Lauren Meeker, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology,
SUNY New Paltz
“The Royal Proclamation (sắc phong) is like our Certificate of Praise (bằng khen)”: Culture as Local Historical Practice in a Northern Vietnamese Village."
This paper examines the local practice of history among elderly male villagers in a village in northern Vietnam who are seen as particularly knowledgeable about local history and culture. In particular, I examine how they preserve, collect and use texts as a material tie to the past in a way that enables them to renegotiate local social relationships and forge ties beyond the boundaries of the village. This paper arises out of a broader examination on how local perceptions and practices concerning cultural heritage coincide with and diverge from official or State views of cultural heritage. While, at first listen, these elders’ declarations of the importance of local culture are similar to official narratives on heritage, it soon becomes evident that their understanding of culture is specifically bound to the local through their practice of history. Cultural heritage, which is born of internationally oriented concepts of authenticity and tradition and is firmly lodged in capitalist logics of the marketability of culture, is unsatisfying as a model to understand local constructions of cultural identity in this case. Instead, I argue that, for these men, culture is bound to their historical practice, which is seen as a calling and a great responsibility rooted in Vietnam’s literate and administrative traditions, and is a process through which local social relations and identities are forged. In this sense, culture is local historical practice.
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