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More in this section The Workshop - Coroico 2012

4 Heritage and Knowledge

To provide a context for this conversation, the organizers included in the program references to the New Bolivian Political Constitution:

New Bolivian Political Constitution (ratified by national referendum in January 2009)

Article 99:

I  The cultural heritage of the Bolivian people is non-transferable, guaranteed against seizure, and immune from ineligible claims. The economic resources heritage generates are regulated by the law, in order to prioritize its conservation, preservation, and promotion.

II The state guarantees the registration, protection, restoration, recuperation, revitalization, enrichment, promotion, and dissemination of its cultural heritage, according to the law.

III The riches found in [Bolivia’s] nature, archaeology, paleontology, history, documents, and those derived from religious worship and folklore, are the cultural heritage of the Bolivian people, in accordance with the law.

Amauta Francisco Balboa

The plenary session began with a discussion of the following question:

What advantages and disadvantages do you believe may result when certain cultural expressions are officially declared as heritage?

This question opened a Pandora’s box. People asked “what is heritage?” Some participants simply did not know what heritage was, and it was suggested that people needed to develop an awareness about it. Some participants said that culture has always existed, even before the term “heritage” was ever conceived, and that calling it “heritage” involves a specific act of giving value to culture. In some cases, things are declared as heritage if they are perceived to be under threat. Some workshop participants, many of whom came from the lowlands, expressed perceived problems with respect to forgotten and lost cultures that need to be documented and supported; they asked whether heritage frameworks could serve such a purpose. Generally speaking, participants shared concerns about the “fever” in the country for declaring everything as heritage.

Amauta Francisco Balboa - Photo credit: Henry Stobart


Heritage, power and patriarchy

Participants also noted the power relations behind the idea of heritage, and particularly in relation to the concept of “culture” on which it depends. One participant stated that before the 1970s, the culture concept did not encompass cultural difference; culture was written with a capital C; it was singular; and it was controlled by the elites, whether these were affiliated with the state or the church. Are these powerful elites the ones who promote the current transformation of culture into heritage? Some mentioned that politicians have political motivations for using heritage declarations, and that these do not end up bringing people any substantial benefits.

Some participants also pointed out that the word “heritage” (“patrimonio” in Spanish) is itself marked by patriarchy. Just as matrimony marks women as property of men, talk about “patrimony” takes place between men, and is about the cultural production of men. They suggested a change in the terminology, to something like “cultural inheritance,” would better emphasize the link between past and present, and also begin work outside the patriarchal frame. 

Heritage as property

Afiche conversatorio - Detail 3Many participants mentioned confusions over the processes of declaring something as heritage. People widely understand heritage as property and say things like “we are going to patent this as heritage.” In turn, these conceptions of heritage are sparking conflicts among Bolivians, as in the cases of the music and dances like the “ch’uta,” [1] the “chovena,” [2] Italaque’s “sikuris,” [3] the “chámame,” [4] and the “charango” instrument. [5] . Some participants briefly mentioned the international conflicts over the “diablada” [6] and the “morenada” [7]  dances, as well as those about the charango. Participants also mentioned the negative effects that resulted from UNESCO’s declarations of intangible heritage. In the case of Oruro’s Carnival, some participants said people are using this declaration as a way to make exclusive claims over all cultural expressions in this huge popular festival. What does it mean when these collective cultural elements become property?    Some participants said that UNESCO’s recognition processes emphasize the spectacle, thus radically transforming the ritual contexts from which these expressions emerge. Once again, participants referred to several local cases in which one town began to quarrel with another over the right to be declared the “birthplace” of a certain instrument, music style, or dance. Participants suggested that in some cases, people are expecting the heritagization process to bring economic benefits, when in fact, the imagined advantages are unrealistic.   

Some participants expressed confusion about the system of claiming and registering cultural heritage. Declaring it is one thing; registering it is another. What is the difference between a declaration that comes from UNESCO and one from national law? Why is there not more funding for research that could bolster the documentation process?

Detail from poster for the project's final public roundtable event - "Do Cultures Have Owners"? - designed by Anuar Elias

[1] A burlesque dance, now part of national folklore, that was formerly associated with parodying landowners.

[2] A song-dance genre characteristic of the Bolivian lowlands.

[3] A specific style of panpipe instrument and performance practice from Italaque, a small town northeast of La Paz.

[4] A dance genre often accompanied by the violin, guitar or accordion, whose origins are associated with the Jesuit missions of the tropical lowlands.

[5] A small distinctive Andean guitar, resembling a mandolin. Variants are found in many parts of the Andean region, with a wide range of tunings, designs and performance styles. However, the urban instrument today is mainly played in standardized (natural) tuning and uses nylon strings.

[6] An energetic folkloric dance, performed in urban dance parades. The diablada represents devils (associated with both danger and mining productivity) and is danced wearing colorful horned masks (often depicting creatures associated with the devil, such as toads and snakes), capes, and distinctive high boots.

[7] An Andean folkloric dance, performed in urban dance parades that is usually claimed to represent the black slaves brought to the region in the 18th century. The costumes are among the heaviest, most ornate, and most costly of the Andean dance repertoire.

Heritage and the state

Francisco and AngelParticipants questioned the role of the state and the resulting confusion about action and control, especially in cases of heritage and archives. One participant said that officials within the church continue to quarrel over the musical scores from Chiquitos, [1] while young local researchers have to request church permission to work on what they consider to be their own musical materials. One contributor noted that in heritage issues, the state still operates under an “old programming chip,” despite the Bolivian state’s officially declared “plurinationality” and the so-called “process of change.” Some participants stated that instead of perpetuating the former totalizing state, Bolivians must work with the new autonomies, and begin to address these issues at a local level. Another participant criticized current heritage projects because they come from the cities and not from rural areas. Moreover, some participants pointed to a lack of understanding and coordination among the different levels of governance: government ministries, autonomous governments, municipal culture officials, departmental councils of culture, etc.

Still other participants criticized the nation-state, particularly in relation to the country’s plurinationality. The phrase “Bolivian people” is extremely ambiguous. Should the Bolivian state really be adopting policies about cultural heritage when there are other nations, such as the Guaraní, who live in areas that cross several nation-state borders? In the words of one participant, for whom the state was deeply problematic, “the so-called liberators of America are not liberators. They are land speculators. They divided our nation. They did not respect our [Guaraní] territorial unity.”

Angel Yandura Aramayo and Francisco Balboa - Photo credit: Henry Stobart

[1] A series of former Jesuit mission churches located in the lowland region of Santa Cruz. The missions’ rich 18th century musical repertoire has motivated much international interest and formed the focus for a regular festival.

The workshop reached a consensus about the need for further support for research, documentation, and dissemination. Some insisted that research and documentation should not be Andean-centric. Many participants mentioned the dances and influences that have moved from other regions of the country to new places, and called for respect and an ethic of sharing when dealing with cultural encounters. Each community has different expressions, all of which must be acknowledged and not simply copied.

Part 2 (Topic 4: Heritage and Knowledge)

Another hypothetical case study was considered in a plenary session:




Among the customs for Canada Day in Montreal, Canada, is a dance parade by immigrant groups. A Bolivian proposed participating with the Tinku dance, together with his friends from Peru and Chile. Thanks to help from family members, they managed to obtain cheap outfits and recordings of Tinku music. The invitation brought together Bolivians, Peruvians, Chileans and even a few Canadians who all hugely enjoyed this initiative, which was named ‘The Andean Parade’ (La Entrada Andina). The Parade’s success was so great that the following year they formed into two dance groups, one dancing Tinku – in the same way as the previous year – and a second incorporating autochthonous rural music. The brother of the group’s founder, who played music from Juchuy Mayu, arrived in Canada and introduced the use of Jula jula panpipes (from Northern Potosi), provoking even greater participation and interest. The Andean Parade began to acquire considerable importance as a representation of people connected with Andean countries. However, meanwhile in Bolivia an official process had been initiated to register the Tinku as national heritage and as a UNESCO masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity. When the Bolivian government heard about the success of Montreal’s Andean Parade, its foreign office requested the Bolivian Embassy in Canada to initiate actions opposing the name ‘Andean Parade’, and requesting that it be changed to ‘Bolivian Parade’. These actions and a series of official letters provoked serious problems among the participants in the dance groups, many of whom were not Bolivians. This official action brought to an end the participation of an Andean dance group – let alone a Bolivian one – among the immigrant groups represented in Canada Day. Today, these activities - which had provided considerable social sustenance for Bolivian immigrants in an alien country - no longer exist.


Tinku dancers

Due to the complexity of the heritage theme, a topic about which most participants never tired of speaking, many people did not refer to the proposed hypothetical case, but rather preferred to use examples from their own experiences. They said that these prohibitions, like those in the example, were ridiculous. They added, “We can’t prohibit people from dancing. It is like prohibiting people in Bolivia from dancing the tango.” They affirmed that heritagization “should not mean an enclosure of things.”

During these conversations, the organizers spoke of the concerns that some indigenous peoples have when sacred or secret elements of their cultures circulate beyond their control. As an example, organizers mentioned the case of Coroma textiles (see case studies).

Bolivian Tinku dancers in London (Fiesta del Pueblo) - Photo credit: Henry Stobart

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Rethinking Creativity, Recognition and Indigenous Heritage by https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/boliviamusicip/home.aspx is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/boliviamusicip/home.aspx


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