Traditional society

While examples of destruction and respect of historic buildings and objects, such as those mentioned above, can be identified in the past, there has been a fundamental change that distinguishes modern society from the traditional world. This change is essentially due to a different approach to the past, i.e., the modern historical consciousness that has developed with the Western Weltanschauung. The new concepts of historicity and aesthetics, but also the new relationships with culture and religion, nature and environment, have generated a new conception of time and new value judgements. These new values of Western society represent a paradigm that has effectively detached the present from the past and, at the same time, made it difficult if not impossible to appreciate fully the significance of the heritage. In traditional society, human existence was closely related with the entire universe, a conception that was still present at the time of the Italian Renaissance, as can be read in the works of William Shakespeare. Considering the current concern for cultural landscape as a significant part of human heritage, safeguarding efforts should have regard to the essential features and memory of such a 'universe'.

The modern anthropologist, in the words of Clifford Geertz, sees becoming human to mean becoming individual, and this occurs 'under the guidance of cultural patterns, historically created systems of meaning in terms of which we give form, order, point, and direction to our lives' (Geertz, 1993:52). Such a process is common with all human beings, and here we can look for universality among the different cultures. Considering that our ideas, our values, our acts, and even our emotions are cultural products, it follows that the things that we build also are cultural artefacts. In order to understand the cathedral of Chartres, for example, it is not enough to know what are its materials, Geertz notes, but that it is a particular cathedral and, most critically, what are 'the specific concepts of the relations among God, man, and architecture that, since they have governed its creation, it consequently embodies' (Geertz, 1993:51). We can see that this statement is fundamental in view of our understanding of the significance of cultural heritage, and the way this heritage should be studied and cared for.

A religious system can be seen as 'a cluster of sacred symbols, woven into some sort of ordered whole' (Geertz, 1993:129). Such sacred symbols can be understood as a spiritual guideline that is good for man to follow in his life. In traditional societies, sacred places with specific meaning, distinct from places of ordinary living, were set apart for or dedicated to some religious purpose, and hence entitled to veneration or religious respect. Such areas are the earliest form of 'protected heritage', and the individual features in one culture may have little or nothing in common with those in another culture, except that they require particular care or attention by the community involved. The welfare and health of the members of the community, in turn, may closely depend on the welfare of such sacred places. In some cases, the places may be strictly limited in space; in others, they may extend to an entire territory (see Frazer, 1960; Carmichael, 1994).

Figure 1.6 Stonehenge, England (c. 1800-1400 bc) was built over several centuries as a place of worship with astrological connections reflected in the landscape. This monument and others of its kind have maintained their popular fascination until the present day

In the past, a close relationship with nature was characteristic for human society. The ancient Celts, the inhabitants of Western and Central Europe before the Romans, conceived their existence in relation to the whole universe, an existence where humans were at one with nature. This worldview had no absolute dividing line between mythology and history, and here the myths represented 'primordial truths at the highest level comprehensible to human beings'. All features in such a universe were associated with local traditions, forming something which could be described as the anima loci, the 'place-soul' (Pennick, 1996:7). All natural features were conceived as personal, and considered subjects rather than objects. They could include sacred trees, sacred stones, springs, wells and places of healing, holy mountains, sacred caves, holy islands, trackways, as well as human constructions. Such ancient cultural landscapes can still be identified even in Europe, for example, in Ireland (Carmichael, 1994).

In the nineteenth century, the United States government decided to acquire the land that had been inhabited by native Americans for centuries, and to provide them with reserve areas. The natives protested saying that the land had never been owned by them; rather, it was part of them and therefore impossible to sell: 'The Great Spirit is our father, but the earth is our mother' (McLuhan, 1971:22). In 1855, the Indian chief Seattle, from the Duwanish family, described this view, emphasizing the relationship between man and nature, and thus his concept of heritage:

Every part of this land is sacred to us. Every glittering needle of the pine, every beach, every mist in the dark forests, every opening between the trees, every buzzing insect is sacred in the minds of my people and in their experiences. The resin that rises in the veins of the trees carries in it the past of the Red Man. . . . The glittering water that moves in the streams and rivers is not only water, it is the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must know that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred land, and that every reflection, how brief and vanishing it may be, in a clear lake, will tell something of the life of my people, its destiny and its traditions. And you must know that the sound of the water - that is the voice of our ancestors.3

Land or a sacred site could have many identities; in some cases a place was profaned if an alien person visited it - or even looked at it, as in the case of the sacred Maori mountain of Tongariro. In other cases, like some sacred sites in Canada, the sacrality of a place was not destroyed by such intrusion, but the meaning was maintained even through transformations. Herb Stovel has

Figure 1.7 Village church in Yaxcaba, near Merida in Mexico, was built to replace an ancient Maya temple over the sacred pyramid, taking advantage of the religious-political value of the site. At the same time, destruction by European invaders extended to objects and books with which the Mayas associated their cultural identity

Figure 1.7 Village church in Yaxcaba, near Merida in Mexico, was built to replace an ancient Maya temple over the sacred pyramid, taking advantage of the religious-political value of the site. At the same time, destruction by European invaders extended to objects and books with which the Mayas associated their cultural identity noted that in a Haida village on Anthony Island, Canada, the aboriginal significance of ancient wooden totem poles was in the process of their production, decay and replacement rather than in the conservation of the original material (Stovel, 1994). In a Buddhist temple, the sacral-ity of the place can remain intact even if the temple is in ruins. In Buddhist Sri Lanka, shoes are removed and head uncovered when entering a Buddhist image house even if it is part of an archaeological site.

With the development of modern industrial society, sacred landscapes and sacred sites have faced, and continue to face, the risk of extinction. Since the nineteenth century, entire cultures have vanished, and with them knowledge of the location and meaning of sacred sites. Often this has been caused by forced conversion to one of the world religions, such as the north-European Nenec culture to Christianity, and the consequent wilful destruction of any places and objects conceived as having pagan significance (Carmichael, 1994).

There are, however, regions where traditions still continue. Such is the Kakadu National Park in northern Australia, a spectacular mountain in a plain inhabited by natives for millennia. In 1981, the park was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a natural heritage site; in 1992 it was recognized as a cultural landscape site as well. This is an example of an area where human relations with the environment have retained their traditional meaning from one generation to the next. In Kakadu, elder persons teach the message of the landscape to younger people by walking in the territory and memorizing the meaning of its different elements in songs. From 1972 and 1978, sacred, ritual and ceremonial sites can be legally protected in Western and Northern Australia (Cleere, 1989:81). Another example of cultural landscape is an area of Swedish Lapland which was included on the World Heritage List in 1996, thus giving an international recognition to the intangible heritage of the Saame people, a heritage that had been associated with the Arctic landscape for generations.

The question of cultural identity has become one of the key issues in modern cultural policies. In an expert meeting in Canberra, in 1989, it was defined as the end product of man's interaction with non-human nature, and, more poetically, 'the fragrance of the earth, the myths we live on and legends that sustain us, the ballads that we sing, the multi-layered idiom of our poetical tradition, or our concepts of heaven and hell' (Domicelj, 1990:94). This definition by a Vietnamese scholar gives a feeling of the relationship of traditional cultures with their environment. As a result of the recognition of the concept of cultural landscape by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO in 1992, a new approach has been introduced into the definition of such heritage.

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