Folklore and Living Heritage

folklorebooks

What is Folklore?
The word "Folklore" has gathered many different meanings. Sometimes, it has been used dismissively, as in "old wives tales" or "things that aren't really true." The history of the word is complicated, but here at the SHFS, we'd rather talk about this particular complicated history than erase it, so we keep the word in our name. In practice, though, you'll find that (like many others) we now prefer words like "Intangible Cultural Heritage" or "Living Heritage."

Intangible Cultural Heritage and Living Heritage

Currently, through the work of UNESCO, the term Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) has emerged:

"Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants...While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life. The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next."

Heritage Saskatchewan uses both ICH and "Living Heritage" and describes it this way:

"Living Heritage are those values, beliefs, and ways of living we inherited from past generations that we still use to understand the present and make choices for the future. This Living Heritage shapes our sense of identity as individuals and our relationships with others; shaping our communities and our quality of life. Safeguarding our Living Heritage means nurturing our diversity in all its forms; our languages; customs and traditions; natural spaces and significant places; buildings and artifacts. Safeguarding our Living Heritage is more important now than ever before, as we explore and discover our place within a global community. Safeguarding our Living Heritage is accomplished through documentation, celebration, transmission of knowledge and skills, and adopting sustainable practices and processes."

Key things to remember include...

Everyone has it! Everything humans do, from the clothes you are wearing to what you had for breakfast this morning, is influenced by your culture. ICH traditionally focuses on those aspects of human culture that have the greatest potential to express values, beliefs, and identity. Chief among these is language and related expressions like stories, songs, or poems; there are also performative expressions such as music, dances and plays; social practices, rituals, and festive events; and knowledge and skills.

It's living! and represents those elements of the past which continue in the present.

"...between tradition and modernity there is a bridge. When they are mutually isolated, tradition stagnates and modernity vaporizes; when joined, modernity breathes new life into tradition, and tradition responds by providing depth and gravity.” Writer and poet Octavio Paz, 1990

When an aspect of human life stops being practiced by living people, it becomes "frozen in time" - it exists only in the records we have of it. The nice thing is, though, that even traditions we think are disappearing can be revived if people find new meanings for them - though they might not look quite like they used to.

It's community-based, where local people are the authority on what is meaningful heritage. This theme has existed within the SHFS throughout its history. When the founders of the SHFS organized to form a folklore society in 1957, they did so in part because they felt that folklore was "an antidote to elite histories." They were concerned the cultural heritage of everyday people was being lost.

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It reinforces identity, both in individuals and between members of communities. The traditions we share, as well as own own personal rituals, reinforce how we see ourselves in the world. Our cultural heritage is transmitted person to person, helping us to share and reinforce knowledge, values, beliefs, and ideas about how to live.

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Everyone has a story to tell, and the history of everyday life is important. Heritage is not necessarily valued because its unique or exceptional, but rather because of what it tells us about ourselves and the places we live.