Reharbouring Heritage, Jonathan Skinner

The 3rd Rising from the Depths Workshop: People, Time and the Sea

Workshop 3: People, Time and the Sea 

10 November 2021 (10 am to 1 pm, UK)    

Overview and Discussion Points 

The third workshop of the Rising from the Depths (RftD) Network Workshop series focused on how creative industries and arts are both a manifestation of the intangible marine cultural heritage and a means to communicate the core values of heritage, while increasing awareness of its importance. Speakers from the RftD innovation projects from East Africa and the UK discussed the cultural expressions that, throughout their projects, showed the connections between the people, their environment, their heritage and their traditional knowledge. From the use of performing arts where traditional knowledge and regulatory systems are shared with the community, particularly youth and children, to the celebration of carnivals and festivals, where celebrations around the values of marine heritage are experienced by all community members, arts and creative industries are a crucial vehicle to educate and consolidate traditional marine values.  

As a result, most of the projects evidenced how conventional approaches to awareness raising and research-oriented communication have failed to create effective impact. MCH in East Africa is a living resource and as such, it has to be shared through the very same communication means used and understood by the community. Overall, the workshop highlighted the methods used and the impacts caused in MCH awareness through community-led arts approaches and identified deficiencies in the application of national heritage policies in this regard. 

Projects Presented 


Primary Findings 

Some of the primary findings and challenges identified across the presented projects throughout the three RftD workshops are related to the need to establish community-led governance and participatory approaches in the heritage process. Equally important is the need to integrate traditional heritage knowledge within the national legal frameworks, as well as establishing platforms for community representation in the decision-making procedures. Regarding the creative industries and the use of arts for the education, study and promotion of MCH values, some specific findings can be highlighted: 

  • Regarding the need to identify, share and communicate knowledge connected to MCH, it was clear that the different academic strategies of communication or the awareness raising methods used by different intergovernmental organizations or regional and national entities are not sufficient. In many cases they lack an in-depth study of the audiences they are targeting, and in many others a detailed comprehension of the different cultural manifestations and traditional practices connected to the MCH. The need to carry out regional wide MCH inventories with ecosystem and community-based approaches has been a running theme throughout this workshop series. Discussions highlighted the lack of specific topics related to heritage values that could empower young generations in the preservation of MCH within the formal education curricula, leading to a call for adaptative approaches that synthesise research, interpretation, preservation and dissemination by most of the projects.  The use of popular music and dances, locally-led educational groups and committees, local languages and local heritage values in communication and awareness strategies are successful means of educating while empowering youth in knowledge preservation. 
  • The different projects showed how the younger generations are a key community for the survival of traditional values and approaches to MCH, which are rapidly changing due to urban, industrial and tourism development, and environmental pressures. Young generations and children reconnect with MCH community values through the celebration of festivals and carnivals where all members of the community participate in knowledge exchange, storytelling and performing arts. The publication of specific educative materials for schools, where MCH values based on traditional practices and knowledge are illustrated in the local language, was also shown as an effective means to educate the “site managers” of the future. It was clear that people living around heritage sites, valuing their traditions as a living heritage and producing heritage influenced by the historical relations of the community with their particular environment, are the first guardians of MCH and, therefore, are the ones that first have to be involved not only in its identification, study and preservation, but also in its enjoyment, dissemination and expressivity.  
  • Concerning the promotion and integration of MCH traditional arts, MCH dissemination methodologies and related creative industries within national policies, some of the projects evidenced that, even if the target countries create policies protecting the diversity of cultural expressions and are signatories of most of related regional and international Conventions, there is an important deficiency in the way these are implemented. Furthermore, the lack of specific monitoring mechanisms and awareness among decision-makers results in the under prioritization of community-led cultural manifestations. Heritage preservation policies are mainly linked to “aggressive” tourism strategies instead of understanding heritage as something inherent to the community´s identity, rooted in their space from their past, generating further cultural expressions, and justifying their very same existence and way of communicating. Furthermore, a consistent focus on tourism as the primary capital of cultural heritage is limiting the opportunity for more diverse and community-centric cultural capital measurements and indicators. 
  • Overall, the projects highlighted the importance of having specific spaces to present, celebrate and communicate MCH knowledge and values. These spaces can be temporal manifestations that, organized on a regular basis, gather the community around shared values, or permanent tangible infrastructures, like eco-museums or interpretation centres, where the community co-creates the narratives and heritage interpretation presented to a wider audience. Although the subject of MCH presentation and museums might well be a topic to be further discussed in future workshops, it was already clear that the inherited traditional western concept of museums and the presentation of MCH as something static and objectivized by the external expert’s eyes has failed to engage communities and express the whole spectrum of their MCH values. This has also caused a perception that MCH can be neglected in national policies and development practices as it is, first, not known and understood and, second, has not been successfully communicated, valued and shared by the same community. 


