The impact of the natural disaster on the Tangible and Intangible Culture Heritage: Experience in Myanmar


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In natural disasters people are often being displaced and the consequences and misery of those displaced by natural disasters and conflicts are often very similar. People lose their home and their possessions; they experience trauma and depression and are in need of similar protection and assistance needs. Given this context, this paper shares personal experiences and evolving and emerging challenges in preserving and promoting the Tangible and Intangible Culture Heritage, in particular in the field of Myanmar traditional performing arts which can be lost by different means and causes. The paper, as an example, discusses the experiences and lessons learnt from different cultural heritage restoration projects undertaken in Myanmar during the period from 2008 to 2012 which were supported by the Cultural Emergency Response Programme (CER) of the Prince Claus Fund in the Netherlands. The paper highlights what efforts could be made to prevent further damage and to restore the traditional skills, knowledge, techniques and cultural related objects that have been damaged and destroyed by natural disaster in the communities of Myanmar. Disaster management for cultural heritage can be handled differently in each area or country in terms of resources and capacity available. Therefore the aim is not only to describe the damage by the natural disaster but also to share my opinion and experience related to cultural related objects, monuments and artists that have been affected by natural disaster. In particular, the paper intended to express what we have learnt from the experiences in the major disasters in Myanmar, what special skills and knowledge are needed to alleviate negative impacts as the protection of cultural heritage.

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The impact of the natural disaster on the Tangible and Intangible Culture Heritage: Experience in Myanmar

  1. 1. The Impact of the Natural Disaster on Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Experience in Myanmar Mr. Kyaw Myo Ko Project Coordinator CER Prince Claus Fund Director Mandalay Marionettes Theatre Director Myanmar Upper Land | culture & travels INTRODUCTION Part of my work related to tangible and intangible heritage is supported by the Cultural Emergency Response Programme (CER) of the Prince Claus Fund (PCF) in the Netherlands. The Prince Claus Fund is a Dutch foundation aiming at increasing cultural awareness as well as promoting exchange between culture and development. The CER was initiated by the PCF in 2003, it provides grants to conduct basic repairs and to prevent further damage on cultural heritage (Prince Claus Fund’s Cultural Emergency Response (CER). My city Mandalay is often considered the hub of Burmese traditional tangible and intangible culture. Many cultural items are showcases of quintessential craftsmanship in sculpture, glass and lacquer (Survey Report on International Cooperation Survey Report on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Republic of the Union of Myanmar March 2013). In this session I will mainly elaborate on climate change and the threat it poses to tangible and intangible cultural heritage and on the importance of adopting disaster risk reduction strategies. 1
  2. 2. DISASTER RISK REDUCTION Many heritage sites are continuously exposed to natural and man-made disasters. The deterioration or worse, the loss of these heritage sites usually have a negative impact on the communities, both for their cultural importance as a source of information on the past and ass a symbol of identity, and last but not least for their socio-economic value. Hazards resulting from human activities can be avoided, natural disasters are difficult to prevent or control and often unexpected. However, the vulnerability of heritage sites to both human-made and natural disasters can be reduced, thereby lowering the overall risk of damaging a heritage site and lowering the risk of loss of intangible cultural heritage. Both, tangible and intangible cultural heritage is still not given sufficient consideration in disaster risk management and climate change adaptation strategies at national and local levels. Not even many of those heritage sites included in the World Heritage List, have an appropriate disaster risk management plan and also do not have a policy for managing risks associated with potential disasters. Existing disaster preparedness and response mechanisms seldom include heritage expertise in their operations. Reducing loss of Tangible Cultural Heritage. According to the WHO, the Strategy to reduce disasters risks identifies five objectives and related actions (WHO: Reducing Disasters Risks at World Heritage Properties) and are structured around the five main priorities for action defined by the Hyogo Framework for Action, the main UN-wide policy on the subject of Disaster Reduction, and are also in line with Article 5 of the World Heritage Convention as well as the Strategic Objectives established through the Budapest Declaration (The Budapest Declaration 2002). The five key objectives are: 1. Strengthen support within relevant global, regional, national and local institutions for reducing risks at World Heritage properties; 2
  3. 3. 2. Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of disaster prevention at World Heritage properties; 3. Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks at World Heritage properties; 4. Reduce underlying risk factors at World Heritage properties; 5. Strengthen disaster preparedness at World Heritage properties for effective response at all levels. The objectives and corresponding priority actions can be found in (WHC07/31.COM/7.2). It is very important, therefore, to raise the awareness of those responsible for disaster risk management by raising and discussing these issues in their policies and programmes. Reducing loss of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Although loss of tangible cultural heritage is often replaceable, digitized information like detailed photographs can be a help in this, loss of intangible cultural heritage can be a much bigger problem to restore or maintain. This loss can be due to nature disasters -mainly indirectly- but also to dying out of artists performing traditional art. Already in the eighties some of the performing traditional art in Myanmar was getting rare and questions arose how the historical legacy of traditional theatrical arts techniques and theatre performances in our country could be preserved. This was the main reason of the founding of our Mandalay Marionette Theatre in 1986, namely trying to preserve Myanmar String Puppetry, which still holds its own traditional characteristic since it includes a wide range of artistic works such as Myanmar dancing and music, sculpture, sequin embroidery and painting (Mandalay Marionette Theatre). In least developing countries like Myanmar, most traditional theatrical professionals develop their professional skills based upon tacit knowledge. These are gathered through immersion in the theatrical environment, with these skills being passed from generation to generation. Such knowledge implies highly 3
  4. 4. personal rather than explicit skills, meaning they cannot be clearly stated or documented (Dormer, P. 1997). Therefore, one of the main challenges of our theatre was and is to continue efforts to systematically transfer skills and knowledge onto the next generation of performers, the younger artists. In this aspect it is important to take into account the accessibility of appropriate learning resources, in terms of both the available technology and sufficiently qualified trainers to support the lifelong learning process of an artist. Further developments in this will require the development of a national education strategy to promote the continuous learning opportunities in a way that is appropriate and attractive to the performers (Naing Yee Mar). CYCLONES, TYPHOONS AND HURRICANES Natural disasters like cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes, are all the same weather phenomenon; we just use different names for these storms in different places. Climate change is expected to affect tropical cyclones by increasing sea surface temperatures, one of the key factors that influences cyclone formation and behaviour. Climate change can increase or decrease rainfall, influence agricultural crop yields, affect human health, cause changes to forests and other ecosystems and impact our energy supply (EPA. United States Environmental Protection Agency). Interestingly, although science can explain all the ingredients that make a cyclone possible there is still some mystery as to when an event will actually occur. All the known factors that produce a cyclone can be present and yet a storm event may or may not be born. The components for these storms include a pre-existing weather disturbance, warm tropical oceans, moisture, and relatively light winds. If the right conditions persist long enough, they can combine to produce the violent winds, incredible waves, torrential rains, and floods we associate with this phenomenon (Global Climate Change & Human Health). Nevertheless there are sometimes conflicting results, the main stream of thinking in science is that the climate change 4
  5. 5. will cause perhaps not more but stronger storms, cyclones and typhoons (Thomas R. Knutson et al). UN scientists forecast more severe droughts, cyclones and floods. The consequences can be seen already in extreme weather patterns, particularly drought and flood, and they will probably get worse this century (Environment). According to Camilo Mora average annual temperatures will start to consistently exceed the highest levels previously recorded in as little as seven years in tropical hotspots and within four decades for the majority of the globe if nothing is done to stop climate change, according to a study published in the journal Nature (Camilo Mora, 2013). The study of Camilo Mora came two weeks after the release of a United Nations report expressing widespread, rising