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Programmes Protection & Promotion of the of the Cultural Heritage of the Himalayas

Protection & Promotion of the Cultural Heritage of the Himalayas

The Himalayan region may be considered to be a cultural complex, a composite of several cultural cosmoses rolled into one, each little valley or plateau with its distinctive cultural forms.  Their altitude changes create different agroclimatic conditions and diverse ecosystems; their seclusion and remoteness has made them the last bastions of globally significant  indigenous knowledge and  cultural heterogeneity. The geographical and adaptation continuities have, however, helped create and preserve some features that form a uniquely ‘Himalayan way of life’ common across the range.

Every mountain slope is, from the anthropo-geographical standpoint, a complex phenomenon. It displays a whole range of cultural features / combinations-a variety of occupations from commercial cropping and agro-processing to nomadic pastoralists, every degree of density from congestion to vacancy, every range of cultural development from industrialisation to nomadism. The isolation bred by the high mountain ranges have helped nurture a multiplicity of tribes with unique cultures that include languages, social structures, and spiritual traditions. Each tribe also has its own arts & crafts (weaving, metal craft, architecture, music & dance) and certain invaluable traditional knowledge systems (ethnobotany, medicine).

Cultural region indicates those areas that display relative consistency, homogeneity, and distinctiveness in inhabitants’ lifestyle, in that there are a greater number of shared cultural elements within the region, than between the region and others.  The cultural complex of the Himalayas may  be differentiated into multiple cultural regions.  Cultural variation in the Himalayas is both vertical and lateral. While vertical variation predominantly flows from ecological factors, lateral variation in cultures is mediated by ethnicity.

Endangerment of Himalayan Cultures

The denial of cultural rights to minorities is as disruptive of the moral fabric of mainstream society as is the denial of civil rights. Civil rights, however, are focused on the individual, while cultural rights must focus on ethnocultural groups. Apart from the loss of global cultural treasures, cultural erosion creates a society in psychological distress with its accompanying consequences in terms of social evils. The process of erosion however is gradual, and timely interventions could well halt or even reverse the trend. Fishman in his study of minority and endangered languages identified the stages of language endangerment that have been adapted for cultural erosion and presented below. Identification of the stage a particular society is in, in terms of cultural erosion, could help determine and implement appropriate and timely policies for preservation of these cultures.

Safeguarding and preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Himalayas

IISD has been undertaking diverse modes of artistic creations, productions, disseminations, distributions and participation to express, augment and transmit the cultural diversity of the Himalayan regions, particularly in the States of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. 

The domains of the intangible cultural heritage of the Himalayas, covered by the organisation include;

  • oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
  • performing arts;
  • social practices, rituals and festive events;
  • knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; and
  • traditional craftsmanship.

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