Cultural heritage plays an important part in shaping who we are and our connection to the world. There are many forms of cultural heritage, from our traditional food to racial clothing to customary celebrations. Many people are exposed to their culture from the moment they are born, and often grow up with aspects of their culture which make an impression on them that is to last for years to come. We tend to have fond memories of the cultures we were brought up with, engaging in practices that were in use generations ago. It is usually the duty of each generation to pass the knowledge of culture down to their children, and as such, culture is at risk of becoming endangered or extinct when it stagnates at one generation.
There are divided views on whether cultural heritage is important and if it should be preserved. Some believe that preserving cultural heritage is unnecessary these days. Many customs and traditions from various cultures are no longer practiced in modern times due to various reasons. As people move on with their lives in the busy world today, they may find little time or reason to dabble in the rites of their ancestors. For example, Asian cultures often placed great importance on dining together as a family, but this happens less often in many modern Asian households as people are busier and have different schedules to follow. Additionally, some minority languages are at risk of becoming extinct because the younger generation does not see it as a necessity to learn their ancestral languages since so few people speak them nowadays.
Others may also feel that it makes little sense to tie oneself down to old traditions, especially those that have gone out of date or are not relevant to our changing times. For instance, some village tribes may have made customary sacrifices to their deities in the belief that they would have a good yield of crops the following year. However, this no longer applies to people living in modern cities since they do not rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. The practice was also heavily based on superstition, which is much rarer these days due to advancements in science and an increased education rate. As such, preserving one’s cultural heritage could be tiresome, boring and serve little purpose.
In history, there have been instances where people, usually minority groups, were forced to suppress their cultural heritage in favor of fitting in with the larger population. This occurred due to a number of different reasons. For one, authorities feared that the cultural divide between two groups in a common country would grow so wide that the country would be unable to be united. In other cases, the authorities saw a certain culture as a threat or an obstacle, such as in the case of the Canadian Aboriginals. Yet in other situations, the ones in power simply have a hatred of a certain cultural group and do not want to share the same land. During this period, minority groups were not allowed to engage in their cultural traditions. They could not hold festivals, observe cultural holidays, follow their culture’s religious practices or even speak their native language. Sometimes, the oppression ended in genocide.
Forced assimilation of cultural groups may have helped in minimizing the differences between people from different backgrounds, but it destroyed much of a rich heritage spanning back thousands of years. Even if we do not observe all the practices or believe in cultural superstitions, being mindful of our cultural heritage can help us to appreciate the history of where we came from. Culture helps us to understand how different groups of people developed and what their practices were. Understanding cultural heritage can also help us to identify with others who come from similar backgrounds. It brings a sense of kinship and belonging when we encounter people from similar ancestry.
Simon Thurley created the Heritage Cycle as a way to describe the process of how we can appreciate and incorporate culture into our everyday lives. First, we have to understand a culture before we can begin to value it. Then, we will find ways to care for the culture and by caring for it, we will enjoy it. Enjoying the culture results in us wanting to understand and learn more, which leads back to the start of the cycle. Through this cycle, we can preserve a culture for hundreds and even thousands of years.
In many ways, a culture can be lost but not forgotten. Even when a civilization goes extinct, its culture is still preserved in its architecture, doctrines and relics, sought after by modern people who wish to understand more about the history of the world. Whenever an archeological find uncovers something from a past civilization, it reveals another piece of the intricate puzzle that is cultural development. These findings may be archaic, but people are still interested in learning more about cultures long gone. Some spend painstaking years analyzing and piecing together information to paint a picture of how a settlement may have lived. Scholars also study extinct languages such as hieroglyphics and Latin to understand more about the people who spoke that language. Additionally, cultures teach us many things, such as how people came to develop advancements in the medical, scientific and architectural fields, all of which have contributed greatly to modern living.
Apart from pure interest, learning more about a culture – whether our own or someone else’s – helps us to see how humans lived and flourished, and why they developed the traditions they did. This can give more meaning to the traditions that have survived till today.
Instead of repressing our individual cultures, we should be proud of the colorful and diverse backgrounds our ancestors have come from. It gives each person something to add to a harmonious society that has the best of every world. Learning more about culture also helps us to be more accepting of our neighbors from different heritages and enables us to come to a mutual understanding, so that we can join forces and work towards a common goal instead of competing with each other.
Today, we are privileged to have most of our cultural heritage intact and preserved in countless records, available for anyone to read. However, cultural heritage is especially vulnerable to being lost in times of conflict, war and natural disaster. Many centuries ahead of now, our practices today will become valuable knowledge to the people of that generation. It is up to us to pass down the cultural heritage we have today to the children of the future, that they will be able to enjoy the richness of millennia of human civilization.