Understanding culture and heritage: Part One …hints for curriculum reviewers and policymakers


THIS series is far from routine.
It goes beyond the ordinary.
It is a timely sermon for both curriculum reviewers and policy designers.
It arises out of a shocking realisation that the scholars of our generation, and let alone the generality of our citizens, seem to be clueless about not only the full meaning of culture, but also about its role in human development.
I will take special pains to explain the full import of culture and heritage both to society and to the state.
Please brace for this sobering intellectual initiation.
Let us begin by asking the following questions to set the tone for this process:
l What is culture?
l Why is it important?
l How does it enhance the nation’s all-round development?
l What lessons can we draw from other nations?
l For it to serve society most effectively, in which development domain (ministry) should it be domiciled?
Once we address these questions honestly, we should be able to provide both curriculum designers and policymakers with recommendations on the way forward.
What is culture?
A word of caution is important here.
Take note that although the explication of culture is done in English here for convenience of access to all Zimbabweans, you should understand culture from an Africa-centred perspective.
You are an African.
Born African!
Socialised by African cultural standards!
And for that, attend to this sermon with your local sensibility.
Culture refers to ‘the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experiences, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving’.
Culture is here presented as dynamic (not static); but of course keeping constant ‘traditions’ that give it character over time. Culture manifests through shared habits, norms, values and attitudes.
A key characteristic of culture is ‘value consensus’ whose source is shared ideology (system of ideas about literally everything).
In its innocence, ideology is called ‘philosophy’; in our case ‘African philosophy’.
Please take note: Philosophy informs everything including ‘technology’, the latter being a tangible vehicle of the heart’s desires, the desire for a life easy to satisfy; not the heart itself.
Value consensus is what determines quality in everything – it is the basis of all aesthetics including ideas of what good education is (that which shapes the young and old into responsible and self-fulfilling citizens) – the accountability dimension.
Culture transforms ‘human beings’ into ‘people’ (vanhu) — social beings — and education is the key transformative driver.
Society is an ecosystem supported by several pillars/institutions that are responsible for ‘social reproduction’ (continuity within the realm of creativity and innovation).
Society is the product of cultural values.
Instruments of socialisation include the family, religion, media and educational institutions; the latter being foster to all the earlier institutions.
Culture, simply put, is a way of life of a community and UNESCO defines culture as that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, laws, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by a human as a member of society.
It includes, but is not limited to, characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing history, heritage, language, religion, customs, traditions, ethics, etiquette, marriage, cuisine, social habits, music, dances, clothes and many other things that define and distinguish us as a people.
Why is culture important?
The principal purpose of culture is provision of identity, that is to say, it gives us rupawo, that which makes us different from fellow human beings.
Cultural identity is the identity or feeling of belonging to a group. It is part of a person’s self-conception and self-perception and is related to community, nationality, ethnicity, religion, social class, generation, locality or any kind of social group that has its own distinct way of life or worldview.
Throughout the world, we have a variety of cultures.
Cultures have been maintained from time immemorial and have been handed down from one generation to another.
Cultures help people connect with each other and build communities within the same cultural backgrounds.
Individuals belonging to the same culture are usually like-minded and radiate the same ancestral values.
Cultural traits of a particular cultural community are preserved over time and get passed on to future generations.
Cultural traits live through tide of times.
Knowledge, traditions, language scripts, dress codes, among others, are some of the cultural traits that are unique to a particular region’s culture.
Culture is important to us because it defines our evolutionary identity.
Culture helps us understand our ancestral values and gives us the very meaning of life.
It also makes us unique from other parts of the world.
When born in a particular region, we grow up by learning our regional culture and the society shapes our lives to become what we are today.
The traditional culture of a community keeps us bonded forever.
To this end, we can conclude this part by emphasising that culture equals heritage.
Cultural heritage is an expression of the ways of living developed by a community and passed on from generation to generation, including customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values.
Cultural heritage is often expressed as either intangible or tangible.
As part of human activity, cultural heritage produces tangible representations of the value systems, beliefs, traditions and lifestyles.
As an essential part of culture as a whole, it contains these visible and tangible traces from antiquity to the recent past.
Having at one time referred exclusively to the monumental remains of cultures, cultural heritage as a concept has gradually come to include new categories.
Today, we find that heritage is not only manifesting through tangible forms such as artefacts, buildings or landscapes but also through intangible forms.
Intangible heritage includes voices, values, traditions, oral history. Popularly, this is perceived through cuisine, clothing, forms of shelter, traditional skills and technologies, religious ceremonies, performing arts and storytelling.
Today, we consider the tangible heritage inextricably bound up with the intangible heritage and therefore aim to preserve both the tangible as well as the intangible heritage.


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