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“Single–Past Approach ” at “Multiple–Past Heritage ” Sites: The Case of Conflicting Interests at Zambian Heritage Sites

30 minutes

It has been demonstrated that most preservation and interpretation of sites, especially in third world countries, have pursued what is called as “a single–past approach,” ignoring other “pasts” that may be attached to these sites by the surrounding communities who may claim different historical and cultural ties to the same landscape that encompasses a heritage site. This single–past approach fails to appreciate different contexts within these sites and therefore can be misleading in the recording and construction of local histories. 

This has happened despite the fact that a number of sites in Africa have demonstrated that there may be multiple histories within one site; yet, single histories have been pursued and filtered to the public, leading to conflicts between the communities involved and the government or conservation bodies, and in some extreme cases even leading to the loss of the very site being conserved. 

This paper therefore will look at three heritage sites in Zambia and demonstrate the single–past approach that has led to conflicts within local communities and/or local people’s lack of interest in the site. It argues that heritage, especially in Africa, should not be taken at face value, as there are sometimes hidden interests and other underlying tones that may be incompatible with the very purpose of conserving heritage itself. 

It has been argued that values associated with some heritage sites in Africa are those ascribed to by the managing bodies or tourism bodies, while disregarding or marginalizing some values, in most case connected to local people. Examples include: Robben Island whose preservation has been contested as belonging predominantly the Africa National Congress Party (ANC) at the expense of the other parties; the Great Zimbabwe site where the archaeological values of the site are contested by local communities who claim that they are not the only values of the site; Victoria Falls, whose transformation into a site “effaced local African histories of settlement and uses of the site as a sacred place”; and the case of Domboshava in Zimbabwe where the conflicting values of the site led to its destruction by locals from the Domboshava village.

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