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(Non)-material goods and the blending of cultures


Some forms of heritage may be tangible, such as a monument or an artefact, yet other forms of heritage are immaterial: for example songs or customs. There is cultural pride, but there is also shame. In his novel Max Havelaar (1860) Multatuli denounced Dutch colonialism in the former Dutch East Indies. He ridiculed nationalistic pride by writing: “The Bey of Tunis always got the gripes when he heard the Dutch flag flapping.”

Architectural heritage such as the trading posts for the Dutch East India Company in Sri Lanka and the slave forts in Ghana are a harrowing testament to the dark side of Dutch economic aggression.

Inhabitants of the former colonies who settled in the Netherlands, later followed by foreign workers, scientists, artists and political refugees, have all brought certain aspects of their cultural heritage with them. The many Chinese-Indonesian restaurants and the Turkish greengrocers with their exotic products are two examples. Dutch pop music owes much to nimble-fingered guitarists who were immigrants from Indonesia.  During the ICOM (International Council of Museums) congress in Seoul in 2004 it became clear that Japanese and South Korean museums of ethnology experience such mingling of their cultural treasures and customs as a threat, in spite of their systems of precise definitions and numerous protective measures. By contrast, their Western colleagues feel that international influences lead to a hybrid and organic heritage, as opposed to a rigid and protectionist approach that might ultimately starve itself to death.

The French essayist Nicolas Bourriaud calls this cultural globalisation “based on the globalised state of the imagination; on the ability of the individual to exist not as a form of ‘being’ but as a form of ‘permanent becoming’, not indexed by identity but by movement…”