Time for a new perspective on heritage

The term ‘heritage’ currently in use is circumscribed, referring to relics of the past that are no longer relevant to present-day lifestyles.

They are classified as tangible and intangible heritage. The former refers to archaeological sites, architectural structures, and all tangible artefacts, such as crafts, textiles, weapons (keris), jewellery and the visual arts. Intangible heritage, meanwhile, refers mainly to the performing arts, namely, dance, music, and drama.

However, pertinent elements, such as physical landscapes and mindsets, as reflected in norms and values that should have been incorporated as part of heritage, are neglected.

The natural physical landscape, such as forests, rivers, mountains, etc., are integral and crucial to our existence and survival.

Forests are the cleansing agents in absorbing carbon emissions and serve as catchment areas and regulate water discharges into rivers, thus preventing floods.

Our ancestors from time immemorial have accorded reverence and respect for the environment, imbuing them with spiritual presence and emphasising co-existence between man and nature (including flora and fauna).

Mountains, forests, rivers, and meadows were considered important heritage, and preserved for future generations.

But modern man has mutilated and destroyed this irreplaceable heritage, driven by greed. Unbridled logging activities and the clearing of huge swathes of land for plantation and other agricultural activities without consideration for sustainability, are the order of the day.

Rivers have been polluted by toxic discharges from factories, and the seas are suffocated by plastic wastes and all sorts of toxic effluents, impairing the ecosystem that sustains fishes, mammals, crustaceans, and microorganisms that are crucial to our existence.

Such natural heritage should be given priority in preservation and conservation efforts, over the tangible and intangible relics of the past.

Another aspect of heritage, which is totally overlooked, is the mindset that influences attitude and behavioural patterns. The mindset is nurtured by the cumulative experiences of previous, and current expressions of societal norms and interactions, values, and religious beliefs of the past, as they evolve with the development of knowledge, and innovative new technologies that influence our thoughts and actions.

As a result, these new thought perspectives challenge the traditional norms, replacing them with new percept patterns formed by contemporary social, and political imperatives. Thus, evolving a new heritage make-up.

The mindset is dynamic, in that our DNA is subject to genotype mutation brought about by environmental influence that causes changes in the phenotype behavioural patterns, affecting our mindset, which, in turn, impacts on our socio-cultural expressions.

The rationale of preserving and conserving heritage artefacts is to preserve the memory of past glories for the benefit of future generations. Their value is mainly aesthetic.

But the preservation of the natural ecosystem is pertinent for the benefit and survival of future generations. Likewise, the positive norms and values that contributed to harmonious communal living should not only be preserved, but practiced, evolving with the times.

The term heritage should therefore, be expanded to encompass a wider spectrum of reference that not only includes the physical and artistic expressions of tangible and intangible elements, but also the thoughts and actions that influence our behavioural patterns, and the natural physical landscapes that are crucial to our existence, as well as providing markers for our future survival.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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