confidence among scientists the climate is already warming and that humans are responsible for at least half of the increase in global surface temperatures since the 1950s (Gateway to the United Nations systems work on climate change). The results suggest that countries first impacted by unprecedented climates are the ones with the least capacity to respond and "Ironically, these are the countries that are least responsible for climate change in the first place". "This suggests that any progress to decrease the rate of ongoing climate change will require a bigger commitment from developed countries to decrease their emissions, but will also require more extensive funding of social and conservation programmes in developing countries," the authors write in their study. Almost all of the tropical cyclone damage from climate change tends to be concentrated in North America, East Asia and the Caribbean–Central American region and almost 80% of fatalities from tropical cyclones are concentrated in two countries especially in Bangladesh and to a lesser extend in Myanmar (Robert Mendelsohn et al). Time to go to our next chapter. A NATURAL DISASTER IN MYANMAR: CYCLONE NARGIS, 2008 5
  6. 6. Myanmar’s cultural heritage has been exposed to various natural disasters (1975 earthquake, 2008 hurricane, 2010 flooding), as well as human disasters (thievery, grave robbing, smuggling) and drastic development pressure. Urgent measures are sought for their protection, but the country’s domestic affairs are still too fragile to address this issue (Survey Report on International Cooperation Survey Report on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Republic of the Union of Myanmar March 2013). Cyclone Nargis, devastated the Irrawaddy delta on 2 and 3 May 2008, killing tens of thousands of people and ruined Myanmar infrastructure. Figures of partially or totally destroyed monasteries probably rose in the thousands. More exact estimations of the damage of cyclone Nargis to monasteries are difficult to make. One of the reasons is the huge devastated area in the south where the infrastructure is rudimentary and where the best way of travelling is by using a traditional wooden boat with an outside motor. Myanmar is one of the least developed countries. Being a cultural worker from Myanmar I was aware that the location and situation of the project were not within the compass of the Ministry of Culture. Other renovations in the -large and remote- area were done by the Government, the public sector and also by International aid organisations (NGOs). Fortunately funding came from the PCF for the following three sites: 1. the restoration of Kanner Monastery, the Kyunlone Kutkar Pagoda and the theatrical office building in Moulmeignyun; 2. the restoration of the Shin U Pa Goata Shrine, the Koe Myo Nan Shrine and the theatrical office building in Bogolaythe; 3. the repairs and replacement of instruments and equipment used in traditional orchestras and theatres in Bogolay and Moulmeignyun 6
  7. 7. The projects fell under two main headings: reconstruction of heritage buildings, and theatrical support for restoration of tangible cultural heritage and safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. For all three sites apart from skilful engineers from elsewhere, only local and traditional craftsmen and locally available labour force were used. During the restoration process for the first two sites only traditional building materials, like lime mortar and lime based paints were used for the monastic buildings and objects of religious significance, including the Buddha images. The use of cement and plastic paints was not accepted. The theatrical office building was rebuilt completely. Musical instruments and puppets were replaced. In contrast to the other projects, the use of cement and plastic paints was accepted in the theatrical buildings. Important items for the third project were replacement of damaged instrument sets and timber to build a new stage. Even though the locations of the projects were in a remote area, the projects were an enormous success. In the short run the monks and local people could take up their religious and social activities again. All people from this rural community are devotee Buddhists. And in the long run it is expected to strengthen the community life. Through the achievements of the projects local people became more aware of their cultural heritage by contributing and safeguarding their own tangible and intangible heritage. The historical, cultural and religious objects are restored for many generations to come. The artist and the theatre could resume their activities. The restored historical buildings, the theatrical performances and the upcoming tourism may lay the foundations for a sustainable tourism, taking into consideration the economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of the visitors, the environment and the communities. All this hopefully contributes to a better economic future of the area. 7
