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National Museums: Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage

Role of Bangladesh National Museum to Safeguard Intangible Cultural Heritage: A Review
Bangladesh National Museum
This paper aims to investigate the role of Bangladesh National Museum to safeguard intangible cultural heritage which is considered as the fundamental of tangible culture. Unfortunately, for the contentious impact of modernization, our intangible cultural heritages are under serious threat to its existence which is very alarming for us because if we fail to preserve our intangible cultural heritage, we will lose our entity as a distinctive nation in the map of the world. National Museum as a pioneer organization of the government play effective role to safeguard intangible cultural heritage in many ways.
The cultural heritage of Bangladesh is very rich and historically highly regarded by the world community as it has uniqueness and specialities which are very distinct in character. This heritage includes both tangible and intangible cultures. From the primitive age to the present day Bangladesh is an arable soil of intangible cultural heritage like song, rituals, tradition, dance, performing art, festive, games, cuisine, folktales and architecture.etc and these intangible heritages have significant influence on the way of life of the people which makes Bangladeshi people distinct from other nations. It should be mentioned that the tangible culture of Bangladesh is very uniquely unique like craft, different type of objects and all antiquities.
Bangladesh National Museum has started its journey in 1913 as Dhaka Museum. Dhaka Museum was located at Nimtoli Baro Duari area of Dhaka with two rooms. Eventually, Dhaka Museum transformed upgraded as Bangladesh National Museum in 1983 and shifted to present building at Shahbag. Bangladesh National Museum has a collection of near 86 thousand antiquities. As a wing of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Namtional Museum is playing vaital role to preserve tangible and intangible heritage of the country and portraying rich, positive and bright image in front of the world community. On August 7, 2013 Bangladesh National Museum celebrated its 100 years of establishment. In its long journey, it has taken many milestone initiatives to safeguard intangible cultural heritages.
1.1 Methodology
Both primary and secondary data have been used to prepare this paper. Primary data were collected from the interview and discussion of the Bangladesh National Museum staffs. And secondary data were collected from different books, journals and articles.
What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?
When sociologists talk about culture, they are more interested about the features of society which are learnt rather than inherited and these features help members of the society to co-operate and communicate with each other which facilitate them to create common platform to survive in a society. Culture consists of both intangible aspects and tangible aspects. Intangible aspects include belief, ideas, values and tangible aspect includes the objects, symbols and technologies which correspond to that aspect (Giddens, 2001). Culture comes from the Latin word ‘colere’ means ‘to cultivate’ to ‘to till the soil’. Smelse (1993) defined culture as ‘a set of values, views of reality, and codes of behavior, held in common people who share a distinctive way of life’. Schaefer (2006) identified culture as ‘ totality of learned, socially transmitted customs, knowledge, material objects, and behavior’. Giddens (2001) has given a broader view about culture .He says that culture refers to the ways of life of the members of the society, or of groups within a society.
Ways of life of the members of the society or group consist of tangible and intangible culture. Intangible culture can not be touched which is opposite to the tangible. Intangible culture includes song, music, drama, skills, and others. Basic Texts of the 2003 convention for the safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defined Intangible Cultural Heritage in page page-5 as
‘…………..the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills-as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts, and cultural spaces associated therewith-that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly related by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity……….’
‘…..the intangible Cultural Heritage, as defined above, is manifested inter alia the following domains:
Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangiable cultural heritage;
Performing arts;
Social practices, rituals and festive events;
Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;
Traditional craftsmanship………..’
Why should Intangible Culture be safeguarded?
Basic Texts of the 2003 convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defined ‘Safeguarding’ in page page-6 as
‘……..‘Safeguarding’ means measures aimed at ensuring the viability of the intangible cultural heritage, including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission, particularly through formal and informal education, as well as the revitalization of the various aspect of such heritage…………..’
It is indeed very important to safeguard intangible cultural heritage like tangible cultural heritage. In fact, intangible cultural heritage is treated as the foundation of tangible cultural heritage. If we do not take appropriate measure to safeguard intangible cultural heritage, it will be very difficult for us to preserve and cherish our culture. Westernization, Americanization, Indianization, Urbanization, industrialization and above all because of the impact of the globalization our norms, values and rituals are changing and many of our folkways, morse and folk culture are disappearing and some are losing distinctiveness. Because of the information technology and media, foreign culture is becoming a part of our culture and influencing our life in many ways.
To exist as an ethnic group and as a nation it is really essential to safeguard our intangible which is considered as the manufacturing element of tangible culture. To safeguard intangible cultural heritage public awareness, collective endeavors of local community and government organization and appropriate laws are needed. Some specific steps should be taken;; Identification of intangible cultural heritage, preparation of inventory and introduction of awareness programme (UNESCO, 2012).
