07. July 2021

Researchers study endangered cultural heritage Researchers study endangered cultural heritage

Volkswagen Foundation supports scientific projects of the University of Bonn in Africa and the Amazon region

In Africa and in the Amazon rainforest, people have adapted to their environment over centuries and adjust their livelihoods accordingly. This coexistence with nature has created valuable cultural landscapes that are also listed by UNESCO. In two scientific projects, researchers from the University of Bonn are now working with local institutions to investigate how these landscapes can be better protected. The Volkswagen Foundation is funding these projects with several million euros.

Over the course of many centuries, man has learned how to make even inhospitable, dry and rocky environments usable for himself. They built stone terraces in order to be able to cultivate fields. With sophisticated irrigation systems and shady trees, he ensured that these areas became fertile. "The forests tended by the Mijikenda people on the coast of Kenya and Tanzania are an interesting example of how people and nature coexist in a changing and challenging context," says Dr. Girma Kelboro Mensuro of the Center for Development Research (ZEF) at the University of Bonn.

Local changes and the future of cultural landscapes in Africa

Using two case studies of the Konso Cultural Landscape in Ethiopia and the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests in Kenya, the researcher examines how human-environment relationships have changed in UNESCO-listed cultural landscapes in cooperation with African scientific partners, Dr. Abiyot Legesse Kura (Dilla University, Ethiopia) and Dr. Eric Kioko (Kenyatta University, Kenya), and several postdocs. "Many generations of people have lived in both landscapes, and indigenous knowledge and institutions have enabled conservation and preservation practices for nature and people's livelihoods," says Mensuro, the research team leader who is also a member of the Transdisciplinary Research Areas "Past Worlds - Contemporary Issues. Cultures in Time and Space" and "Innovation and Technology for a Sustainable Future" at the University of Bonn.

The researcher sees UNESCO World Heritage Sites as "living" landscapes that are shaped and changed by socio-economic, cultural, ecological and political factors. The central question of the research project is how these changes are taken into account by UNESCO in its efforts to support the protection of cultural landscapes of global significance.

The project, "Local Dynamics and Integration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Outstanding Universal Value: Evidence from Cultural Landscapes in Ethiopia and Kenya," will receive nearly 1.5 million euros in funding over the next four years. "The funding will enable collaboration between researchers in Kenya, Ethiopia and Germany, as well as exchanges with communities, experts and policy makers," says Mensuro.

Indigenous Heritage and Resilience in the Amazon

The threatened cultural and natural heritage of three indigenous groups in the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon is being studied in the project "Heritage and Territoriality: Past, Present and Future Perceptions among the Tacana, T'simane and Waiwai." The Volkswagen Foundation is funding the project with nearly 1.1 million euros over the next three years. "In the face of an ever-increasing expansion of agro-industrial companies and infrastructures into indigenous territories and protected areas of the rainforest, there is an urgent need to study the threatened cultural heritage together with the representatives of indigenous groups," says Dr. Carla Jaimes Betancourt from the Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Anthropology (Department of Anthropology of the Americas) at the University of Bonn.

The project leader, who is also a member of the Transdisciplinary Research Area (TRA5) "Past Worlds - Contemporary Issues. Cultures in Time and Space" at the University of Bonn, expects that a holistic view of the topic of heritage, based on archaeological, anthropological and ecological research, will lead to the co-production of knowledge by indigenous and non-indigenous researchers. Prof. Dr. Karoline Noack (Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies and TRA5) is responsible for the joint research in the collections of the communities of origin, which are located in the Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden, the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin, the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt am Main and the Weltkulturen Museum in Gothenburg.

In the project, local indigenous researchers work together with other scientific institutions. The Núcleo de Estudos da Amazônia Indígena (NEAI) at the Federal University of Manaus in Brazil, the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC), the Universidade Federal do Oeste do Pará (UFOPA) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Bolivia are involved. The project aims to construct new concepts of heritage by bringing together previously independent thematic fields (i.e. ecological and social relations, historical territoriality, intangible-material culture and indigenous perspectives) and developing strategies for the protection and (re) construction of heritage at the local, national and global levels.

Eleven million euros for eight projects

In their joint call for proposals "Global Issues - Integrating Different Perspectives on Heritage and Change", the Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo (Italy), the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (Sweden) and the Volkswagen Foundation (Germany) are providing a total of around eleven million euros for eight new projects. Based on an international review process, interdisciplinary research projects were selected, bringing together the perspectives of researchers and stakeholders from different countries. In addition to a lead applicant from Germany, Italy or Sweden, each project involves at least two partners from low- or middle-income countries outside Europe.

More about the funded projects: https://www.volkswagenstiftung.de/aktuelles-presse/aktuelles/kulturelles-erbe-was-das-gestern-uns-f%C3%BCr-morgen-lehrt

Media contact:

Dr. Girma Kelboro Mensuro
Center for Development Research (ZEF)
University of Bonn
Phone +49 (0)228 73 4917
E-mail: gmensuro@uni-bonn.de

Dr. Carla Jaimes Betancourt
Institute for Archaeology and Cultural Anthropology
University of Bonn
Phone +49 228 734446
E-mail: cjaimes@uni-bonn.de

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