International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property
Traditional Knowledge Systems

Traditional Knowledge Systems

Third Annual Forum on the Applicability and Adaptability of Traditional Knowledge Systems in Conservation and Management of Heritage in Asia

Traditional knowledge and its applicability to cultural heritage preservation is increasingly gaining recognition in light of global discourse on sustainable development, climate change, disasters and resilience. In reflection of this worldwide shift, the World Heritage Committee has included the use of traditional knowledge systems for site management within its Operational Guidelines. The natural heritage sector is also very engaged in related activities, and in Africa, institutions have already begun compiling information from various areas of the continent.

Asia is rich in time-tested practices, and the inclusion of these systems into discussions about heritage is timely. Traditional management systems have the power to make a significant impact on the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the region. For example, ancient practices can help curb carbon emissions when maintaining a heritage place, and the continuation or revival of traditional crafts not only ensures that knowledge is passed down through generations, but that artisans can make a stable living.

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For this reason, ICCROM, together with the Korean Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA), organized its third annual Forum with this year’s focus on the Applicability of Traditional Knowledge Systems in Conservation and Management of Heritage.

From 14 to 16 December, thinkers from the region gathered in Bangkok, Thailand to present 21 academic papers that examined existing literature on the subject, as well as living repositories of traditional knowledge such as community elders and oral histories. Ways in which traditional knowledge can be adapted and integrated into other mainstream conservation approaches were also discussed, along with examples of social groups in the region that are currently maintaining ancient management systems (for instance, the Guti system in Nepal and Subak system in Indonesia).

Major topics of discussion were also the constraints of using traditional knowledge in heritage conservation and management. While recognizing the utility of traditions in maintaining heritage places and livelihoods, cultural institutions must also be aware of the continuous changes in society and the need to demonstrate the benefits of continuing certain practices. The use of technological advancements and that of traditional knowledge cannot be mutually exclusive, in the same way that they should not be separate from other conservation approaches. The social dimension was also touched upon, in that oftentimes artisans do not receive due recognition in societies, and this may become a deterrent for those who might otherwise take up a craft.

The annual Fora and publication of the proceedings are generously funded by the CHA. The Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Art, SEAMEO-SPAFA of Thailand, acted as a local partner and provided necessary support while actively participating in the meeting.

The programme consisted of three parts:

  • The official inauguration and public meeting held in Bangkok on 14 December, which was declared open by a representative of the Minister of Culture of Thailand. The event also included remarks from ICCROM, SEAMEO-SPAFA, CHA and UNESCO Bangkok.
  • Two days of the Forum open to international invitees (15-16 December).
  • Visit to World Heritage Site of Ayutthaya (17 December).

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Dr George Abungu from Kenya was invited to make a presentation on similar work being carried out in Africa. Dr Stefano De Caro, Director-General of ICCROM and Dr M.R. Rujaya Abhakorn, Director of SEAMEO- SPAFA engaged in discussions with the other participants. Considering the richness of the region’s many traditional knowledge systems, participants expressed their overwhelming support for further work and the adaptation of these systems, where applicable, into current practices of conservation and management. A framework for the final report and for further deliberations was agreed upon by those present at the meeting.

Taking the advantage of the presence of the Director-General, ICCROM also held an informal session for ICCROM Alumni from Thailand and the Region.