Intangible Cultural Heritage and Peace Building in Indonesia and East Timor

Authored by: Birgit Bräuchler

Routledge Handbook of Heritage in Asia

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415600453
eBook ISBN: 9780203156001
Adobe ISBN: 9781136582042


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Conflicts and wars have long been recognised as threats to tangible cultural heritage. Well-known examples include the Buddhas of Bamiyan and the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia-Herzegovina, both of which show the importance of safeguarding such sites (see for example, Albert 2006: 32–33, Stanley-Price 2007b: 4–5). However, much less attention has been paid to intangible heritage in times of conflict, although the 2003 UNESCO Convention explicitly ascribes intangible cultural heritage an invaluable role ‘in bringing human beings closer together and ensuring exchange and understanding among them’, in other words, peace (UNESCO 2003; see also Albert 2006: 30, Albert and Gauer-Lietz 2006: 20, van Ginkel 2005: 25). The destruction of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) such as social and cultural structures, relationships and identities is usually not visible, thus much more difficult to detect, but potentially more grave in its consequences and more difficult to heal (compare Nordstrom 1997: 93). In this chapter, I argue that the destruction or disregard of ICH damages or ignores some of the very means needed to solve problems, prevent conflicts and for social reconstruction. In an era of ethnic and religious wars, one often seems to forget that religion and culture are not only (mis)used to mobilise people to fight each other. On the contrary, they can also help prevent and resolve violent conflict and enable reconciliation.

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