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In Session: Living Heritage & Historical Memory in Southeast Asia (I)
3: Incensed at Incense: Authenticity & Tourism Development at Cham Living Heritage Sites in Vietnam
Monday, March 22, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
William B. Noseworthy
McNeese State University, United States
This paper details the perception of indigenous Cham communities in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) with regard to the concept of authenticity. Based upon a combination of historical and anthropological methods, including interviews conducted in the Cham and Vietnamese language, and participant observation, between 2012 and 2017, we found government officials have imposed their own concept of authenticity on indigenous heritage sites, favoring tourist development. This includes the apparently mundane use of joss-stick incense. Consequentially, members of the Cham community are distraught. Incensed over incense, in a sense, they contend this is a violation of their customary practices and therefore inauthentic. Hence, we argue that if indigenous culture is over commodified, without respect for what may appear to be simple regulations, tensions will emerge, creating the perception from within the community that outside forces are collaborating to lead to the destruction of the indigenous heritage site. An alternative is to view the concept of living heritage should as a key consideration when indigenous heritage is promoted for the sake of tourists, leading to a decrease in potential tensions, while still balancing the needs of the local community with the tourist industry.