of competences and responsibilities often overlap in the labyrinth of administrative quarrels and quickly become competitive and contradictory. There was a time when a delegate from the Safi commune – a political opponent to the municipal council – wanted to bring down the walls of Portuguese origin, saying that they were strangling the city and urban flow. On the other hand, an online petition is underway in Safi that has already been signed by 1,537 people (not one of them is Portuguese) lamenting the abandonment of the Castle at the Sea (which is in danger of collapsing and is also of Portuguese origin). The petition asks to whom the responsibility of saving this “precious jewel” should be attributed. It says:

25No to the collapse through negligence of Safi’s Castle at the Sea, the hidden history of the city. The civil society of Safi wonders who is responsible for the safekeeping of this precious jewel: Is it the Municipal Council? The Regional Council? The Culture Delegation? The Tourism Delegation? The Group of Associations of the City of Safi? The Portuguese Embassy? (Société Civile Safiote n.d.)

26It is true that the comments – in French – of most of the signatories suggest that they belong to what we could call the cosmopolitan educated class in the strict sense that Boaventura de Sousa Santos defines them: Transnational elites that make a “Utopia” of world “citizenship” viable, thereby making use of something else that he suggests makes this Utopia viable, namely the assumption that there is a world heritage (1997). However, this stance should not be applied to another emerging social group that endeavors to include more recent modern colonization in the heritage-making process: Drawing on the French colonial past, there is an effort to nominate Casablanca to be included among the UNESCO Tentative List. The debate is, in this case, necessarily more heated given the relatively recent end of French colonialism in Morocco and the enduring political tensions with France. The heritage vocabulary used in this case expresses more social strain and could – pending further examination – be considered a process of reversed Orientalism (Hendry 2000), and, more significantly, a new form of sophisticated crypto-colonialism (Herzfeld 2002). In the case of Safi, neither the social framework nor the Portuguese origin of the heritage involved seem to lend themselves to these distinction games through the display of discrepant cosmopolitanism (Clifford 1997).

  • 23 This time the only remains of the “Portuguese” presence in the town was excluded: The Hotel Balima, (...)

27In its heritage regime, Morocco is aiming increasingly at a model of “cultural diversity” for reasons yet to be properly examined. They appear to be connected with the difficulties Muslim countries experience in attracting tourists kept away due to fears of terrorism. Furthermore, the directions outlined signal Morocco’s committed efforts to recreate the kingdom within parameters that are not rooted in Islamism. An even more recent example of this involves the reformulation of the ongoing UNESCO nomination process for the capital, Rabat. The process began again by focusing on a walled city – the Oudayas kasba. After this application had been turned down, it was broadened to include a larger urban landscape that links Arab remains with others of Roman, Phoenician and French origin23 that can be found throughout the area, thereby playing the trump card of UNESCO’s regime of “culture diversity” to manage to include the capital in the Tentative List.

28In the land of colonial heritage, all narratives on coexistence became possible; like Orientalism, travelogues and other touristic narratives, they are often incapable of enlightening the past and thereness; but they are very eloquent in talking about the present and hereness.

4 Mauritania: Drawing New Maps in the Sand Where the Past is Buried

29If we now turn to Mauritania, the past is not only far away (even further than Morocco, where the Portuguese remained until the 18th century), but also buried in the desert sands. Relations with the Portuguese have a different profile. I experienced this myself when I was welcomed into the tent of the head of the community of Ouadane in the Adrar oasis (north-central Mauritania), where the Portuguese had allegedly built a trading post in the 15th century. I tried to break the ice with the usual performance learned in prior Moroccan experiences. I started the rigmarole of genealogical connections, the rhetoric that Portuguese and Moroccans regularly engage in for formal and diplomatic occasions. The head of the community replied rather skeptically that he did not know of any likely mixing with the Portuguese in his family tree which he certainly knew better than I know mine. I quickly understood that I had ineptly tried to carry out a cultural transfer. Genealogy in Mauritania is taken very seriously, to a much greater extent than in Morocco; it is too serious a domain to allow inventive and metaphorical games that legitimate political protocols. This does not mean that there are not tribes that acknowledge, even more so than in Morocco, that they have historical family connections with the Portuguese. But it is precisely the alleged reconstructive “rigor” of oral history that leaves no room for a metaphorical invention to create links in the present. Curatorship of the past becomes difficult.

30Things are different with regard to built heritage. Mauritania provides a good contrasting context to concepts of heritage anchored to its materiality. Still strongly inspired by nomadism, the tangibility of heritage, whether individual or cultural, remains relatively irrelevant for most Mauritanians. It is this very irrelevance that allows such heritage to be commoditized to respond to tourist demands in a straightforward manner. Processes of intervention on heritage of Portuguese origin are also determined by this fact.

