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.  

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