  8. 8. When we finished the project, we organized the transferring ceremony. Mostly we do this ceremony in a religious way at the local place of the project. This is because the objectives of the project are closely related to the culture of ancient Buddhism. For these ceremonies we invited all the stakeholders of the community, heads of the communities and general public. The projects had several spinoffs: • Discussions with the locals not only on restoring and conservation of their tangible cultural objects but because of my background also discussions on traditional art resulted in more awareness of their intangible culture heritage and hereby encouraging and safeguarding their own traditions. • Traditional culture based community development programmes and related training programme are in development. MYANMAR’S POLICIES TOWARD REDUCING CULTURAL HERITAGE RISK IN THE LIGHT OF THE COUNTRY’S PROBLEMS There are lots of huge problems facing our country and its development. Since 1962 Myanmar has been under military rule. This brought our country in a political and economic isolation with a disastrous outcome. It has contributed to the rapid and often uncontrolled depletion of the nation’s natural wealth (OECD Development Pathways. Multi-dimensional Review of Myanmar). After a general election held in 2010 a new government came to power in March 2011. This government has inherited problems like poor access to capital and credit; poor trade facilitation and high customs-related fees; cumbersome business and trade licensing and permits; shortages of electricity; weak telecommunications; and inefficient transportations systems. Other challenges include a shortage of spare 8
  9. 9. parts and raw materials, a low level of advanced technology utilization, machinery and equipment deficiencies, and shortages of foreign currency. And the needs in our country are great: education, infrastructure and social and health related issues all have to be tackled and all urgently. For instance, education levels are low, less than half of Burma's 18 million children complete five years of primary schools and less than 1 percent of the country's GDP is spent on education (Burma's Reforms and Regional Cooperation in East Asia). Every aspect of Burmese society suffers from a lack of capacity, and there is a significant chance of aid being wasted. The need for aid in our country is severe and the humanitarian situation is dire. Yet, even if significant amounts of aid and investment are allowed to flow into Burma, an enormous question of capacity still lingers. Besides these important issues, we have many heritage sites, almost all of them in a bad state of conservation. And the cost of conservation and restoring our heritage sites are immense. We simply do not have the means, the money and the required technical conservation of our many heritage sites. As an example of the cost, Hurricane Katrina, which hit the US states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in 2005, did cost roughly US$125 billion, represented only about 0.1 percent of the US Gross Domestic Product. Cyclone Nargis caused damages that amounted to 30 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (IDA At WORK. Managing Natural Hazards, Reducing Risks to Development). Before the (although still ongoing) change of our government, protection and preservation of our cultural heritage was ‘’not its priority’’. On our current road to liberalisation, privatisation and decentralisation all in the sake of democracy and with the challenges of a transient economy steps are being made on the road to conservation of our many heritage sites but (much needed) central funding has only marginally increased, and mainly for the tangible heritage sites. 9
  10. 10. Myanmar has a central government but consist of several different states (comprising The Union of Myanmar) all of them having their own habits, cultures and wishes. The laws are made by the central government, but the forces of the different states and even at lower levels are still strong in our newly developing country which has to learn how to deal with all these problems. The concepts of environmental governance and democracy in conservation and decentralization are huge and often do not coincide and are also completely new to us. Decentralization and conservation are rooted in very different histories and paradigms and both are confronted with a democratic deficit. At its heart, decentralization is but an extension of the historic movement of the state to penetrate and rationalize society along modernization ideals. (Mariteuw Chimère Diaw. Elusive meanings: decentralization, conservation, and local democracy). The first laws in Myanmar on protection our cultural heritage sites were made in 1998; these laws were only about tangible cultural heritage sites, intangible cultural heritage was not mentioned (Government of the Union of Myanmar Ministry of Culture. The protection and preservation of cultural heritage regions law). Revision of this law took place in 2009, and supplemented in 2011. Often (and I’m sure also here) the will to reform in Myanmar is present with new laws coming up; however the execution and implementation of the law is a much more difficult path to walk. To establish the supremacy of the law, the effective separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers will be critical. Myanmar’s present laws do not require the use of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIAs) for major projects nor do they provide a framework and standards for their use. Nevertheless, in my opinion governments have an obligation not only to protect by law but also by implementation of the law, our transient and intransient cultural heritage sites even though the economic benefits hardly ever outweigh the cost of preservation or restoring. 10