Role of Bangladesh National Museum in Preserving Cultural Heritage
4.1 The Oral History of Bangladesh
Bangladesh is a land of poets, novelists, intellectuals, politicians, artists and journalist who immensely contributed and, in fact, are contributing to the socio-cultural development of the country and without this contribution society cannot be progressive or as a nation we could not be able to identify as an enlightened nation. Henceforth, in 1985 Bangladesh national Museum has taken a landmark initiative to interview eminent personalities of different fields in audio format and US Ford Foundation was kind enough to finance the project considering the importance and need which eventually helped enrich the collection of Bangladesh National Museum and opened an opportunity for the new generation to know about their distinguished predecessors and their views and philosophy of life and the society as a whole. The project title was ‘The Oral History of Bangladesh’. Under this project, Bangladesh National Museum was able to interview 100 eminent personalities including Abu Jafar Shamsuddin, Justice Abdus Sattar, journalist Md. Nasir Uddin, Poet Sufia Kamal, writer Monsur Uddin, Mokhlesur Rahman (shidhu mia), Basonti Guha Thakurota, Doc. Ahashanul Haque, with two different views firstly, to preserve the biography of those persons and secondly, to bring out socio-cultural, political and economic condition of the country of that time through their interviews. It was expected that this audio archive would able to work as a store house of knowledge for many research and references in future. Understanding the reality and significance, Bangladesh National Museum has taken further initiative to publish a book converting the audios named ‘A Hand Book of Oral History’ in English which is stored in the library of the museum and accessible for the people in large(Bangladesh National Museum, 1992). Keeping that success in mind and realizing the importance, national museum authority has initiated second phase of the project from 2012 where another 100 persons are enlisted to be interviewed and it would be recorded in video format and a book will be published in due course. This project is running successfully and ten interviews are already recoded. Professor Shordar Fajlul Karim, Mostofa Nurul Islam, Professor Shalauddin and Nurjahan Begum remarkable are among them.
4.2 Cultural Heritage of Districts
Another notable step in respect of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage taken by Bangladesh national Museum was the making of video documentary of few districts which have historical heritage and are famous for rich culture. The districts are Rajbari, Mymensingh, Panchagor, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Thakurgaon, Naogaon, Cumilla, Chittagong, Kushtia, Bhola, Pirojpur, Coxes Bazar, Bandorbon, Netrokona, Tangail, Jinaidaha and Bhola. The initiative was made in the year 1993. Three different steps were taken to complete the package. Firstly, all the historical places were recorded in video format and narration was added later on, secondly, with the help of the District Commissioner office a fair was organized and recorded accordingly to demonstrate the festive mode of Bangladeshi culture and its inner artifacts and folk song, Ghetu gan, lati khela, palagan, putulnach, snake-charming were included in the fair as well, thirdly, interview of the local eminent persons were recorded as witness statements to bring our the history, culture and tradition more authentically.
It should be mentioned here that many historical places were comprehensively covered under this project like pirojpur kumar para, sundorbon, Monpura in Bhola district (Floating area), kantojirmondir in Dinajpur, Kusumba mosque in Naogaon, laloner mazar in Kustia, moynamoti in Comilla, paharpur bihar in Rajshahi including local famous mosques and temples.

4.3 Gramophone Record of famous Singers

Bangladesh National Museum as a catalyst to preserve national history and heritage owns 123 gramophone record of many famous singers of Bangladesh which is not only significant in the history of Bangladeshi music but also reference source for future research. The records include the song of Abbasuddin, Kanon Devi, Komoldas Gupto, Shochin Dev Bormon, Baul Song etc.

4.4 Documentary on Liberation War
In the year 1996 December, seven days long Reminiscence Programme on Liberation War was organized by Bangladesh National Museum. Seven different groups of people shared their memories of Liberation War and it was recorded in video format and the groups were constituted with Civil Freedom Fighter, Politicians, Cultural Personalities, Journalists and Artists, Administrative Officer of the Mujib Nagar Government, representative of Military, Para- Military and Police, family members of the Intellectual Martyrs and members of the Shadin Bangla Beter Kandro. The video documentary is preserved in Bangladesh National Museum as one of the valued documents of Liberation War with versatile information.
4.5 Documentary on Shitol Pati and Rickshaw Painting
Documentary on Shitol Pati and Rickshaw Painting was made in the year 1999. A team from Bangladesh National Museum went to Balagonj of Sylhet district which is famous for Shitol Pati and made a documentary on that. All the steps of Shitol pati fabrication was recorded, starting from cane collection to weaving. National Museum officials also went to Rayer Bazar of Dhaka which is a famous place for Rickshaw Painting to record the technique of Rickshaw Painting which is considered as colorful folk paint.
