|Gong...gone: A foreign tourist hits the Gong of the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) provinces. UN experts worry about losses of original cultural significance if Gongs are played on demand for tourists. — VNP/VNS Photo
HA NOI (VNS)— The world heritage Gong, a sacred and precious musical instrument of the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) is likely to lose its original cultural significance, a UN cultural expert warned yesterday.
The historic cultural icon "used only on special occasions. However, today, it is also being played on demand for tourists in some places," said the United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Farida Shaheed.
"In all such cases, the concerned communities must be consulted on whether, how, when and where to perform and share aspects of their cultural heritage," heard a press conference she held to share preliminary conclusions and observations of her visit to Viet Nam from November 18 to 29.
During her 12-day visit to Ha Noi, HCM City, Da Nang, Hoi An (Quang Nam Province) and Sa Pa (Lao Cai Province), Shaheed met with key State authorities at the national and local levels.
The visit focused on important issues on the national agenda, including the arts, cultural identity and heritage, teaching history in schools, and the impact of tourism on cultural expression.
Viet Nam has become renowned for its unique mix of cultural practices and heritage; harnessed for development and attracting swathes of international tourists.
"Multiple programmes have been developed to help people of ethnic communities sell their crafts and access the markets, as well as to showcase their traditional cultures through various festivals, community based tourism and performances," she said.
"This has allowed communities to participate in the economic development of their region, and has also enabled the Government to promote a more multi-cultural image of the country."
Nevertheless, Shaheed also stressed that existing challenges needed to be dealt with.
"Measures are needed to ensure that the people whose cultural heritage is being used to promote tourism are being empowered to manage these activities to their best advantage," Shaheed said, recalling the situation in Sa Pa.
"People should not be obliged to perform rather than live their own cultures."
The UN representative praised Viet Nam's economic record but called for greater participation from local people in development projects to create efficiencies.
"At present Viet Nam finds itself at an important juncture," the UN expert said. "Enormous progress has been achieved in the area of economic development, the reduction of poverty including in remote and rural areas, and the efforts towards the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals have been impressive.
"In the rural villages I visited, roads had been or were being built, schools established, and housing facilitated or repaired."
However, she recommended "such programmes would have been even more efficient had the participation of local communities and the use of their knowledge, including traditional knowledge."
Regarding the nation's history curriculum, Shaheed expressed her concern that the use of only one history textbook in schools would be insufficient.
"History teaching should promote critical thought, analytic learning and debate, enabling a comparative and multi-perspective approach rather than moulding children into a unidimensional perspective," she said.
The independent expert will present a report with her findings and recommendations to the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March next year. — VNS