RftD network projects have clearly shown innovative ways of producing a diversity of cultural expressions while promoting the core values of MCH, raising awareness of the need for their preservation and its importance within the community.  


Elgidius Ichumbaki presenting Musicalizing Marine Cultural Heritage

Elgidius Ichumbaki presenting the team behind Musicalizing Marine Cultural Heritage


Concluding Remarks 


At the end of these first three RftD workshop is becomes clear that any strategy aiming at achieving sustainable economic, social and ecological development needs to be participatory and inclusive. The community, culture and the environment are the main drivers and enablers of sustainability. It is through communities’ heritage, culture and traditional knowledge that development can be boosted, maintaining a sense of belonging, identity and knowledge transfer.  

The discussions in Workshop 3 have pointed to the use of music, dance, festivals and performing manifestations as successful means for community intergenerational involvement and knowledge transfer. The RftD network’s projects have increased knowledge and awareness of the importance of MCH amongst local communities as well as capturing the diversity of activities related to MCH. Paraphrasing Solange Macamo in her final concluding remarks to the workshop, the network has empowered local experts and communities the potential of their MCH so they can demand a change in how heritage has been traditionally approached from policy-makers and decision-makers.  

The sea is a major unifying force around local communities in the Western Indian Ocean. The knowledge, values and enjoyment of MCH transcends national boundaries and unities coastal communities. Preserving and recognising the different cultural expressions around this heritage is not only necessary for understanding MCH, but is key if we are to transform research and management strategies towards achieving communities’ well-being, and sustainable development.  

Many challenges remain. Among them are the consolidation of these inclusive and participatory approaches within academia in the region and MCH related disciplines, as well as bringing these findings to governments and authorities so they can effectively influence change in policies and practices. Of particular importance, is the ability to measure, monitor and sustain community engagement with the MCH. As we continue to source projects from a community-centred methodology, more data will be collected regarding the socio-ecological and socio-cultural indicators necessary for long-term implementation within regional management policies and frameworks. The RftD network projects are identifying innovative models to know, research and utilize MCH while achieving awareness, community engagement and management change. Future steps need to consolidate this challenge-led research approach within academia as well as partner with concerned stakeholders in the region to propose policy modifications in line with the internationally agreed sustainable development goals.  

We extend our gratitude to the network collaborators for their excellent contributions to the presentations and discussions in our first workshop series. A second series of workshops will be organized in the first semester of 2022 on crosscutting subjects related, among others, to MCH national legal frameworks, international aid mechanisms regarding MCH, infrastructure development works, intangible marine heritage and MCH narratives and museums.  

Canoe building in MUCH to discover in Mida Creek, Kenya, Caesar Bita

The 2nd Rising from the Depths Workshop: Community Engagement with the Marine Cultural Heritage

Workshop 2: Community Engagement with the Marine Cultural Heritage

Occurred: 3 November 2021 (10 am to 1 pm, UK)

Overview and Discussion Points

In the second workshop of the Rising from the Depths (RftD) Workshop series speakers from East Africa and the UK discussed the role of local communities in understanding, protecting, and sharing the MCH. The presentations and subsequent discussions highlighted several key themes, particularly regarding the importance of understanding community values and livelihoods, and how to translate these values into local and regional policy. In light of this, multiple projects shared community-led and MCH centred initiatives and outputs including knowledge co-production, empowerment of vulnerable groups, awareness raising through museum exhibitions, or ecosystem-based approaches. Overall, evidence was provided for the centrality of coastal community practices and livelihoods for local economies, social cohesion, and environmental and cultural stability. Equally, evidence of vulnerability in the face of development and environmental pressures was presented, highlighting the clear need for community-centric research and policies in the region. A particular benefit of the RftD Network was raised regarding championing local voices at all stages of project conception and implementation, a methodology which is largely novel in this field.

