The essence of heritage

The essence of heritage

That the forefathers (forebears) walked a thousand miles together in bands and whole communities, to the point where they formed the society that we are, is not a factor we should dismiss as we would in the dumping of house waste onto the dirt mound.
We have done a lot to desecrate the funeral mounds and the tumuli of our forefathers in the name of advancement, but in the same process (rather hypocritically) we claim to be in want of experiencing the past as the ancients of our nation encountered and felt it.
In the name of ‘heritage’ we have a thousand feasts, and at such gatherings we recount the tales of the struggles of the ancients against the travails of the long road across the changing landscapes of time and history.

It is all ceremonial, and the pomp at the ceremony seems to have taken precedence over the real act of rememory the event claims to recapture.
The true essence of the event lies in its memory, and the memory thereof is made up of the experience, the totems, the mythologies of the events, the sacral, and above all, the communal aspects that kept the people together over the passage of the years.
The Western trend was to consider that heritage lies in the structures architectural and otherwise, and this worship of the ruins was justified, but then the fact of the matter is that those structures did not erect themselves.

They are indeed a part of what Stephen Gill of the Morija Museum and Archives terms as tangible heritage. It is tangible because it can be seen in physical form as evidence that a certain culture was existent in a given place at a certain point of time in history.
It seems that tangible heritage normally takes precedence over intangible heritage when it comes to the honouring of the significance of the monuments by the reviewing bodies such as the UNESCO.

Of the people that lived at the site of such monuments little, if ever, is given the consideration it deserves.
The logic behind this fascination with ruins one cannot easily understand, but it may be due to the human fascination with the work of their hands; that simple feeling of contentment and pride the mason and the bricklayer have upon viewing their completed work.
It may also be due to the fact that aspects of tangible heritage can be seen from the distance and the marvel of the craftsmanship that went into their construction can be viewed.

Of the man hours put into the building of the pyramids mathematicians can calculate, but of the inspiration that drove the labourers to transport 20 tonne blocks of stone across the brazen Sahara sands, and to ferry them across the crocodile infested waters of the Nile, we hardly ever question.
And therein, I believe lies the core to the understanding of the true essence of this phenomenon we call heritage.
I have heard of a million places that have been noted as World Heritage Sites, and the question that pops into my mind is: what makes a place a World Heritage Site?

Off the cuff and without much consideration as to the true criteria used in the selection of a given place as to its status as a world heritage site, I would fain be of the opinion that the significance of such a place in terms of cultural, historical, political, and religious impact on the larger society is of the primary importance.  Some historical sites may lack in these aspects, but their sheer beauty and the feelings they instil in the visitors to their sites and locations may in actual fact render them heritage sites that matter.

There are a thousand spots across the world that have inspired poets to write in tongues only the heart and the mind can make sense of, and there are also sites where the progress of mankind as a species was determined. That these sites are not on the lists is not a matter of their lack in terms of fulfilling the criterion, their absence thereon shows lack of understanding on the part of the members of the body that designates places on the World Heritage Sites.

The essence of heritage does not lie in the magnitude of the architecture or in the historical significance attached to it; the core to the essence lies in the value of its contribution to the advancement of the human race and the world as an entity with its varied species of flora and fauna.
That women and men work hand in hand to construct a bridge to ease their access to given spaces that are vital to the functioning of their day to day activities, should not a thousand years from now be forgotten just based on the simple fact that their quarter of the world is unknown or that such a quarter of the world has gone through a rough patch in history and become obscure in a world that has gone oblivious.

I wonder why we forget (which might as well be, “I wonder why the sun sets . . . ”), and I wonder why more than forgetting, we choose the cheap form of selective amnesia that has its roots in tribal, ethnic, and racial pride.
One sees of its expression on a daily basis, where a group of people will erect their monument and pay homage to it whilst in the same process honouring another structure that was inspired by the same monument they choose to forget.

One sees the evidence of this kind of selective behaviour when it comes to the treatment, the maintenance, the preservation, and the treatment of those places that have national and global significance when it comes to the issue of heritage that can be touched and seen in the monuments erected in honour or used to be living spaces.

Of heritage that is heard of off the lips of the ancients (as found in lores and customs), tasted (as in the indigenous recipes that are fading and getting lost), and smelt (in the flowers of the wild and the plants), one sees very little concern for, when we should rightly be giving them the attention they deserve.

