10.00 Reconciling Conflicting Rights: National Indigenous Heritage in Southeast Asia
Over the last decades a language of rights and human rights-based approaches have been adopted by intergovernmental organizations and are now well established within the global development arena. Alongside the shift from material and monumental focus toward the intangible and ordinary, alternative expressions and uses of heritage, a number of global heritage organizations have now also adopted these approaches and language by including references to human rights in heritage conventions and as argument in heritage politics and debate. In addition to this, scholars in the heritage field are now increasingly working with and writing about these issues, identifying and unpacking the complexities of the relation between heritage and rights. Reasons behind the complexity are the fact that there are numerous, and sometimes conflicting, rights in play in the same arena, and that these various rights are valued differently depending on in which context they appear and are set against each other. It also depends on who is involved and on what levels—international, regional, national or local—and on whether a social justice or a strictly legal perspective is adopted.
This paper will discuss the complexities of rights in relation to heritage by describing an ongoing research project in Southeast Asia. The focus of the project is on certain ethnic groups in this area and the political dimensions of their material culture, manifested in the spectacular and ancient bronze drums. The drums are found in an extensive area of Southeast Asia, spanning from southern China and Vietnam in the east, through Laos and to northern Thailand and the eastern part of Myanmar in the west. The aim of the project is to study the cultural history and significance of the bronze drums. They are the means by which issues of cultural diversity and cultural rights as a form of human rights, as well as indigeneity in relation to heritage and cultural sustainability can be examined.
The drums have been embraced by the nation states respectively, in diverse ways, as an important part of their national heritage. Historically, the drums are connected to ethnic groups that in some aspects are considered the indigenous population, but in other aspects are oppressed and discriminated by the different nation states concerned. The ancient drums are still being used and new ones are continuously being produced. These ethnic groups are now beginning to assert claims of entitlement to cultural heritage, for instance, the bronze drums, based on indigeneity. This opposition, between nationalistic and indigenous endeavours, will be here entered by posing following questions: To what extent are the international discourses of indigeneity and indigenous community rights inflecting the claims of cultural heritage? In what ways can the emergence of indigenous rights discourses in these countries strengthen transnational links through the bronze drums as a kind of shared heritage? How are international human rights framework, through for example existing intergovernmental organizations’ conventions, and human rights discourses theoretically and practically affecting people, national/indigenous identifications and heritage in this area? Specifically for this paper preliminary results from the first fieldwork will be related to the questions of if (and in that case how) apparent conflicting rights in this particular context might be reconciled and create opportunities of merging legal and justice perspectives, and how heritage change or might be changed in the contested space of human rights.