31Mauritania is a poor, Islamic country with a political scenario that has favored dialogue with Europe and the United States. The Adrar in particular (the north-central desert zone) is rich in archeological remains and other heritage, most of it yet to be explored. France cared less about this patrimony than, for instance, its Moroccan heritage. Mauritania and particularly the Adrar in the north of the country was seen mostly as a sandy and harsh military district among France’s Central African (rhetorically less Arab) possessions. The entire north and central region of Mauritania is inhabited mostly by Arab nomads, and they were seen to possess a rather meager material culture that was more interesting to record on an ethnographic and pictorial level than to reproduce in an organized, commercial manner.

32This economic and political choice accompanied an Orientalist concept of the Bedouin (badyya) civilization as deeply rooted in honor, word and genealogy. They were seen as different from the Arabs of Morocco, who had benefited from the Al-Andalus splendor among other things, and had built a much more tangible and ostensible urban civilisation. The French occupation of what is now Mauritania thus took on administrative and cultural policies that converged more with “Blackness” and “Africanness.”

33In the postcolonial period, the desert, which the French had to a certain extent seen as a barrier that separated Central Africa from the Magreb, began to be presented as a bridge, a traffic route. While this stance was also determined as a reaction to previous French political and administrative plans, it cannot be explained only in the light of a reductive chronological, and in a way ethnocentric, binomial colonialism and postcolonialism.

34In order to understand this change of perspective, from “Africanness” or “Blackness” to “Arabness,” deeper domestic political tensions have to be considered. They historically separate the black population – the Pular, Wolof and Soninghé (freed from slavery or descending from former slaves, the Haratin), who make up the main population along the Senegal River – from the Beidan (white Moors), who are of Arab origin and live mostly in the more northern zone and desert areas. Other identity classifications with deep historical roots, such as those that separate the Beidan into warrior tribes (Hassan) and marabout tribes (Zaouia), together with their current links with those in power must be taken into account. They are important for understanding the strategy behind the new nation scenario which can only be sketched for the present paper’s purposes.

35However, the French colonial administrators, who were obviously determined in their mission civilisatrice, were the first to evince a great desire to find out about the history of Mauritania. Concerns about the conquest and the administration of the people produced regional monographs following consultations with local scholars and depositories of oral traditions. This positivist effort to compile and objectify Mauritanian history brought forth an official market of history, linked with the new government’s educational programs after Mauritania gained independence in 1960. This complex series of events allow one to see the patrimonialization process in the light of an “imperial formation” (Stoler 2008). The state exploitation of the Arab Adrar region towns (centre–north), Ouadane, Chinguetti, as well as the more southern Tidjika and Oualata, was of special importance in the reconfiguration of Mauritania into a platform between Arabness and Blackness within a global context where culture was becoming an important resource all over the world. These towns had for centuries been important trading posts along the Saharan route connecting the present Moroccan territory with Timbuktu, a route on which caravans trading in gold, salt, slaves, and gum arabic travelled. They were nominated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1996, under the auspices of the Mauritanian Fondation Nationale pour la Sauvegarde des Villes Anciennes.

  • 24 Plural of alim, literally, sapient. Generally designates legal scholars engaged in Islamic studies.
  • 25 The Muslim year during which the Hijra – the migration or journey of the Islamic prophet Muhammad a (...)

36In addition to their historical and economical value, the oasis towns of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tidjika, and Oualata have accumulated the symbolic capital of knowledge and religiosity gathered throughout centuries of waves of pilgrims. They took advantage of the trade routes in travelling from the south on their way to Mecca. Nevertheless. this intangible, symbolic capital does have a tangible, material expression: The passageway for pilgrims, students and ulema24 led to a concentration of amazing libraries and collections of manuscripts that many families have kept for generations, some manuscripts dating back to the 11th century (the 3rd century after Hijra25).

  • 26 This still needs to be archaeologically confirmed. The lack of certainty together with the relative (...)

37The great investment with regard to heritage of Portuguese origin in Mauritania was made in Ouadane, one of these cities. This was the construction of the walls around the ruins of the ancienne ville or old city subsidized under the scope of a bilateral cooperation agreement signed by the Portuguese and the Mauritanian governments. This government decision is difficult to understand according to the monumentalist concept typical of Portuguese cooperation, which is so very committed to raising the profile of Portugal’s 16th century “Golden Age of Discovery.” Why would Portugal invest a large sum of money in a place that is visited by so few tourists and in a country in which Portugal has no economic and political commitments of any kind? Only cautious ethnography – practically an indiscretion – provided me with an answer after some research. These funds were meant for Guinea Bissau – a member of the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries – which had embarked on a civil war at that time, hence eroding the diplomatic atmosphere for cooperation agreements. It was under this conjuncture and these casual contingencies that the cooperation agreement was advanced during a private meeting between a delegate of the Portuguese embassy in Senegal (since there is no Portuguese diplomatic delegation in Mauritania) and the head of the commune of Ouadane. Such cooperation was, in any case, warranted by the idea that the Portuguese had built a trading post there in the 15th century in order to intercept the caravans of Saharan merchants26.