4.6 Celebration of Bangla New Year
Bangladesh National Museum takes initiative to celebrate Bangla New Year every year and fair and cultural programme performed by folk artist are organized as part of the celebration. In New Year fair different stalls are positioned with Pittha, handicrafts, pottery, dolls, local home decor, local musical instruments and others. Performers and singers from all over the country are invited in the New Year cultural fair. Concerned department of Bangladesh National Museum gives profound efforts to bring the artists from different parts of the country targeting those types of artists who have unique ability to perform folk song which are under serious threat of the influence of so called modern song. Our indigenous songs like Baul, Lalon, Vatiary, Jari, Sari and Pala are performed by the artist which create the interest among the spectators and give them opportunity to reiterate their love to the indigenous song. This initiative of Bangladesh National Museum should be considered as a perfect inventiveness to transmit and promote indigenous song in a turbulent cultural atmosphere.
4.7. Exhibition of Traditional folk craft:
Every year Bangladesh National Museum arranges an exhibition on our traditional craft. Here they exhibit the process of craft, like jamdani weaving, Shitol pati weaving, pottery making , tribal cloth weaving, Shola crafts, metal crafts etc. Every year Bangladesh National Museum arranges this exhibition to encourage the folk artists and also speared out this knowledge our new generation.
From the above discussion it is clearly understood that a leading organization of Bangladesh Government, National Museum is taking numerous steps to safeguard intangible cultural heritage through research, identification, documentation, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission, particularly through formal and informal approach, as well as the revitalization of the various aspect of such heritage. For some predicaments like insufficient budget, bureaucracy, training and other requirements Museum is unable to extend the limit of its operation in regards to safeguard intangible cultural heritage. If these problems are solved, and if, it can work to its desired level, in future, she could play a very effective role to safeguard intangible cultural heritage which she is doing with lots of pride in the case of tangible cultural heritage.
Bangladesh National Museum (19912) A Hand Book of Oral History. Dhaka: Director General, Bangladesh National Museum
Ginnens, Anthony (1997) Sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press
Smelser, Neil J. (1993) Sociology. New Delhi: Prentice Hall of India
Schaefer, Richard T. (2006) Sociology. New York: McGraw Hill
UNESCO (2012) Basic Texts of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. France

The Evolution of Urban Society in Mesopotamia

Where and when did the first urban societies appear? Were the earliest cities a prerequisite for the development of civilization or merely by-products of it? These are fundamental questions that are attempted to be answered in studies of the ‘urban revolution’, which is defined as “emergence of urban life and the concomitant transformation of human settlements from simple agrarian-based systems to complex and hierarchical systems of manufacturing and trade.” (Gotham 2007) For decades now, many anthropologists, archaeologists and historians have accepted that the ‘cradle of civilization’ was situated in the Fertile Crescent, a vast stretch of land which extends from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. More specifically referred to is Mesopotamia, meaning “land between the rivers” in Greek, lying in the basin of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Mesopotamia is indeed the oldest site that provides evidence of a complex and urban society, such as writing, grand architecture, and bureaucracy. It contains all the characteristics necessary to support the social, economic, and religious needs of a large and sedentary population. Although there is no exact definition for an urban society, scholars have established a myriad of different criteria to classify societies. One of the earliest, and most important, lists of characteristics used to evaluate whether a society can be described as urban was V. Gordon Childe’s ten-point model in his seminal article “The Urban Revolution”. His analysis of these different, yet related, factors is often summarized under the acronym “POET”: population, organization, environment and technology (Wyly 6:2008). For this essay, I will focus on these four criteria and how the ancient societies in Mesopotamia satisfied them.
First of all, the growth and density of a population depends on the food supply available, which is restricted by the natural resources available to the inhabitants. Mesopotamia was blessed as a rich agricultural area between its two rivers. It had very favourable geographical characteristics as a flat and alluvial land. As a consequence of its consistent elevation, the Tigris and the Euphrates flowed relatively slowly. The lack of natural dykes or barriers to the rivers caused the yearly flooding. The waters consistently overflowed their banks and deposited a rich layer of silt onto the plains. Since the ground in southern Mesopotamia was extremely fecund, people were able to regularly grow an abundance of crops which could support a considerable population. According to Elvin Wyly (1998), “After a long period of struggles to improve cultivation techniques in the fertile river valleys, archaeologists believed, an ‘agricultural revolution’ allowed the production of a surplus that eventually laid the basis for an ‘urban revolution’ about 5,500 years ago (3,500 before the current era, or BCE).” It was from the environment that social surpluses were made possible, meaning farmers were able to produce annually more food than what was necessary to sustain him and his family.
