Features

Preserving, conserving heritage obligatory?

THE Kuomboka Ceremony of the Lozi people.

MOSES WALUBITA, Lusaka
“IS PRESERVING and conserving heritage obligatory?” asks Maxwell Zulu of the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC).
Heritage is a concept that has become very common, and is used by people to style the legacy of the past generations. Heritage denotes the legacy of the people that they take over from previous generations. It is a notion that prompts us of the worth of our peach that we must guard for posterity.
“Invariably, heritage is a bridge linking our past and our future. Suffice to mention heritage, then, is not only about buildings, monuments or artefacts but includes the intangible attributes such as tradition, language and knowledge. To me these intangible attributes are not just things of the past, but are the source as well as inspiration for the present. In this connection, heritage sites are thus a symbol of history and a representation of the past. Why exactly then do we need to spend time, energy and money to preserve our heritage? Are they really important given the current world we live in? asks Mr Zulu.
“My response is that heritage is one of the conditions (at least one of the most important ones) for the maintenance of a communicable memory and their effects. To preserve the heritage can also mean to preserve a set of connections to a given memory’s ‘furniture’. To this effect it is my considered opinion that people preserve their heritage to preserve their collective memory about history. It is also a common belief that our monuments serve as roots that connect us with our past and works towards the future of our communities.
Most importantly, history serves as a laboratory and demarcation to understand the regional laws and social structures. This understanding helps in our progress towards an ideal society.
Since heritage is our connection to the past, we accordingly enjoy the best days of our lives because of the past struggles of our ancestors. Heritage sites are living monuments and a record of certain happenings, and this is our real connection to our past. It proves the existence of our ancestors
It is no wonder each country has its own past, present and future. Hence, preservation and conservation of our treasure from the past is the way to carry our heritage from the present to the future. In all countries and cultures, there are gifts of nature in the form of hills, rivers, landscapes, flora and fauna, mountains, volcanoes, among others that form the natural treasure of a country. This is referred to as the heritage of a country or place.
To zero down on an archaeological perspective, for instance, one is tempted to ask: what is archaeology, how do you prevent damage to archaeological sites and how do you recognise the presence of archaeological sites?
Mr Zulu quotes Timothy Darvill (2002), who defines archaeology as the scientific study of past cultures through the analysis of material (physical) remains people left behind. These can range from small artefacts, such as arrowheads, foundations of settlements to large buildings, such as pyramids. Anything that people created or modified is part of the archaeological record. And according to the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC) Act Cap 173 section 33 (a) subject to section 41 of the Laws of Zambia, it is an offence to alter, remove, destroy, damage, excavate or export, as the case may be, any ancient heritage without the written consent of the Commission.
What you must be conscious of is that all archaeological sites are vulnerable to damage, whether they are built of earth or stone or are set in pasture or arable land. There are several archaeological sites dotted around Zambia recorded in the NHCC Heritage Register. Due to its fragility, it is advisable that everyone (for example farmers) should be aware of the locations of monuments on their land and should ensure that any contractors employed know the position and size of sites and are aware not to damage them. Grassland provides the best conditions for the safeguarding of monuments, states Mr Zulu.
In relation to this, he advises that:
• Correct stock levels should be maintained to prevent erosion on ancient monuments.
• Feeding troughs, land drainage works, and access tracks for livestock and machinery should be located away from the monument.
• Historic buildings such as castles and churches should not be used to shelter livestock. It is therefore necessary to keep livestock outside of historic buildings and not to use such buildings as shelter or feeding points
• Control the growth of gorse, scrub or woody plants on the monument. These should be cut at the base and the stump treated to prevent re-growth. Trees should not be uprooted as this may cause ground disturbance.
• Avoid removing field boundaries or historic farm buildings and gate posts.
Furthermore, cultivation adjacent to archaeological sites requires care and attention to lessen the chance of damage. Several steps can be taken to safeguard such archaeological sites which include among other measures:
• Upstanding monuments should be left as islands of uncultivated ground within cultivated fields and should be protected by an unploughed margin of at least seven metres around the edge of the monument. Control the growth of scrub or woody plants on the monument.
• Minimise plough depths where there are known levelled sites or cropmark sites in cultivated land
• Fields with levelled monuments or cropmark sites should be excluded from tillage and put into pasture if possible
• If trees are being planted, keep them well away from ancient monuments. Conversely, overhangs should be looped off to prevent abrasion to the standing monument.
Against the aforesaid, how then can you recognise the presence of archaeological sites? First and foremost, many heritage sites can be identified by examining the record of monuments or a heritage register with archaeological inventory at any of the NHCC regional cost centres, namely; Solwezi (North-Western), Livingstone (Southern), Kasama (Northern) and Lusaka.
“Suffice to say, many archaeological sites have yet to be discovered. Such discoveries are frequently made by farmers observing subtle differences in the landscape such as earthworks or scatters of finds (pottery, flint, human and animal bone) brought to the surface by ploughing, patches of stoney ground or blackened stones suggesting burning, or differences in crop growth caused by buried archaeological features,” adds Mr Zulu, who is the education officer in the NHCC’s information and public relations division.
In his paper, he explains that differences in cereal growth are known as cropmarks and are caused by crops growing better over archaeological features like ditches or pits because the soil is either wetter or deeper. Other cropmarks are caused by the stunted growth or early ripening of the crop growing over the reduced soil depth caused by stone walls or stone surfaces.
“Finally, if you discover a previously unknown monument or an archaeological object on your land, report it to any of the nearest NHCC offices. By so doing our past shall forever be connected to our present and our future. It is for this reason I say preserving and conserving heritage is obligatory,’’ he says.

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