It is commonly known that in order to preserve traditional culture, we need to give it a modern touch. It could be the way we present it or fusing the tradition itself to suit the modern lifestyle and trends.
However, we cannot help but wonder, do these ‘modernized’ or ‘modernly interpreted’ culture still count as an authentic traditional culture?
Let’s say a burger is “the modern trend” while sushi is the “tradition” to preserve. Does a sushi-burger (replacing the bun with rice with beef patty filling) keep sushi alive? Or is it a new fusion, a whole different breed?
Traditional culture has great value, be it the product, the value, the story and the process behind it. But there are times when preserving a culture result in modernizing the whole tradition and losing its essence.
Cultural preservation is somewhat tricky. Documenting and archiving is too passive. Thus soon the heritage will be lost completely. The most effective way is to keep it alive within society and today’s culture. Yet it is a near-impossible job to instil yesterday’s lifestyle and values to today’s.
Near impossible, not impossible.
The key is to identify which part is the core and which is the shell. The core usually directs to techniques, process, and values behind it. The shell, on the other hand, is ever-changing and flexible and usually directs to visual appearances. For example, the process of fabric weaving and colouring with natural ingredients is the core tradition. But, the pattern and mix of colours are the shells.
By identifying the core and the shell, it is easier to execute the cultural preservation strategies. The point of cultural preservation is to keep the core alive and play around with the shell, adjusting it to meet today’s values, lifestyles and trends. So, the next time you recreate a certain cultural tradition, you just need to make sure that you’re modifying only the shells. Otherwise, it’s only breeding a whole other culture, not preserving.
You can support heritage preservation and local artisans by purchasing products from Earth Heir, an ethical Malaysian brand whose focus is to keep traditional artistry and the welfare of its artists. Check out their story here and you can purchase their products here.