Julian Zarb | Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Promoting authenticity or duplication?

Julian Zarb

The experience of local councils in organising festivals and other events as attractions meant to show their uniqueness and authenticity in culture and characteristics, is catching on fast and this certainly does a lot to increase attractiveness of any locality, both in terms of its economic worth but also in terms of its social and cultural aspect.
But there are certain issues which we need to watch carefully if we want to develop the diversity and the authenticity which these festivals are really looking for:
In terms of the thematic value of the festivals – each one should be different. We need to promote the original local (related to the town or village and not to the islands as a nation) traditions and characteristics.
How many times do we attend these events and meet the same people selling the same “unique” products, be it fresh fruit and vegetables or honey and other natural preserves.
There is another thing we find whereever we go and these are the wooden stands meant to give a local, rustic feel to the whole event.
The problem is that we see these in urban towns and villages as well, so it is very difficult to assoc iate certain themes with certain localities – I believe that we are stereotyping ourselves.
But stereotyping does not stop at the setup and props of the event, the programme needs to be designed to give a very interesting aspect to the locality – be it history, traditions, culture, character, architecture or religious.
If we are to create diversity in these events, then we cannot look at the national history of these islands as a whole, much as this is colourful and varied, but we need to see how our own localities have played a part in those more popular events – the occupation of the many colonialists, the wars that were fought, the stories of the people that lived in the old houses still standing.
These are the diverse factors that will create a programme that is unique and authentic for each town and village.
The living history of each town and village cannot be built on national events and celebrations alone.
If we are organizing visits and “Open Days” to places of interest, museums and churches in our town and village then we have to emphasize the local flavour – the persons who built those edifices, the ones who lived in them and the stories and legends related to the same buildings.
The impact that national events would have had on the local history of the town and village should be seen from the inside looking out and not, as happens most times, from the outside looking in.
Each town and village has its own unique and authentic living history and we need to emphasize this.
Gastronomy may be a criteria we tend to look upon as an opportunity in terms of the economic value. But there is also a socio-educational aspect to this, each town and village can boast a traditional way to prepare stews, pot roasts and soups.
These were recipes handed down from mother to daughter in the towns and villages for centuries.
Yes, there will be a more general or national way of preparing the dish, but each housewife had her own secret ingredient that gave it a more unique flavour and taste. Food needs to be researched in terms of this diversity as well.
The events and festivals are an opportunity to create interesting, unique, diverse and authentic attractions that are not simply “theatricals” or “re-enactments” but real life stories and experiences which cannot be replicated outside the town and village which can boast of this wealth of culture and heritage. These festivals could be organized in both the summer as well as the shoulder months, after all, our living history is not a seasonal affair!


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16 September 2009


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