  11. 11. Our Ministry of Culture (MOC) is completely responsible for the administrative functions connected with the protection of our Cultural heritage. In recent years, the Ministry of Culture comprises three departments each of them having their own field and responsibilities: 1. The Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library; 2. The Department of Historical Research; and 3. The Department of Fine Art. The first, sporadic conservation measures were already done under British rule and continued after independence in 1948. All these and later restoration and conservation measures were done by people from Myanmar without any help from foreign experts in the different field. Actions were either a local initiative or centrally, from the MOC. The political and economic isolation did not much help in this, and instead of advanced foreign technologies and foreign expertise on different field of restoring ‘we did it our own way’. Alterations and restorations were done in the past on cultural heritage sites, but often with wrong and different than the original (e.g.: concrete instead of wood) material (Survey Report on International Cooperation Survey Report on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Republic of the Union of Myanmar March 2013). The results are such that because of the current bad status of many buildings, due to the small budgets and the lack of conservational measures, none of the huge amount of rich cultural heritage sites, with among them some very world-wide famous buildings, are on the World Heritage List. The latest was a visit in October 2013 by the World Heritage center at three ancient Pyu Cities. These cities date from the 7th and 9th centuries A.D. by the Pyu, who dominated central Burma for almost a millennium before their culture died out. Acceptance on the World Heritage list will be decided by the World Heritage Committee to be held in June 2014. Some of the problems that have to be addressed too are the bad conservation state they are in nevertheless the recent 11
  12. 12. foreign cultural heritage advisers and experts in these cities and the fact that displaced people are living on these heritage sites. In short, Myanmar’s tangible cultural heritage is facing a conservation crisis with a definite shortage of human resources and facilities. Only lately and sporadically is help coming from other countries with high Tech mechanisms to prevent cultural heritage from natural disaster. But we are still a long way from being faced with questions like: how can high-tech solutions be evaluated in comparison to traditional methods (retrofitting versus authenticity)? SOME LESSONS LEARNT Restoring tangible and intangible heritage did safeguard a sustainable social and economic development of the region, not only during the recovery stage but also on a longer term, with some important aspects: -­‐ It created awareness by the local community for their tangible and intangible cultural heritage. -­‐ It was a source of employment, by supporting the local workers but also the traditional craftsmen, like the mason, carpenter et cetera, thereby using the potential of traditional knowledge; -­‐ It attracted investments after renovation (such as for tourism purposes) -­‐ and last but not least: it became an essential support for the social and economic well-being of the communities in distress. Overall important is the decisive role of the local community in implementing and achieving the goals. This we did by making the locals aware of their tangible and intangible culture heritage. We became aware that local authorities played a crucial role in many ways, they could activate and involve the local communities, and they helped not only to access 12
