Refuting timelessness

Emerging relationships to intangible cultural heritage for younger Indigenous Australians

Authored by: Amanda Kearney , Gabrielle Kowalewski

The Routledge Companion to Intangible Cultural Heritage

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138860551
eBook ISBN: 9781315716404
Adobe ISBN: 9781317506898

10.4324/9781315716404.ch22

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Abstract

With the realization that time and the present are configured differently across cultures, there comes a questioning of heritage as enduring and unchanging. Aligning with this is the increasingly held view that heritage is a process (Graham and Howard, 2008), but not one that is singularly defined. The process by which heritage is constructed and maintained is culturally nuanced. The cultural inflections of value, ways of being, remembering and forgetting are vital influences in the corpus of heritage, both tangible and intangible. As a socially constructed presence in everyday life, heritage is simultaneously shaped by the present and shaping of the present (Graham and Howard, 2008). It is, like memory, unpredictable and changing, all the while capable of shifting, yet simultaneously holding a central place in the maintenance and contestation of ethnic and political identities (Kearney, 2012). Cross-cultural variations in notions of time, past, present and future also affect the ways in which ethnic and culturally distinct groups conceive of heritage and interact with intangible cultural expressions across generations. Many Indigenous ways of thinking about the past do not conceive of it as ‘lying behind’, but rather positioned ‘ahead’ and implicated in the ‘now’, relative to a dynamic universe of ancestral presences and agency in the world (Kearney, 2012). This conceptualizing can slip from the grasp of inherited Western epistemology, where time is considered linear and progressive developments shuffle from one temporal episode (the past) into another (present). Heritage is often envisaged through this lens, an archival presence made relevant in our present lives through sentimentality and emotional connections with ancestry, political motive and ongoing cultural retention. Hence it is presented as something capable of being ‘lost’, ‘safeguarded’ and ‘salvaged’, less frequently subject to a discourse of ‘reconstruction’ and ‘invention’. Conventional views of memory and heritage are intimately linked in the case of the former, and new configurations of both are required for the latter. In those cases where people do not adopt a linear sense of time, neither memory nor heritage can be easily contained by rhetoric of retrieval and historical legacy. What if the past is something that lies ahead of us and heritage is awaiting our arrival, revealed at different points in the life journey? Might it be that knowledge, insight and ancestry, in their fullest forms and expressed through ICH, are an emerging presence in cultural life? These questions raise the possibility that ICH is not fixed, nor does it take on a singular and enduring form. Rather, intangible cultural expressions are changing and are fixed, but momentarily, in that instance where a corpus of knowledge and practice is accepted and enacted.

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