Dr. Alexandra Denes, Lecturer, Media Arts and Design, Faculty of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University
"From Rite of Passage to Intangible Cultural Heritage: Incorporation of the Salak Yom Buddhist Ritual into Global Discourses of Heritage and Development"
Over the past decade, leading international development organizations—including the United Nations and the World Bank—have advocated for the inclusion of culture in global development initiatives. Within this frame, cultural heritage is described as integral to sustainable development, inasmuch as it provides a sense of history, identity, and social cohesion to communities, and insofar as it is a rich resource that can be tapped for sustainable livelihoods through the promotion of cultural tourism and creative industries. In recent academic debates around heritage and development, scholars such as Silberman (2013) and MacLeod (2006) have drawn attention to the contradictions and tensions that accompany the reframing of culture as an asset that can be exploited to revitalize local economies and support livelihoods. Whereas cultural heritage once needed to be protected from the adverse effects of economic development, it is now the focus of development agendas aiming to capitalize on the growing popularity of creative industries and cultural tourism.
Drawing on my research on the Buddhist Salak Yom festival in Lamphun Province between 2009 and 2016, I will show how the official designation of this merit-making ritual as first provincial, then national, and now international heritage has led to starkly divergent opinions among community and state actors about how the Salak Yom should be safeguarded. While some local actors and communities have benefitted from the commercialisation and promotion led by state heritage and tourism authorities, many more senior local community members favor instead a return to a simpler, more authentic expression of the festival centered on merit-making rather than visual spectacle. This paper presents these manifold perspectives and considers how these different actors might have a voice in shaping the evolving meaning and practice of this ritual.
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