Liberia: Making Liberia’s Cultural Heritage Economic-Friendly – Taking Cue From Binglanggu Ethnic Village in Harinan Province,China

By Fredrick P. W. Gaye

Beijing City and its environs I have passed and visited are very beautiful with modern infrastructures including tall buildings and well laid and layered streets. But being a new comer, it is still soon for me to make comments or advice about all the beautiful tourism sites and places to enjoy in China. I still have to discover others.

What I can say is, how colorful and accommodating Hainan Province is with cultural attractions. Among activities in the Province are flourishing cultural heritage sites and places..

However, I have been taking cues from an attractive cultural heritage place in Hainan Province, and to if Liberia can emulate to boost its tourism which is one of potentials to economic viability.

Cultural heritage, according to Wikipedia, is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. This includes tangible culture (such as buildings, monuments, landscapes, books, works of art, and artifacts), intangible culture (such as folklore, traditions, language, and knowledge), and natural heritage (including culturally significant landscapes, and biodiversity).

Having at one time referred exclusively to the monumental remains of cultures, cultural heritage as a concept has gradually come to include new categories. Today, we find that heritage is not only manifested through tangible forms such as artifacts, buildings or landscapes but also through intangible forms. Intangible heritage includes voices, values, traditions, oral history. Popularly this is perceived through cuisine, clothing, forms of shelter, traditional skills and technologies, religious ceremonies, performing arts, storytelling.

Today, we consider the tangible heritage inextricably bound up with the intangible heritage.

Liberia is endowed with all aspects of cultural heritage that could greatly contribute to the nation’s economy if serious attention is given to the tourism sector by the people, assisted by government.

Our (20 African journalists) visit to the Binglang Ethnic Village near Sanya City in Hainan Province, southern China, on March 21, 2016, was my greatest experience when it comes to cultural tourism. Otherwise called the Hainan Binlanggu, Betelnut Valley is being decorated by the locals including the Li and Miao minority ethnic groups depicting their cultural roots: both the tangible and intangible heritage.

Located in Ganshiling Nature Reserve, Binglang Ethnic Village Li & Miao Cultural Heritage Park, is one of the top 10 charming scenic areas in China’s Hainan Province. It is a living museum which has concentrated the most diversified, stunning, authoritative and authentic ethnic culture of Hainan Province. Visitors here are able to learn and appreciate local intangible cultural heritage which blends perfectly with the mesmerizing tropical natural scenery.

Our tour of the Cultural Heritage Park was part of our 10-month cultural exchange and media training program in China. The program is being hosted by the China-Africa Press Center (CAPC), sponsored by the China Public Diplomacy Association (CPDA), a non-government organization (NGO).

If coconut is the symbol of Hainan Province, then betel nut is the symbol of Li nationality. In Li people’s minds, gifts do not include betel nuts cannot be called gifts. Wedding ceremony without betel nuts will not lead to a happy couple. From these simple local customs you might feel the significance of betel nuts in the culture of Li nationality. And only when you truly step into this mysterious land, you will heartily appreciate the fascinating local cultures and customs.

Local officials estimated that between 5,000 and 10 thousand local and foreign tourists visit this Park on a daily basis, not because of the large population of China, but the investment being made to make it very attractive.

Here, you could experience the most primitive and simplest lifestyle of the aboriginal Hainan People, witnessing their lives filled with singing and dancing and all kinds of interesting activities, such as swinging, climbing trees and picking wild flowers, archery and brocading. Among the 24 intangible culture heritage programs, 10 are displayed in Binglang Ethnic Village. Here treasures the most complete and precious folk relics of the Li nationality, various kinds of household utensils and pictures that witnessed the development of the Li nationality. Endangered traditional craftsmanship and disappearing culture of the Li nationality are also insisted, preserved by the people here in order to pass down the essence of one nationality from generations to generations.

Government has embarked on building modern structures for residents. But in order to preserve their cultural heritage, some of the residents gather in the Park on a daily basis to serve and entertain tourists. Their activities include on-stage cultural performance, traditional cloth weaving, selling cultural food and wearing and other locally made drinks.

The climate in Hainan Province is similar to Liberia due to its tropical rain forest. The hot climatic condition is a major contributing factor to this cultural heritage park, with the rain forest, crops and other grown plants providing ecosystem.

The Binglang Ethnic Village was found to be the commitment of government in raising the living standards of the minority groups who are largely farmers as well as opening all parts of China to the world.

Hainan is largely a farming province due to its tropical climate, and the local government has promised to make agriculture the leading sector in the Province.

However, briefing us (African journalists) on arrival in Haikou, the capital of Hainan Province, on March 18, 2016, local officials assured of doubling their efforts in improving the tourism sector. They named various kinds of tourism as agriculture, maritime, forest and cultural.

This could also assist in Liberia because the country land features are a strong potential for economic growth and development.

Tourism forms a small part of the national economy of Liberia. In the past, a large number of tourists visited Liberia, mostly from the United States. Liberia’s economy, including the tourist industry, was badly damaged by civil war in the country, and has not yet recovered. The accommodation available to tourists is poor, as is Liberia’s transport infrastructure.

Nevertheless, it was interesting and welcoming for the Liberia government’s plans to begin declaring some sites reserved for heritage.

It is being reported in the media that the Government of Liberia and partners are concluding a dialogue that will help to declare some area in the country as one of Liberia’s World Heritage Sites.

The East Nimba Reserve covering the Nimba range in northeastern Liberia is among few natural sites that could qualify as world heritage sites.

The Kpatawee Waterfall in Bong County and Lake Piso in Grand Cape Mount County

Though Liberia has mapped 68 sites across the country, both historic and natural centers, none has been declared eligible for global heritage management standard.

But the Mt. Nimba East Nature Reserve’s eligibility is defended by a satisfactory co-management team organized by friendly international organizations working in the region with caretakers comprising local residents around the mountains.

To jump-start this, the government must have the political will to make gradual investment and the citizens including traditionalists must be of great assistance if Liberia’s heritage must become economic-friendly by regaining its tourism strength.

Lesson to learn from the Binglang Ethnic Village is that, while government exerts efforts in delivering, the residents must be equally willing to provide services in making the place touristic.

Relevant agencies move to the tourist sites to train local citizens on how to preserve cultural heritage, as done with farming where farmers undergo on-site training about planting high quality products, even for exports.

As a result, the Village is among many places as a demonstration of China’s continuous efforts in opening its arms to the world for economic and development cooperation.

Africa fits in this cooperation due to similar cultural roots with China; something that is being used as a strong force to tightening the China-Africa Cooperation.

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