Cultural Heritage &
Indigenous Cultural & Intellectual Property
World Cultural Heritage?
Object rights, human obligations and the conundrum of the commons
Claims on human cultural heritage vary widely in scale and type. Most commonly,
the language of heritage is one of permanent crisis, assuming a finite number of artefacts, sites and associated knowledge that are constantly under threat from development, time, vandalism, war and so forth. Foundational questions such as why conserve? are usually assumed rather than asked. Additionally, visually spectacular and complex material manifestations of cultural heritage are cast as being the physical and intellectual property of all humanity - even if specific communities make exclusive claim on such heritage, and if specific entities such as museums own or control that heritage manifestation.
It is useful then to examine more closely the archaeology of heritage and its care within the Western world in order to understand how this set of beliefs and practices meets or fails to meet with heritage prerogatives in the Indigenous world. Part of this examination involves studying how people are defined by themselves and by others; by tracing the liberal underpinnings of the commons and our stewardship of it; and of the heritage industry as an instrument of an extractive capitalist economy. The conversation between these Western formulations of heritage, with those held by Indigenous communities who acknowledge the sentience of certain artefacts and sites and their right to live, decay and die, is crucial in order to find common ground, identify differences, and enable mutual reform. In this way, hard notions of ownership can be softened via exploring options such as leasing and time-sharing without escaping the ever-changing responsibilities of being a heritage custodian or getting caught up in conflictual legal language that stresses material property rather than allegedly intangible cultural knowledge.
Anthropology, 232 Kroeber Hall, University of
California at Berkeley, CA 94720-3710, USA. email@example.com
Sven Ouzman is an archaeologist and civil servant whose work charts the use of archaeology artefacts, sites, symbols in the present, especially with regard to contemporary identity formation. Southern Africa, past to present, is a landscape that responds especially well to questions about human origins, oppression, multi-culturalism and the supra-human world. Previously Head of the Rock Art Department, National Museum South Africa (1994-2002), he took up a Fulbright Scholarship to complete a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, USA.