38The construction of the walls has played an important role in the touristic promotion of Ouadane, since it permitted a new reading of the landscape: Something which used to be a pile of stones became “ruins” and earned a symbolic density that enabled it to be transformed into a touristic attraction. Most tourist are not aware that, although Ouadane obviously has its own history that it strives to save and now to display as merchandise for tourists, the type of construction that the walls signal and preserve – a ksūr – Swas not necessarily enclosed by walls (cf. Cheikh et al. 2002, Silva 2006, 2010). Consequently, preservationist worries that today are part of daily ideology and practices in Ouadane seem relatively recent and imported. The ruins (gharyba), nowadays circumscribed by the walls built with the help of Portuguese funding, testify to a much more recent and, therefore, from a semantic point of view, much more insignificant past than tourists can imagine. They possess, nonetheless, a fundamental value – rightly accrued by the circumscription that has improved its display. In the eyes of the visitor, they claim the need to preserve, or should I say, to salvage local heritage.

39The ethnographies that we managed to carry out on emerging tourism in Ouadane (Silva 2006, 2010) show that what attracts most tourists to Ouadane is this sense of frailty and urgency expressed in the monumental enframing of the ruins and other areas of local touristified life and culture. The motive of safeguarding highlighted by UNESCO becomes a tourist attraction itself. Inadvertently, Portuguese cultural cooperation appears, for once, to have actually contributed to local development.

40Part of the local population – frequently the youngest members, the haratin women and others with less symbolic capital and thus less social restrictions – has joined the process: They were the ones to have the “know-how” to participate without losing face and have found economic recourse in it; they also view it as a way to join “modernity” and set themselves free them from harsh social structures that do not concede them many opportunities. Embarking on the process with nothing to lose, they were perhaps the first to assume the “value” of heritage, and propel – and sometimes embody - the value of conservation in itself (see Silva 2006). In this case, and more significantly than what seems to be happening in Morocco, where the government has a greater presence in the whole process of heritagization and touristification, at least part of the local population here has re-appropriated in an informal and creative manner the dramaturgy of safeguarding heritage as inspired by the UNESCO nomination and re-activated it by means of Portuguese cooperation.

5 Conclusion

41Remains of the Portuguese Empire are being monumentalized in different places in North and Atlantic Africa. It is clear in each situation, that there is a mutual interest, both on the part of the Portuguese and local agents, to rehabilitate this heritage. For the Portuguese, it is seen as an economically viable way of attesting to a certain cultural visibility, permanence and materiality so as to reassure the allure of Lusotropicalism that “still” allows it to maintain privileged and peaceful relationships with these countries. For Moroccan makhzen (the governing elite in Morocco), it might be used either as a way of legitimating its sovereignty over some parts of the territory or as an additional ingredient to season “cultural diversity,” without danger of great political humiliation, while for other Moroccan elites, it can be played as a distinctive card on a cosmopolitanism playing field. Mauritanian authorities can use heritage so as to reinforce internal ethnic and tribal policies and to attract foreign investment. Local residents reinforce via heritagization a need of rescue, which becomes, in itself, an important touristic attraction, and draws external financing of international NGOs guided by the rhetoric of sustainable development.

42The further away (geographically and historically) the land of colonial nostalgia is, the more different narratives of coexistence are permitted.

43After a semi-peripheral euphoria that led to the careless importation of models of postcolonial studies produced in other academic contexts and spanning different colonialisms, Portuguese anthropologists have been cautious about ways to approach the Portuguese empire. Without whitewashing it as Lusotropicalism frequently does, they have sought to analyze it in its political and social specificities, putting aside analysis of other colonial encounters as they might well obscure different realities.

44Portugal’s cultural cooperation clearly utilized the heritagization of its colonial past and embarked in “romancing the colonial,” even before the expansive growth of colonial nostalgia all over the world (Werbner 1998). As Pamila Gupta (2009) said, “romancing the colonial” can be a starting point for thinking analytically about the larger cultural and material spaces of colonial nostalgia that tourist and, I would add, heritage industries endorse.

45This might be a good general outline to cultural insights into postcolonial heritagization processes. however, in order to make them eloquent here and now, one must engage in more specific approaches and take into account the specificity of historical and colonial encounters. As Bissell puts it, “we must pay greater attention to the specific geographies and particular histories of discourses and practices organized around logics of longing and loss” (2005: 225). This involves a comparative effort between different forms, different actors and different moments of colonialism and postcolonialism to which the present case studies contribute.

  • 27 Similarly, Portuguese tourism can also be said to have been subaltern and, in a way, subjected to t (...)