Projects Presented
Primary Findings
Various findings and challenges have been identified across projects presenting in this second workshop, some of which intersected with the challenges highlighted in Workshop 1: MCH, Climate Change and the Environment. 
  • Regarding the need to develop an inventory for MCH and Inclusive Management Plans, it was clear that various sites impacted by development pressures were not engaging with local community members. National policies regarding heritage protection are lacking the community engagement component, and this has to change through targeted policy-makers awareness actions. There is a need to map MCH around national protected classified sites, as well as of the values attributed by surrounding communities. In this regard, a number of projects were able to identify and monitor cultural uses of coastal sites, to advocate for community access and prioritisation within development plans. A selection of projects called for a region-wide inventory of MCH as a first step to protecting community livelihoods.
  • A diverse array of cultural economies and livelihoods were discussed throughout the workshop. Although an awareness of the importance of cultural economies appears to be increasing, the challenge remains as to how to translate the values and functions of MCH for communities at a governmental level. Issues arise regarding the fluid nature of cultural value between regions, and the often-westernised understanding of the cultural economy. Discussions regarding the role of sustainable and eco-tourism intersected with the findings of Workshop 1; although important for community income, the cultural value of heritage is often siloed into tourism by governments, thus reducing the support available for the multiple values and uses of MCH both for the economy, and for the sustainable management of ocean resources.The creation of employment opportunities in vulnerable groups (i.e. women) through innovative ways of using and diversifying heritage industries has been one of the major outcomes of several RftD innovation projects. An inventory of MCH must include an adaptable understanding of value, which can translate into alternative economic indicators for government management. Ultimately, the RftD projects are showing how local sustainable development is possible while preserving natural and cultural marine resources, together with their associated values, without needing to depend in large corporative, industrial or transnational development projects.
  • The theme of reconciliation between preservation and development(or transformation) linked a number of projects in Workshop 1 and 2. Both internal and external pressures drive changes in traditional knowledge and practices; both in terms of materials which are no longer readily available, new materials which are more convenient, or updated methodologies throughout generations.There is a need to connect marine cultural heritage sites with the community that surround them, as well as to bring intergenerational knowledge transfer into play so development and preservation can both be harmonized. The question was raised, how can the growth and evolution of community skills and practices co-exist with progress? The answer is multifaceted, depending on the nature of change (e.g. as a result of community-led development or external pressure); the value of change (e.g. how is development perceived by local people and is it necessary for sustainability?) and the rate of change (e.g. can skills develop and evolve across generations, or will it cut off vulnerable sections of society?). Long term research is necessary to exemplify the fluidity of this issue, for the development of targeted governmental support.
  • Overall, it was clear that significant work has been done to learn from community members regarding what MCH consists of for them, how it is utilised, and how it is sustained and evolved across generations. RftD projects are showing how heritage practitioners and local communities can come together to co-create solutions that benefit local societies groups while preserving their MCH. It is clear further research remains to be done regarding how intersectional management between communities, practitioners and government officials can adapt to the changing landscape of MCH. What is most urgent, is how development pressures can adapt and integrate essential aspects of community heritage into planning, for the benefit of natural and cultural sustainability, and social cohesion.
The projects in this workshop clearly exemplified the substantial work undertaken to kickstart these discussions in the region, and future work should focus on disseminating these results further into policy and practice.  
Elgidius Ichumbaki, presenting the Bahari Yetu, Urithi Wetu Project, which means: Our Ocean, Our Heritage

Elgidius Ichumbaki, presenting the Bahari Yetu, Urithi Wetu Project, which means: Our Ocean, Our Heritage

Concluding Remarks

In a similar vein to the results of Workshop 1, the discussions of this workshop highlighted the necessity of traditional livelihood systems, practices, and beliefs to be shared between the customary regulation frameworks of coastal communities, and the national policies and development frameworks. Local community groups need to have a voice in decision-making debates, as well as a platform to internally discuss and share MCH experiences and knowledge. 

A clear lesson from this workshop lies in the sentiment that MCH is to be understood and learnt from the local communities who encounter it every day. The diverse and fluid value and cultural economy of MCH needs to be translated at the community level, to a governmental level, to fully understand and protect the practices and livelihoods of coastal communities. There is a need to make national preservation policies “community friendly”, aligning themselves to the global commitments and standard settings signed by States in East Africa. 

Regarding the results of the RftD Network, it is clear that the continuation and sustainability of the outputs rely on locally-led dissemination activities such as awareness raising and knowledge transfer. The Network has shown the important professional engagement with the research, management and preservation of MCH in the region. Local researchers, scholars and heritage practitioners are developing innovative ways of addressing the heritage processes. New community-centred approaches that are showing the way to the transformation of traditional Western scholarship, making it relevant to address global challenges. The need to consolidate this regional expertise through the establishment of a regional association of some sort to ensure exchange and sustainability in knowledge exchange through community-based engagements was suggested by Paul Lane in the final remarks of the workshop. 

The third RftD workshop discussed how MCH is shared, preserved and utilized through the arts and creative industries in the region empowering vulnerable groups and diversifying local economies.