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World Heritage and "colonial sites"

Author Solivagant
#1 | Posted: 2 Jul 2011 08:38 | Edited by: Solivagant 
I think there might be a bit more "meat" left to go at on this "bone" even though the 2011 WHC subject under which it was raised has been closed!

Is it really so bad for a country to inscribe its "Colonial" sites and what can we learn by looking at those which have/have not been inscribed?

"Colonialism" is an emotive subject and touches raw nerves in many countries. Winterkjm's comments about the destruction of Japanese "heritage" in Korea was a useful example of how the issue extends beyond the more obvious "European" empires. But there are few countries in the world whose populations and cultures don't reflect the migrations of peoples into areas occupied by others. Such migrations have often been accompanied by a degree of brutal replacement of populations and, even where they have not resulted in major population movements, they have often put in place a ruling elite who saw themselves as superior to the peoples they ruled and who "imposed" aspects of their own culture on them.

But time moves on and both the ruled and rulers are changed by such events. Criterion ii of the Operational Guidelines actually looks for sites which "exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design". It is unfortunate perhaps, but also the reality, that such interchanges haven't always been peaceful and harmonious! That fact doesn't negate their importance nor of their cultural remains.

Often the passage of time and miscegenation between rulers and ruled result in a "fusion" culture which regards the invader's remains as part of their own history. Admittedly there may also be "relict" cultures who still feel their exclusion as "minority groups" from the mainstream. But the need to recognise their cultures as valuable shouldn't downgrade the value of newer one as merely "colonial" with all the negative connotations which accompany that term.

And even where the "invader's" cultural site has not perhaps been fully absorbed by the local culture it can still have value – "World Heritage" is supposed to be about "Universal Value" not nationalistic icons!!

A few examples. To take an extreme - both Hadrian's Wall and Durham Cathedral represent a "colonial subjugation" of the population of England by the Romans and Normans but have been fully absorbed into UK consciousness and would not now be regarded as "colonial". A more modern example might be India's Moghal heritage – its peoples seem to have no problems with regarding it as "Indian" nor indeed in gaining inscription for structures from the British rule in India which replaced it. Perhaps indeed it is an indication of a nation's psychological well-being that it can value the artefacts of its colonial "masters"!

Which takes me to the subject of Latin American "Colonial" cities/towns etc. Is it not wrong to regard these as in some way "alien" intrusions less "authentic" than the pre-colonial remains? It might be better not call them by that emotionally loaded term "colonial" at all – just as we wouldn't use it for Hadrian's Wall. Most Latin American countries have "mestizo"/white majorities and e.g Mexico is particularly proud of its "fusion" culture and indeed has on several occasions nominated "pairs" or single sites containing both pre and post "colonial" aspects. Whilst these towns and religious structures may well have been designed using Iberian models as a starting point they have taken on a uniquely "Latin American" aspect and are an integral part of the culture of the peoples, having usually been constructed by them and incorporating their art. That does not alter the fact that there may be too many of them – but that is about their "similarity" rather than their "Coloniality" and the same could/can be said about inscribed European towns!

"Africa" perhaps feels the weight of its colonial period particularly heavily and certainly has not yet psychologically come to terms with it. It is however comfortable with its own "fusion" culture in the form of the Swahili Coast – despite its "imposed" nature from the Arabs/Omanis with their record of taking slaves. As a result it has rather gone overboard with eastern seaboard settlements from the period. Within them the Portuguese role is minimised to that of a bit player in the form of the odd fort within a larger inscription! European-directed slavery however provides inscribed sites only in so far as they back up the "oppression narrative" even to the extent of an invented mythology at Goree. Can one see any European site not connected with Slavery getting inscribed in Africa? There are some planned colonial towns in Southern Africa which are fine examples of that period of European expansion (Swakopmund in Namibia comes immediately to mind together with a number of South African ones) – but it seems unlikely that they would ever get considered. The one possible exception could be Asmara which is a world class planned art deco city and is on Eritrea's T List despite being built by Mussolini's dictatorship. Whether its failure to get put forward reflects Eritrean reluctance to "honour" the events which created it or a lack of money/skill/management I can't say – parts of it have certainly been lovingly preserved. So sub-Saharan Africa prefers to nominate only indigenous cultural sites – palaces of pre-colonial rulers, "cultural landscapes" and rock art. T List exceptions known to me which involve "non slavery" aspects from the colonial period include Schweitzer's Lambarene (Gabon), Malawi's Slave route which does include some "Mission" sites (surely a significant aspect of Africa's history – consider how many are inscribed in Latin America but examples for instance in Cameroon and Sierra Leone don't figure for preservation "effort") and South Africa's early mining sites at Pilgrim's Rest and Kimberley. But none of these seems likely to progress in the face of the steady stream of African "cultural landscapes"!!

Author elsslots
#2 | Posted: 2 Jul 2011 09:12 | Edited by: elsslots 
the subject of Latin American "Colonial" cities/towns

This morning I was reading the ICOMOS evaluation of Lιon Cathedral (wondering why on earth we needed the 136th cathedral on The List). The cathedral here (though built in colonial times) is presented as a regional work, designed by an architect from Antigua Guatemala.

The Cathedral was started in the second half of the 18th century at a time when the local colonial society was emerging as a blend of the contributions of local Indian traditions and the traditions that arrived with Europeans and Africans.


This space symbolized the emergence, during colonial times, of new forms of cultural expression that would later become the local cultural identity

Author winterkjm
#3 | Posted: 2 Jul 2011 20:44 | Edited by: winterkjm 
I think it is generally true the more recent the colonial period the less preservation of colonial buildings you will see. Another factor is how long the colonial period lasted. For nearly all of Latin America the colonial period lasted around 300 years! During 300 years there will be quite a bit of "fushion" between the indigneous and colonial cultures or in some cases "cultural genocide". Furthermore, no one remembers their homeland before the Spanish arrived or even for that matter their nation not being independent from the Spanish.

In Asia it is very different. People in China and Korea remember what the Japanese and the West did. Japan colonized Korea for 35 years, in which tremendous hardship and suffering occurred. (In many ways Korea under Japanese rule was very similar to various forms of European colonization, but the difference is no one is alive to remember the Spanish in the 16th century or the British in the 19th century) Japan also sought to eradicate much of Korea's culture and traditions (following the example of European colonizers). Korean language was eventually banned in favor of Japanese being taught in all schools.

Moving to China, during the chaotic period following the Opium Wars all the way to WWII, China was being torn apart by 8 countries trying to colonize different portions of the country. The British, Germans, Japanese, Italians, Russians, Americans, and the Austria-Hungarians made an alliance around the year 1900 in order to put down the Boxer rebellion and subdue the Qing government. (Yes, the Japanese, British, and Americans were working together to plunder China) The fact that the Europeans and Americans sought to carve up China like a melon is not lost even on todays generation. It is no wonder the only "colonial" WHS in China is the Historic centre of Macao, which was a center of trade, and in no way were the Portuguese able to dictate terms with the late Ming or early Qing dynasty.

In countries such as Korea and China, the "foreigners" were kicked out and a strong period of nationalism followed. It is perhaps revealing that China is considering nominating the death camp/human experiment lab Unit 731 near Harbin where the Japanese committed the most unspeakable atrocities as a world heritage site in the coming years. Indeed, as I mentioned before many Japanese buildings in Korea have been destoryed with great fanfare, and in 1 or 2 cases it was broadcast nationally. Nevertheless, there are important buildings and monuments remainging in China, Korea, and Taiwan from the Japanese colonial period, some have been preserved. However, I cannot imagine any of them (except a small possibilty of Taiwan) ever being nominated as a world heritage site in our lifetime. Perhaps in 100 years if any of these sites still exist.

Author bojboj
#4 | Posted: 3 Jul 2011 06:20 
The Philippines was a Spanish colony from 1521 to 1898. Two of the existing cultural heritage sites are of Spanish influence - the town of Vigan and the four Baroque churches. Further study of these two sites will make one appreciate the uniqueness of their features despite their seemingly obvious similarities with other colonial towns and churches in Latin America.

Because of the ballooning number of inscribed "colonial" sites from many countries, I wonder how the other Philippine tentative colonial properties (Jesuit churches, Spanish fortifications and San Sebastian Church) will fare in the next WH Conventions. Won't this all depend on the convincing powers of their dossier? Or is it time to turn away from the usual trend of "a fusion of East and West" and put a focus on pre- or non-colonial cultural sites? (Batanes, Tabon Caves, Kabayan mummies, shell midden sites, petroglyphs, archeological sites in Butuan and Cagayan Valley and the Maranao village of Tugaya)

Well, why not? Not only will this help diversify the WHS list, but also represent Philippine sites that are not of colonial nature.

Author winterkjm
#5 | Posted: 3 Jul 2011 12:18 
I recently visited San Sebastian Church in Manila, and one of the Spanish Fortifications in Taytay, Palawan. While I enjoyed both places, I agree with bojboj that there are far more worthwhile sites to be found on the Philippines tentative list. San Sebastian Church, though beautiful and impressive, is not comparable to the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. Mind you, I only visited one of the Spanish fortifications (not the most impressive one), however the site it somewhat impressive at least for its beautiful location on the coast, but it does not stand out compared to other Colonial Spanish fortifications already inscribed. Two of the five current WHS in the Philippines are colonial sites and these are the most exceptional colonial sites in the country. So I hope when the Philippines brings their next nomination to the WHC it is a non-colonial site. The Philippines really should have more natural/mixed sites inscribed.

Author winterkjm
#6 | Posted: 25 Jul 2012 04:01 | Edited by: winterkjm 
The Modern Industrial Heritage Sites in Kyushu and Yamaguchi

Though not a colonial site exactly as it is located in Japan. The serial nomination of sites relation to forced Korean labor during Japan's colonial period may sink this nomination. I know Korea would fight tooth and nail if this came before the WHC. If Japan aknowledged forced Korean labor in the nomination it might be acceptable for Korea, but I doubt Japan would do that.

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