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People, Space and Time: Understanding metaphors in sustaining cultural landscapes

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - METAPHOR (People, Space and Time: Understanding metaphors in sustaining cultural landscapes)

Reporting period: 2015-07-01 to 2017-06-30

Growing up near Great Zimbabwe, I was always fascinated by the myths and legends associated with the site and its landscape. However it was surprising that these stories never featured in my studies as an archaeology student. This essential contradiction is at the root of this project which seeks to address the significance of these myths and legends in understanding and managing cultural landscapes. More specifically its aims are to:
1) Map sacred landscapes through metaphors represented by myths, legends and folklore linked to the two places chosen as case studies;
2) Explore how ‘metaphors’ sustain sacred cultural landscapes in traditional societies in Zimbabwe and Northern England; and
3) Examine how metaphors can be useful to archaeological research, the management of heritage places and ethical heritage practice.
The objectives of the research were a) to identify and characterise the sacred components of the selected landscapes; b) to unravel the complexity of cultural landscapes through the communities’ traditional knowledge systems and create new interpretation of those landscapes and c) to highlight the social nature of landscapes and therefore to assist scientists in recognising the invisible and indivisible bond between people and landscapes. By these means, the project served as a challenge to traditional philosophies about time, objects, spaces and landscapes.
In this study, metaphor is the language used in defining certain elements of the landscape through stories by communities that revere them. Through this understanding, sites and artefacts are anthropomorphize to behave like people and to take physical characteristics of humans. The project utilises two landscapes as case studies: Great Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe) a cultural site revered by Shona communities living near it, and The North Yorkshire Moors. The study will have a practical purpose: understanding metaphor by both experts and other users to create new interpretations of sacred landscape that can reduce conflicts with communities that inscribe cultures on the landscape. I argue that to understand cultural landscapes, one has to understand the cultural and environmental metaphors used by communities who have a long connection with them. Western approaches to cultural landscapes divides landscapes into natural and cultural. Emphasizing this separation, however, fails to understand the investment communities have in landscapes and also how communities relate to their environments. It also leads to archaeologists and heritage managers focusing on the monumental aspect and dividing landscapes into tangible and intangible. The experience of those that are immersed in the cultural landscape however shows that they experienced it through all senses not only the visual sense. It also brought out the idea that that it is not only the landscape that is changed by humans but people and their cultures are shaped by their interaction to a landscape. Understanding this will also make us understand what drastic changes in a cultural landscape can have on ontological security of communities.
My focus was on how communities perceive cultural landscapes through the stories they tell as well as the songs they compose about that landscape. I use narratives (folklore, myth, legends, stories and folk songs) as metaphors that can be deployed in the creation of biographies for cultural places and cultural landscapes. I also examine ways in which these biographies can be used in archaeological research.
Initially the project research areas were Uluru World Heritage Landscape in Australia and Great Zimbabwe World Heritage Site in Zimbabwe. Research at Uluru was however not possible as the project was not approved by the Uluru kata Tjuta National Park. The major reason for denying permission was that the area was over researched and my research was not going to provide anything new. As a result the research area was changed to the North York National Park in northern England. Though this caused some delays in the research, it also gave the researcher an opportunity to understand the conception of the cultural landscape in an area where there have been so many changes in demography, culture and industry. Most of the work that was envisaged in the project was completed within the specified time. Fieldwork was carried out in Zimbabwe and Northern England. Three publications were produced by this project and another three are expected to be published soon. The researcher attended four international conferences where he presented five papers and he has also presented his work in public forums.
In Zimbabwe the research has been well received especially by the local communities who have felt that researchers do not reflect their opinions. For one of the published papers the manuscript was translated sent to the participants for their opinion before publication. Feedback from the community was included into the final paper published with the Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage. The paper has also forced the management to re-examine how they manage intangible heritage at Great Zimbabwe. An assistant has also translated translated and summarised the papers published and presented it to the communities who now feel empowered that their contribution to heritage management can finally be taken on board. The researcher has also contributed to the discussions on the alternative interpretation of the North York Moors by 'This Exploited Land of Iron' group. The group will use folklore and folk music to interpret specific heritage of the North York Moors and provide the alternative interpretation that has been missing. The paper published in the Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage has also been shared by the Restoration Trust, an organisation that uses cultural heritage in the treatment of mental health. Other forthcoming papers include one on the how music captures the cultural landscape as well as on how narratives of race and migration can be used to connect people from different parts of the world with places that they have no connection to. For example colonial migrants' myths in Africa (e.g about Great Zimbabwe) have recently been taken up by extreme groups in Europe and the Americas. Myth is thus not only from the past but also play a part in the present. The project focused on current relationship and interaction between human beings and their landscape. A future project will focus on how people develop this relationship. It will use narratives from recent migrations to show how people develop connections with the landscapes that they move to. Through an understanding these recent narratives the researcher wishes to unravel the emotive side of heritage and understand the intimate connections of people and places.
Mountains associated with Great Zimbabwe through narratives
Map of sacred areas near Great Zimbabwe mentioned in landscape narratives
The Great Zimbabwe World Heritage Site