One of the most exemplary localities in mobilising community’s participation in heritage conservation in Vietnam is Quang Nam province, where local residents have worked together to preserve and restore Hoi An ancient town.
Owners of the ancient houses have achieved great work in preserving the appearance of their houses as well as their daily lives. Together, Hoi An people have built and maintained a soul for their residential areas, creating a spiritual heritage which is widely recognised and remembered by visitors whenever they think about the city.
Experience gleaned from Quang Nam has shown that proper policies and the attention of authorities are needed to promote the role of the community in safeguarding local heritages. The authorities have to seek ways to benefit the locals from heritage conservation and tourism promotion.
Another example of engaging communities in the conservation of heritage is Dak Nong province, which is successfully keeping the UNESCO-recognised space of gong culture alive.
Fifteen years ago, the number of gong orchestras in Dak Nong province was alarmingly low. In a bid to resolve the problem, the provincial authorities have bought hundreds of new sets of gongs, produced by artisans from Phuoc Kieu bronze casting village in Dien Ban town, which has a centuries long history of making gongs for Central Highlanders.
The authorities have also paid due attention to mobilising artisans to teach gong playing to the younger generations in the community and improving their teaching capacity. The artisans are also encouraged to compose new gong tunes and dances based on the traditional music of M’Nong, Ma and E De ethnic groups.
In other work to revive the sacred space for gong culture at traditional rituals and festivals, efforts have been made to bring gongs into daily life through extracurricular activities at boarding schools, competitions, cultural events, and tourism promotion programmes.
The efforts of authorities and the people of Quang Nam and Dak Nong province have been rewarded. Hoi An city has been appraised by the State President and the UNESCO officials as a good example of heritage conservation.
Over the ten years from 2006 to 2016, the number of visitors to Hoi An increased significantly, from 878,000 to 1.6 million visitors; while the city’s tourism revenue ballooned from US$28,000 to US$7.8 million.
Meanwhile, gong performances at many tourism promotion programmes in Dak Nong, have stimulated great interest among visitors, while inspiring the love for traditional art from from members of the orchestra, as most of them are youngsters.
According to Prof. Dr. Luu Tran Tieu, Chairman of the National Council for Cultural Heritage, although historical and cultural heritages were date back to antiquity, they are still an indispensable part of contemporary life.
He quoted the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage 2003, which recognised that “communities, in particular indigenous communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals, play an important role in the production, safeguarding, maintenance and re-creation of the intangible cultural heritage, thus helping to enrich cultural diversity and human creativity.”
“This is the key to the conservation of cultural heritage,” he emphasised.