46Portuguese colonialism can be said to have been subaltern to other international and colonial powers27. Due to the antiquity and specificity of processes of Portuguese history and colonization in the places examined, it is easier to deal with the politically sensitive meanderings of colonial memory and heritage here than in other contexts. Present relations between Portugal and its former colonies are economically and politically less asymmetrical, and the trajectories of these countries are often very troubled; both factors created very different historical and anthropological frameworks than those that inspired an anglophone idea of tourism and heritagization processes as a form of neo-colonialism, as formulated by Nash (1978) and de Kadt (1979) and others. Links between anthropology and colonialism have been over-explored, but little work has been done about anthropology’s connection with specific forms of decolonization and postcolonial international relations. Following the processes of construction and progressive reformulation of heritage and tourist places during the postcolonial period and in the present are productive, not merely in the epistemological sense inspired by postcolonial studies, but also in the sense of history and political economy that allow for a reflection of the links between anthropology, heritage and tourism with specific forms of decolonization and with contemporary political and economic relations between nations. After all, even though UNESCO proclaims a universal ideal of ultimately transnational more than international proportions, it actually reinforces national projects and reproduces the classicism of 19th century European romanticism that is still embedded in “heritage formations.”

47We should withdraw our attention from an already exhausted focus on the vertical relations between UNESCO and its nominated sites, the greatest result of which has so far been the reification of the idea of UNESCO as the hegemonic disseminator of the heritage regime. This, together with essentialized reflections on colonial nostalgia, has influenced our academic gaze on cultural landscape too much and might obscure particularities and eloquent dialogues that are in danger of remaining concealed behind apparent conformity.


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14 These were official delegates from the Ministries of Tourism, head offices dealing with heritage making, museum curators, and local or regional representatives of UNESCO.

15 One among the latter is directly related to the period of colonial expansion. This is the Hieronymites Monastery in Lisbon built by King Manuel I in 1496 in honor of Henry the Navigator, the first paladin of the discoveries. It has been listed as a World Heritage Site since 1963.

16 There were different phases of Portuguese colonisation. Lusofonia applies to the so-calledThird Portuguese Empire” or return to Africa, when Portuguese colonialism took the shape of a modern project in the 19th century (Clarence-Smith 1985) and could be integrated with what Cooper (2005) calls “late colonialism.”

17 “Portuguese colonialism can be said to have been in a subaltern position vis-à-vis other international and colonial powers; administered by a small semi-peripheral country with at best a weak economic centre, it was sustained by a dictatorial regime and it lasted until 1975, later than other European colonialisms.” (Vale de Almeida 2008: 435)

18 The Moroccan kingdom administrative machinery.

19 The IGESPAR has been recently merged with the Museums and Conservation Institute (IMC), responsible for Intangible Heritage.

20 Significantly named Mazagan, the old Portuguese name of AlJadida, as well. This is a huge luxury “touristic enclave” mainly funded by South African investors.

21 Religious endowment, mainly property, for religious and charitable purposes.

22 But then, he also seems to be repeating the Moroccan king’s speech when he visited the kissayria of Safi two years ago, as reported on local media: “On that occasion, H. M. the King was given an explanation of the integrated plan for the rehabilitation of the old medina of Safi that exhibits all aspects of co-existence among civilisations and religions, characterized by its walls, gateways, a cathedral and Ksar Lebher (sea fortress), Dar Soltane (currently the Music Conservatory), etc.” (Darnna n.d.)

23 This time the only remains of the “Portuguese” presence in the town was excluded: The Hotel Balima, which was designed by a Portuguese architect in the early-1930s and where Che Guevara once stayed. The Ministry of Habous, which owns it, declined to have it included for nomination (I would like to thank Romeo Carabelli for this piece of information).

24 Plural of alim, literally, sapient. Generally designates legal scholars engaged in Islamic studies.

25 The Muslim year during which the Hijra – the migration or journey of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE – occurred was designated the first year of the Islamic calendar.

26 This still needs to be archaeologically confirmed. The lack of certainty together with the relative symbolic irrelevance of built heritage, allows for different locations of the old fort to be strategically mapped: While the mayor places it 15 kilometers outside Ouadane, the curator of the “Ouadane Museum” endeavors to place it right in the heart of the city to bring together the Portuguese with Jews and resident Arabs and build up layers of cultural tolerance and co-existence again according to UNESCO regimes on heritage and cultural diversity. The curator seeks to confront these regimes with the constant attacks on the heritage sites, for which he blames the mayor.

27 Similarly, Portuguese tourism can also be said to have been subaltern and, in a way, subjected to the same “crypto-colonialism” that Herzfeld (2002) refers to in Italy or Greece. The most obvious proof of this is that Portugal itself has been – since the time of the romantic Grand Tour and visits to Sintra – more a tourist destination than a place of departure.

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