Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Great Treasure in Mali

In my readings I have read about how Africa is the "continent without history". For the most part because it was believed that the people of Africa had no written language or history of their own. To that end Africa suffered the ultimate colonial seige during the Scramble for Africa

However, it has been lately proven that the so called "Dark Continent" may not have been as unenlightened as once thought. The Muslim world knew about the great University at Timbuktu in Mali. There are a great number of histories written about life in Muslim West Africa most notably Ibn Battuta and, Al Umari's works. More recently, J.F.P. Hopkins and Nehemia Levtzion's book, Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History lists many authors across millenia who have written about Africa. 

The Africans also wrote for themselves. They wrote in Arabic as well as their own languages. The books are slowly being discovered and recovered by various research groups and personal family libraries. The most important is the Timbuktu Libraries project which has over 20, 000 books in their growing collection and they are as old as 500 years! Thanks to the same desert that destroyed the University, the books were preserved in the dry climate. 

You should also travel around the site in the above link to see what has been done to date. 

The books are not only being restored or repaired, but are also being copied into electronic format so they can eventually be accessed electronically. We now have a fresh look into history that has been written by others. We can see what they have to say about their own affairs and those of their neighbours. 

Professor Emeritus John O. Hunwick is a leading scholar in this project. For those history buffs who are interested in the Gothic kingdoms and history, he wrote a paper about finding references in the African writings about the Visigoths.  I suspect that there are more, just not documented. 

au revoir 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Cultural Festivals

This is the August long weekend in Edmonton and that means the Heritage Festival at Hawrelak Park. It has even earned a place in Wikipedia.

The Heritage Festival was intended as a showcase of Edmonton's ethnic diversity. Since its inception in 1974, it has grown from a one-day event to a three day event hosting almost half a million people and according to this year's news release 75 cultures. 

It's staged authenticity. That is, various cultures are recreated far from their original source in an image that is pleasing to the visitors. It becomes a tourist setting. It is actually what tourists want to experience about other cultures without all the negative stuff. Tourists want to feel like the experience was real. They want to feel they have experienced a positive aspect of another culture without the expense and hassle of traveling. 

The participants, those who put on the shows and food and displays, are very happy to share these aspects of their culture. They feel a sense of place within the larger community and show that their culture is just as rich and diverse as everyone else's. 

Chhabra, Healy and Sills (2003) write; 

"In terms of demand, heritage tourism is representative of many contemporary visitor's desire (hereafter, tourists) to directly experience and consume diverse past and present cultural landscapes, performances, foods, handicrafts, and participatory activities. On the supply side, heritage tourism is widely looked to as a tool for community economic development and is often actively promoted by local governments and private businesses." (703)

Oh ya, I forgot about the money. ;0p

Another factor to consider at heritage festivals is that search for authenticity. In travel, tourists try to "get off the beaten path" to experience what Goffman calls back spaces, that is the places that tourists suppose aren't for them, a bit of the authentic. However, Goffman insists that these areas are also staged authenticity. They are designed for those people who deliberately go off the beaten track. There are back spaces at heritage festivals too. You get to see how the participants set up their own spaces, how they use these spaces and what they want you to experience.

If you read your program, you'll see all these elements are in there.

Go! Have fun! Experience something new and wonderful! 

If you've ever traveled to any of the countries represented in the festival, are you able to see the difference? Is there a unique Alberta interpretation to culture?   


Chhabra, Deepak., Robert Healy and Erin Sills. 2003. "Staged authenticity and heritage tourism" in Annals of Tourism Research. Vol. 30, No. 3. pp. 702-719.

Goffman, E. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

MacCannell, Dean. 1973. "Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in tourist settings" in The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 79. No. 3 (Nov. 1973). pp. 589-603. Available online