I hear of places like Robben Island, the tone of their mention is one of awe; which is well deserved, for the figures that walked the little islet’s quarters have had a tremendous impact on the progress of the history of the world.
Mention the name Thaba-Bosiu anywhere in the world and the reply you get is one related to one people (Basotho) and one King Moshoeshoe oa Pele (their first king).

Of the spirit of human commonality, assimilation, and comradeship in the face of plight the mountain inspired one hears very little.
Of the wisdom of diplomacy and the true spirit of democracy the king had one hears very little.
Look the mountain up on Google under World Heritage Sites and it listed as a “national heritage site”. This is perhaps under the statutes and the acts governing the selection of heritage sites a monument and I choose to defer in opinion.

You see, Gandhi’s Satyagraha could well have been inspired by tales of Moshoeshoe’s diplomacy (remember this figure lived just a stone’s throw away in Durban in his early days as a practicing lawyer, view the history of the Indian community in Lesotho).
Mandela’s life philosophy is a direct descendant of Moshoeshoe’s Botho; that one should learn to forgive as he did the Malimo (cannibals), and also that one should never hate the foreigner (the Moroa philosophy) just on the basis of their foreignness.

How a figure who has had such a tremendous impact on the history of the world, and the significance of the mountain that begot the world the concept of “cultural diversity””should be viewed in such a little light escapes my understanding.
The true essence of their worth on the heritage of this world is not understood. Thaba-Bosiu is not a monument, it is sacred ground, and I don’t remember anyone building roads to reach the peaks of their prayer mountains.

To me, the term monument refers to a structure built by the hands of man, as is done with the statues that mark the street corners, and the walls of remembrance that adorn parks. These structures owe their significance to the power of the people that erected them, and could in a few years have lost their original power to inspire because their makers have lost their seats of power and influence.

That the statues of the man that gave Zimbabwe its original colonial name (Rhodesia) became targets for a group of fanatic anti-colonial academics, is due to the simple fact that the statues that were erected under the name Cecil John Rhodes were thus stood in an era when racial prejudice was at its peak.
When it comes to places like Qiloane and Thaba-Bosiu, these are not monuments because they came before man, were completed before man was even conceived as a creature or living cell.

Their essence as places of refuge is not determined by man, and their location is not determined by the instruments of mankind.
It is with a justified sense of disgust that I view governments and “authorities” that decide to chip away at a hill that is not only of historical significance, but also the final resting place of burial to the remains of our ancestor kings in the name of “ease of access”.

It was not easy for the ancestors to climb up the mountain up Rafutho’s pass, why should it be easy for us to do so? Are we in the act of climbing Thaba-Bosiu remembering, or are we going to a circus?
The basic understanding I have on the issue of heritage tells me that I should learn to walk in the footsteps of those that went before me to know exactly how they felt the travails of the road.

If they toiled to get to the peak of the mountain, then it is only right that I do the same to get a clear idea of how it felt to them, so that I can honour their memory with a clearer sense of reverence.
If some dimwit proposes a cable car up Thaba-Bosiu (which I fear might just happen considering the large number of pea-brains the authorities seem to have in strategic positions), then I’ll just brave the long bus trip and two hour flight to Table Mountain.
We forget because some dumb fool always mis-educates the masses with this verbose nonsense that “today is not yesterday”, which may sound true if one is so dull that they fail to realise the simple fact that today was actually made in the yesterday.

Insulting the yesterday destroys today, which will all add up to a messed up future.
They built the old Post Office on Kingsway Road in 1924 (93 years ago) and all that remains of it is the arch of the door with the inscription ‘1924’.
History tells me Holyrood Palace has stood since 1128 (889 years ago) and it makes me wonder; do we value our history that little? I guess we do, that is why so much of what we are is fading away in the name of a kind of progress which dictates that we erase our footsteps as cattle rustlers would to hide their tracks.

Instead of leaving clear footprints for the younger generations to follow, we are busy removing the markers on the history of our time, changing them to suit the moment when we could best leave them as they are, so that whoever has a real interest in them can tomorrow get a clear idea of how they were.
I know not of a good proverb to teach this nation to build their foundations upon a rock. That lesson would most probably be chipped away like they are now busy selfishly chipping away the mountain that begot the nation, making way to a progress that will be less than a lesson to the children of tomorrow.

Tsepiso S Mothibi

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