LUMBINI: There is loud Hindu music being projected from loudspeakers towards a group of dancing youths while monks in saffron robes sit motionless in meditation. Is this cultural diversity or a clash of cultures? Is this a conflict between modern culture and traditional culture? Maybe it is a test of tolerance.
On May 31, 2013 a local consultation meeting and brainstorming session was held here on operationalising UNESCO’s culture for development concept through the integration of culture into education in the greater Lumbini area. Even within the confines of a limited number of participants, there were lively discussions producing a fascinating array of considerations. Some comments made by the local participants were thought provoking.
It was stated that the tradition of hospitality which requires people to provide free lodging and food hinders income generation through tourism. To allow for the wonderful ideas of ‘homestay’ to function, the community must learn to charge visitors and tone down their deep-rooted sense of hospitality. It is all about business now.
The manufacturing of traditional products has been the occupation of most community members. Today it is difficult to sell traditional products, since foreign goods have taken over the market. For example, plastic buckets and refrigerators have destroyed the market for potters and local metal workers. The Netuwa tribe, for example, catches and charms snakes and collects snake venom. They make their money also by singing to the villagers, but they do not send their children to school. It has become difficult for them to survive.
Traditional occupations need to adapt to new requirements.
The agriculture sector is, of course, the most predominant income source. However, for the local communities to survive, the traditional farming methods and products need
to be improved along with marketing. There needs to be a support system for those producing traditional goods, which might even mean initially guaranteeing purchase. If the products could ensure quality, they could be marketed all over the world with the seal of being from the homeland of Lord Buddha.
How do we ensure that the communities can fairly profit from such an undertaking without any authority controlling a monopoly? These comments clearly show how closely sustainable development is dependent on culture. Traditional thought is very much associated with superstitions which hinder change.
Training and education must allow awareness and practical understanding; however, this can only be done if it is communicated in the local language using examples from the lives of the local communities. Culture needs to be defined within the specific context. There needs to be clarification on what components of culture is important and acceptable and how this is relevant for sustainable development.
Can a seal of excellence be given to contribute to a sustainable economic development of greater Lumbini area? Can the snake catchers become champions for a sustainable environment? Can education and training in local languages lead to social cohesion?
These are ideas that were thrown around in a brainstorming session. We will, however, not know the practicality of such interventions unless we try them out. I came across an inspiring statement in a tweet by Shashi Tharoor: “The freedom to experiment, to innovate and perhaps even to fail, is a freedom that must be recognised and cherished.”
(The author is an architect and can be contacted through email@example.com)