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Renovated heritage sites lose orginal cultural values

Update: March, 26/2012 - 09:36


Betraying tradition: Modern performances lose the traditional character of quan ho (love duets performed between couples). — VNS Photo Truong Vi
HA NOI – Authorities are considering ways to preserve and promote the nation's cultural heritage by updating sites and practices consistent with the trend of modernisation and international integration, but researchers are worried about the loss of original values.

On the occasion of UNESCO Culture and Development Week earlier this month, authorities and academic experts met to discuss how to promote heritage while preserving its integrity.

Efforts to renew tradition and preserve selected features of intangible heritage are sometimes misguided, said the Viet Nam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies director, Nguyen Chi Ben.

"Nowadays, authorities often take the roles of officiating priests in rituals, and the effort to organise cultural activities within the context of traditional festivals have substantively changed them," Ben said.

He also noted that efforts to restore some historic sites had changed their appearance and character.

"Restoration efforts help some vestiges from becoming damaged by time, but in some cases the heritage has lost its historical and architectural value after being rebuilt," Ben said.

To assess preservation efforts, researchers have surveyed the Hung Kings Festival in the northern province of Phu Tho, the Ponagar Tower Festival in the central province of Khanh Hoa, the Giong Festival in Ha Noi, and the gong culture of the Lach ethnic group in the Central Highlands Province of Lam Dong.

Tourism development has strongly influenced the cultural character of these events. While tourists gain an understanding of the local culture, the development of hospitality and other tourism services has affected the local culture, environment and spiritual heritage.

The deputy director of the Centre for Cultural Heritage Research and Promotion, Nguyen Van Huy, shared his concerns about the efforts to popularise intangible heritage like xoan (folk singing of Phu Tho Province) and quan ho (northern love duets) by presenting them as stage performances rather than in more traditional settings.

When around 3,000 people gathered to sing quan ho in the northern province of Bac Ninh in February, it set a record but was unfaithful to the nature of the art form, Huy said.

"The people promoted quan ho in a way they believed in, but they didn't understand the substance of the form," he said, noting that quan ho was a unique form of song performed between young couples to express love for one another, not a musical style for a big community.

He also complained about the combination of xoan singing with cheo (traditional opera) in a ceremony honouring xoan in Phu Tho last month.

Researcher Dang Hoanh Loan agreed. Loan, who participated in preparing the application to UNESCO for recognition of xoan as intangible cultural heritage, said that "some xoan singers and I were surprised when attending the ceremony. The music, singers' costumes and gestures in the xoan performance were similar to cheo."

Nguyen Thi Lich, who leads a group of xoan singers in Phu Tho Province's An Thai Village, said, "We are always careful in training, and the features of the singing haven't changed over many generations. If this new form of xoan is performed widely, people may never know authentic xoan singing."

Pham Ba Khiem, deputy director of the provincial culture department, said the performance of new xoan singing was an experiment to introduce the form to the public.

"We are not against UNESCO's recommendation to preserve the original values of the heritage," Khiem said. "We have only experimented and created new features for the performances, and we are open to researchers' opinions."

"Public awareness and participation in protecting heritage, with a deep understanding, is key to preserving and promoting our heritage," Ben said, urging authorities to adhere to such principles as ensuring cultural diversity, protecting the features of the heritage, and sharing the benefits with communities related to the heritage. — VNS

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