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Mapping Intangible Culture in Surin Province

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Date published: Wednesday, 28 August 2013 13:59
Date modified: Monday, 23 September 2013 12:36

The Mapping Process

The 2013 Intangible Cultural Heritage and Museums Field School focused on participatory cultural mapping as a tool for identifying and safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. Together with local communities in Khwaew Srinarin District, participants from 14 countries undertook participatory cultural mapping on four “elements” of intangible cultural heritage: silk, silver, kantruem boran and traditional medicinal knowledge. Using the participatory mapping process as a tool to facilitate dialog with communities, four working groups linked the elements of ICH to significant sites in the local landscape, including biographies of culture bearers, sites of collective memory and myth, ritual sites, and sites of transmission. They also used the mapping process to learn about continuity and change in the meanings and values, and visualize hopes for the future of ICH.

Through consultation with communities over the course of their fieldwork (11-16 August), working groups prepared the content for this cultural map about the four “elements.” It is our hope that this map will be a useful resource for education and awareness-raising among younger generations, government stakeholders and wider audiences about the rich cultural heritage of Khwaew Srinarin District. It is our belief that in order to safeguard intangible culture, we must have an understanding and appreciation for the places and people who keep these traditions alive. While this cultural map is only a partial picture of the cultural heritage in Surin, it is our hope that a similar mapping process may be carried out by schools and cultural government agencies in neighboring districts, so as to provide the full picture of the cultural heritage of Surin Province.

Khwaew Srinarin District & Natang Village

From August 11-17, the Field School participants from 14 countries spent time learning about the cultural heritage of ethnic Khmer communities in Khwaew Srinarin District. The participants were deeply impressed not only by the strength and diversity of living traditions, including silk, silver, kantruem and traditional medicinal knowledge, but also by the kindness and hospitality of our hosts. For instance, participants were impressed to learn that at Natang Trabaek School, the principal and faculty were committed to transmitting local knowledge of kantruem folk music and other traditions through support for extracurricular activities, and they were interested to learn about the district’s cultural events, such as the annual “Silk, Silver and Kantruem” Festival, held in November. Other government and non-govnernment agencies, such as the OTOP, Khwaew Srinarin Wittaya High School, and the Taban Phrai Network, were actively engaged in supporting and promoting the district’s heritage.

Dialog with community members of Khwaew Srinarin also revealed challenges, particularly in terms of how to support and encourage younger generations to become true “masters” and “owners” of their heritage. It was found that the knowledge of heritage transmitted through schools or OTOP trainings was not always as deeply connected to the ritual meanings and values as it should be, as the focus was more on techniques and skills rather than ritual values and sacred meanings. Participants also learned that some of the skills associated with heritage were being lost—such as knowledge for making kantruem instruments and composing kantruem lyrics in Khmer—while other skills were thriving due to active revitalization and documentation, such as the knowledge of traditional medicines and natural dyes.

All in all, the Field School participants were moved and inspired by the people of Khwaew Srinarin District’s commitment to safeguarding their intangible cultural heritage for future generations. It is our hope that this mapping process, and the map, offers recognition and encouragement in these important efforts, and a possible starting point for future safeguarding activities.


For more details about the Working Group research process an findings in Khwaew Srinarin, visit the following links: