AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 686

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Session 686: Cultural Heritage and Identity

Observing Ritual on a Japanese Island: Toshidon, Tourism, and Intangible Cultural Heritage
Michael Dylan Foster, Indiana University, USA

The 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage stipulated the creation of a Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In September 2009 the “first elements” were added to this List; they included thirteen traditions from Japan. One of these was “Koshikijima no Toshidon,” a New Year’s Eve ritual performed on the small island of Shimo-Koshikijima (pop. 3000) located in Kagoshima Prefecture, about fifty kilometers off the southwest coast of Japan. I have been conducting fieldwork on Shimo-Koshikijima since 1999 and was present in December 2009, during the first performance of Toshidon after its recognition by UNESCO. This gave me a rare opportunity to observe the immediate local effects of a new global designation of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Although there has been much discussion on the theoretical and economic implications of UNESCO and similar cultural organizations, there have been relatively few ethnographic studies of the specific ramifications of global policy decisions on local communities. In this paper, I examine these effects on the island, focusing particularly on differing attitudes toward tourism. Some islanders are explicitly wary of commodification and would prefer to forego monetary gains if catering to tourism requires altering the function of the ritual. In contrast, other residents are willing to make the most of UNESCO’s designation in the face of economic difficulties and increasing island depopulation. On the island, it turns out, global recognition has caused residents to revisit local tensions based on class, values, and historical circumstances.

A Pile of Stones? The place of Preah Vihear in Thai national consciousness
Shane R. Strate, Independent Scholar, USA

Preah Vihear, has been a site of contested sovereignty for several decades. The monument continues to possess powerful meaning for both countries. For Cambodians, Preah Vihear links their modern nation to the great Khmer civilizations of the past. But in Thailand the temple represents all the territory lost to imperialist aggression during the past two centuries. This paper examines the Thai narratives surrounding the Preah Vihear conflict (1958-1963) as a narrative of trauma and victim-hood in the formation of Thai identity. Thai newspaper coverage of the 1962 World Court case demonstrates how Thais constructed a narrative linking the loss of Preah Vihear to the “Chosen Trauma” of 1893. It constructed a connection to the Khmer monument that projected deep into Thailand’s past. In fact, the temple was relatively unknown to Thais before 1941. By 1959, hundreds of students and civilians demonstrated against losing sovereignty over an essential element of the nation’s heritage. It was the process of losing Preah Vihear, not the temple itself, which captivated the nation’s imagination. Furthermore, by framing the court case as a continuation of French duplicity and aggression, the Thai depict their campaign for control of the ruins as an anti-imperialist movement. This narrative restructures history to silence the voice of the Cambodians and avoid recognizing Thailand’s own history of imperialism in the region.

Shelter and Sacred Space: Revitalizing the Wooden House in Cambodia
Mary L. Grow, Taliesin, USA

Many architects working in countries attempting to recover from the devastation of civil war or international conflict have been dedicated to revitalizing the built environment. Efforts in new construction, as well as historic preservation, have focused on building a variety of structures that offer surviving community members both shelter and a sense of place that is connected to cultural identity, local knowledge, and historical memory. How this takes place is a valuable inquiry seldom explored in current Southeast Asian scholarship. This paper describes the work of a young architect in Cambodia, Hok Sokol, who belongs to a generation that has come of age after the 1975-79 era of the notorious Khmer Rouge. It explores how ritual practices are integrated skillfully into design and construction efforts of the wooden house, thereby reconstituting a previously threatened worldview and cultural inheritance, while simultaneously enhancing the built environment.

Rediscovering Japan: Historical Assets and the Preservation of Japanese Heritage in Postcolonial Taiwan
Yoshihisa Amae, Chang Jung Christian University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

When the Japanese pulled out of Taiwan in 1945, they left behind a landscape littered with buildings and monuments dedicated to empire. Many of these structures fell into ruin due to neglect, while others were purposefully destroyed, abandoned, or otherwise altered by the ruling Kuomintang (KMT). Beginning in the late 1990s, the political and cultural climate began to change, allowing central and local authorities to revisit the past. Relics of Japan's imperial ambitions started to be viewed as Taiwanese cultural assets. Today, nearly half of all such assets date to the colonial period. This paper examines the social phenomenon of preserving monuments from that era, and focuses in particular on structures such as Shinto shrines (jinja) and martial arts halls (butokuden) that had spiritual or political significance. These monuments have rarely been restored to their original form, but have rather been transformed into new Taiwanese structures. This Taiwanese reassessment of its cultural heritage points to a search for a distinct national identity: a postcolonial recognition of both Chinese and Japanese influences, and a celebration of a distinct cultural past.

Reconsidering the Obscure(d) ‘Native Town’: Kampung Wards in Urban History and as Heritage in Nusantara Emporia
Imran bin Tajudeen, National University of Singapore, Singapore

The term ‘kampung’, when it denotes urban units in Nusantara or insular Southeast Asia, covers a spectrum of physical types. Historical and contemporary examples of urban kampung from Nusantara illustrate both architectural and socio-economic transformations, and form the loci of changing perceptions captured in travel writings and ethnographic commentaries. Fifteenth- to eighteenth-century kampung were palisaded compounds of merchants, aristocrats and artisans. Nineteenth-century kampung were wards that included shophouses and traditional-hybrid dwelling forms; often denoted in colonial maps as ‘Native Town’, they were invariably multi-ethnic. Kampung also include planned resettlement schemes and informal urban settlements. While they are often characterized by spatial overlaps and temporal overlays, these various settlement forms are nonetheless historically and morphologically distinguishable. The heuristic conflation of this variety is discernable in alternately derogatory and nostalgic connotations of ‘kampung’ in the literature today, and in received models of the ‘Southeast Asian city’ that ahistorically and categorically consign urban kampung to a peripheral position as rural anomalies in the colonial and post-colonial city. Such models ignore its historic architecture and aspects of pre-colonial cities that have survived or undergone transformations during the colonial period, and consequently the implications that kampung wards bear for the theorization of the city; they project present-day, often post-war conditions uncritically into the past. These inadequate models are reviewed in light of architectural evidence from seventeenth- to nineteenth-century developments in Makassar, Surabaya, Palembang, and Singapore. The paper concludes by discussing how this revision necessitates a reconsideration of current urban history and heritage frameworks.

Helene Nut, INALCO, France

RECONSTRUCTING NATIONAL IDENTITY : THE CASE OF THE KHMER ROYAL THEATRE The paper wishes to introduce the very important role of royal Khmer theatre in Cambodian communities, within Cambodia and in the diaspora, in reconstructing their identity in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge terror. This tragic period changed survivors and refugees’ perception of their own heritage. During the 1980s’, the quest for idendity and the attempt to revive and preserve Khmer traditions became the overarching issues. During the course of this long and painful reconstruction process, it appears that Khmer royal theatre succeeded to embody the national identity. The subject aims to focus on the radical change of perception of the royal Khmer theatre, an art court exclusive to the early 20th century which, three decades later, becomes a national symbol comparable to Angkor Wat. This was made possible by Khmer communities all around the world and by the artists of the royal troupe. The case is a true example of how shattered communities reconstruct a new collective vision out of its own past. Thus, it is a form that has become a source of idendity, rebirth and vitality during the years of suffering. The royal Khmer theatre has now transcended political parties across Cambodian communities.