However, the annual flooding of the plains was often a mixed blessing. Although the fertility of the soil was caused by centuries of silt deposits transferred from the river beds, the flooding could also be unpredictably catastrophic. In an instant, rivers could destroy crops and wipe out entire communities and their inhabitants. Once the hordes of neighbouring peoples settled in adjacent to the waterways, it became necessary for them to join together in a form of collective management to protect their settlements and livelihoods from flooding. This collective management of the flood waters and the social surplus associated with it formed the rudimentary conditions for the progression of Sumerian civilization. Childe (1950: 8) makes this point clear when he notes, “At the same time dependence on river water for the irrigation of the crops restricted the cultivable areas while the necessity of canalizing the waters and protecting habitations against annual floods encouraged the aggregation of population. Thus arose the first cities—units of settlement ten times as great as any known Neolithic village.” These novel agricultural innovations of controlled irrigation and canalization served as catalysts for the broader societal changes. By providing a consistent social surplus, the populations of the earliest cities in Mesopotamia were able to rapidly increase in absolute terms and also in the density of their settlement. The greater numbers of people provided the basis for specialization and hierarchical institutions. The largest Mesopotamian city Ur, which was built on a tributary of the Euphrates, had a maximum population of 34, 000 in the old walled city, and possibly more than 340,000 when its surrounding regions are included (Wyly 2008: 2). This is an astounding number for a settlement during this period. Among the rivers and streams, the Sumerian people built the first cities along with irrigation canals which were separated by vast stretches of open desert or swamp where nomadic tribes roamed. Communication among the isolated cities was difficult and at times dangerous. Thus each Sumerian city became a city-state, independent of the others and protective of its independence. This demonstrates that the development of cities and states were inextricably linked, as one was necessary for the formation of the other.
This irrigation cultivation and food surplus released certain members of the population from manual labour. The economic and political transformations that brought about early complex societies were largely due to the production of a social surplus by commoners, which enabled the formation of political differentiation and the complex division of labour. Thus began the process of social stratification and the formation of different social classes, perhaps the most significant change incurred by the Urban Revolution “As with other cities of Mesopotamia, Ur was socially heterogeneous, with a detailed specialization of labor, and substantial differences in wealth and power between an elite class and the remainder of the population.” (Wyly 2008: 2). A strict hierarchy began. At the top were the land-owning elites, consisting of nobles, priests and the military, who controlled the distribution of the surplus. Next, there were specialists such as craftspeople, metallurgists, and scribes employed to track the surplus. At the bottom were the powerless peasants who supported the entire economy on their backs. Smith (2009: 10) notes that “Sir Leonard Woolley (1954) was directing excavations at Ur, where he uncovered evidence for many craft specialists in the residential neighborhoods.”
The power of the elites was symbolized and consolidated by the construction of grand public monuments. “Every Sumerian city was from the first dominated by one or more stately temples, centrally situated on a brick platform raised above the surrounding dwellings and usually connected with an artificial mountain, the staged tower or ziggurat.” (Childe 1950: 14). Granaries and workshops were attached to these temples allowing the concentration of food and wealth to be held in the hands of a relative few. The ability to store and trade the surplus spurred scientific innovations in measurement and storage, while new political means emerged to supervise the allocation of the surplus and its benefits. According to Childe (1950: 16), new technologies and innovations emergence directly from the need to manage and organize the surplus. The priests and bureaucrats of Sumerian temple invented the first type of writing, in the form of Sumerian cuneiform, as a way of accounting and recording the resources and revenues collected as tribute from the commons. The invention of writing led to the development of other “exact and predictive sciences—arithmetic, geometry and astronomy”. The use of writing and sciences for administrative purposes by the state is one of the hallmarks of a more complex, urban society.
George Cowgill (2004: 535) claims that “If the first cities were deliberately created, it is likely that they were new kinds of settlements that arose abruptly, rather than old kinds of settlements that gradually grew so large that they became qualitatively as well as quantitatively different.”
Works Cited
Childe, V. Gordon 1950 The Urban Revolution. Town Planning Review 21:3-17.
Cowgill, George L. 2004 Origins and Development of Urbanism: Archaeological Perspectives. Annual Review of Anthropology 33:525-544. Encyclopædia Britannica
2009 History of Mesopotamia., accessed November 20, 2009.
Smith, Michael E. 2009 V. Gordon Childe and the Urban Revolution: An Historical Perspective on a Revolution in Urban Studies. Town Planning Review 80:3-29.
Wyly, Elvin 2008 Urban Origins and Historical Trajectories of Urban Change. Introduction to Urban Geography 1-10.