  13. 13. environmental damage but were also crucial in implementing the support. Their active engagement turned out to be essential in carrying out integrated disaster preparedness strategies. Tangible and intangible cultural heritage can be important components of economic innovation and for local development. Local involvement and local ownership is a precondition for a successful project. Successful projects should be based on local definitions and local perceptions of cultural heritage and require broad partnerships of different kinds of knowledge and expertise. CONCLUDING REMARKS Myanmar is very rich in tangible and intangible cultural heritage. A lot of our heritage is in danger, many of the sites are in a bad state of conservation and intangible cultural heritage is diminishing for various reasons. During the last years with the help of the Prince Claus Fund I managed to restore some of our heritage sites; with my own theatrical company we revived some of our intangible cultural heritage. And with my travel company I try to promote tourism in order to contribute to economic development of some of the regions of our cultural heritage sites. Our new Government has a huge task in restoring and preserving our tangible and intangible cultural heritage but is willing. In this process it faces also many other and huge problems that people and the nation needs. To further strengthen our restoration programmes and to bring them up the next level the research and education sector should be recognised as a central stakeholder in capacity building and sectorial development projects for cultural heritage (Evaluation of Norwegian support to the protection of Cultural Heritage, 2009) and future assistance is needed particularly for technical transfers and human resource development in the field of conservation and restoration 13
  14. 14. technologies, the development of a tourism environment with due consideration to cultural heritage, and the formulation of a comprehensive plan from the perspective of regional development (Survey Report on International Cooperation Survey Report on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Republic of the Union of Myanmar March 2013). It is very important, therefore, to use the opportunity offered at the 2013 Global Platform to raise the awareness of those responsible for disaster risk management and to invite responsible for heritage management of the importance of integrating heritage concerns in their policies and programmes, both for its intrinsic value and because of its major role in supporting the resilience of communities (Global platform for disaster risk reduction. Heritage and Resilience). References • • • • • • • • • • Burma's Reforms and Regional Cooperation in East Asia: Camilo Mora, 2013 Dormer, P. (1997). Craft and Turing Test for Practical Thinking. Peter Dormer (ed.), The Culture of Craft, Manchester: Manchester University Press, p.137. Environment: Evaluation of Norwegian support to the protection of Cultural Heritage, 2009. EPA. United States Environmental Protection Agency: Gateway to the United Nations systems work on climate change: and Global Issues. Climate Change Global Climate Change & Human Health: Global platform for disaster risk reduction. Heritage and Resilience: ew/480 Government of the Union of Myanmar Ministry of Culture. The protection and preservation of cultural heritage regions law: 14
  15. 15. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Government of the Union of Myanmar Ministry of Culture. The protection and preservation of cultural heritage regions law. IDA At WORK. Managing Natural Hazards, Reducing Risks to Development: Mandalay Marionette Theatre: Mariteuw Chimère Diaw. Elusive meanings: decentralization, conservation, and local democracy. /Paper20Diaw.pdf Myanmar upper land and travel: Naing Yee Mar (not published). APPROACHES TO EDUCATION FOR TRADITIONAL PERFORMING ARTS IN THE DIGITAL AGE: A CASE STUDY OF MYANMAR. Multicultural Learning and Media Literacy in the Modern World. International Conference, 21-23 May 2006, Hämeenlinna, Finland. d&st=&qs=3779&unevoc=0 OECD Development Pathways. Multi-dimensional Review of Myanmar. Prince Claus Fund’s Cultural Emergency Response (CER) Robert Mendelsohn et al. The impact of climate change on global tropical cyclone damage. Nature Climate Change 2, 205–209 (2012) doi:10.1038/nclimate1357. Survey Report on International Cooperation Survey Report on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Republic of the Union of Myanmar March 2013. Published by Japan Consortium for International Cooperation in Cultural Heritage 13-43 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 110-8713 JAPAN Tel:+81-3-3823-4841 Fax: +81-33823-4027 URL: The Budapest Declaration 2002 Thomas R. Knutson et al. Tropical cyclones and climate change. Nature geoscience 21 February 2010  |  doi: 10.1038/ngeo779. and WHO Reducing Disasters Risks at World Heritage Properties WHC-07/31.COM/7.2 Biodata Part of Mr. Kyaw Myo K’s work related to tangible and intangible heritage is supported by the Cultural Emergency Response Programme (CER) of the Prince Claus Fund (PCF) in the Netherlands. The Prince Claus Fund is a Dutch foundation 15
  16. 16. aiming at increasing cultural awareness as well as promoting exchange between culture and development. As director of the Mandalay Marionettes Theatre, he organizes daily performances of traditional Marionette plays, music and dance in Mandalay and in other parts of the world. Furthermore, he is the director of Myanmar Upper Land | culture & travels (MUL), a travel company specializing in cultural tours to our many heritage sites and my organization for these purposes, working to achieve the goals of restoration, conservation and safeguarding the historical, cultural and religious objects of Myanmar (Myanmar upper land and travel). 16