SARNGADHARAN NAMBIAR –
Heritage provides us a comforting and meaningful context to life. It allows us to communicate with the past, standing in the present and envisioning the future. Any activity that undermines one’s heritage can only be considered insane.
We’ve just emerged from a year that had been observed as the Year of Cultural Heritage by the European Commission. But heritage, never confined by our inane concepts of time, is perennial, and every year deserves to be the Year of Cultural Heritage.
Governments and communities all over the world have recognised the priceless value of heritage, and have been coming up with efforts that encourage more people, especially the youth, to discover, appreciate and engage with their national and local culture and heritage. Be it at the national or community level, if there is something that can instil a sense of belonging, shared identity, hope and worth among people, it can be heritage only.
Heritage can be tangible, intangible, natural or even digital. Every old building, every artifact, every traditional cultural element, every epic, every traditional food, every natural landscape and every ancient site must take us closer to our heritage: if they don’t, it’s time we analyse our sense and sensibility. Though heritage is in essence the past, what sustains them is our present engagement with it. And this engagement shapes our future. Because, knowing our heritage helps us know ourselves and enrich our lives.
The beauty is, while heritage gives us a context to celebrate life, life gives us a context to celebrate heritage. This is how the Heritage Village at the Muscat Festival assumes significance.
As usual, one of the major attractions at the ongoing Muscat Festival 2019 is the famed Heritage Villages at the Al Amerat Park and Naseem Park venues.
The villages offer an exciting opportunity for nationals and expatriates alike to discover the uniqueness and richness of Oman’s culture and traditions across arts, cuisine, games, handicrafts, sartorial brilliance, farming and more.
An amazing variety of items that deduct centuries from our time consciousness such as ancient coins, traditional cosmetics and perfumes, ornaments, utensils and garments all wait to be discovered by visitors. The ancient Omani practice of making salt, the genuine Bedouin lifestyle, traditional transportation methods, aflaj irrigation system and several other interesting segments offer an interesting glimpse into Oman’s glorious past.
The Heritage Village is not just a display segment; it’s a place where visitors can experience in real time the traditional lifestyle and culture of the different communities that define the Sultanate. It’s where history lives in the present. Further, it is the Heritage Village where a significant number of Omanis get to learn about their rich cultural legacy. It’s a great enabler as well. It offers an ideal platform for Omani artisans and entrepreneurs a full month to showcase and sell products carrying high heritage value to a large number of people including foreign visitors, and maybe sign some lucrative contracts.
The Sultanate is famous as a land of unique Arab heritage that has been enriched with diverse global influences. Concepts like the Heritage Village at festivals are a reflection of the efforts at the government and community levels to promote and sustain the great Omani heritage.
Up-skilling the younger generation of Omanis in heritage conservation and preservation is crucial, as there are efforts aimed at encouraging them to participate in volunteering projects on heritage. Events like Muscat Festival serve this purpose. Also social media can be used to promote heritage assets and values.
Integrating heritage into school and college curriculum is an essential first step in connecting young generation to their heritage.
With tourism emerging as a key driver of the Omani economy, focusing on competitive and sustainable tourism involving Oman’s cultural heritage can bring in multiple benefits as it can significantly contribute to preserving and promoting the country’s precious heritage assets (tangible and intangible), popularise Oman as a unique travel destination and generate local employment opportunities, apart from strengthening its economy.
It may be noted that the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list features Oman’s Aflaj Irrigation Systems; Ancient City of Qalhat; archaeological sites of Bat, Al Khutm and Al Ayn; Bahla Fort and the Land of Frankincense. The tentative list of heritage sites is much longer.
Bibi Maryam’s legacy, as represented by Qalhat, as are the other heritage elements, will continue to inspire not just the people of the Sultanate but the global tourists as well.