Cultural heritage, a bone of contention

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As it is linked to a specific territory, cultural heritage can also trigger division and conflict. A frontier marks the boundary between places and it may prove vital to defend and protect both territory and cultural heritage against other threatening countries and cultures.

I. A matter of survival

1) Overcoming colonialism

Indigenous people lost their territory because of colonialism: the Native Peoples of America were forced to live on reservations and to give up their nomadic way of life. So as to survive as distinct peoples, they had to maintain their language and oral traditions, even secretly.

The Maori people also had to cling to their roots to preserve their cultural identity. Although the meaning of tattoos may be confusing, there is a growing interest in that tradition which is now promoted. In The Bone People (1984), Keri Hulme denounces the clash between Maori and European cultures. Yet, she promotes cultural unity in order to heal New Zealand from its cultural illness.

2) Reclaiming one’s territory and culture

The Aborigines in Australia are still fighting to defend their territory against the invasion of tourists who trample (piétinent) over their culture when hiking on their sacred lands. It is vital for them to preserve that fragile cultural heritage.

That culture almost disappeared because of forced assimilation: Aboriginal children, referred to as the Stolen Generation, were deprived of their parents, culture and language. Films such as Walkabout (1971) or Australia (2008) claim the necessity to maintain Aboriginal traditions.


Forced assimilation refers to indigenous peoples being forced to adopt the language, norms, customs, traditions and values of the English settlers.

II. The great divide

1) An invisible border

The frontier between territories may appear as an impenetrable barrier between cultures. It marks the clear-cut difference between contrasting ways of life. The difference between rural and urban landscapes epitomizes the cultural gap between rural and urban ways of life. In “Mowing (1913) and “The Sound of Trees” (1916) American poet Robert Frost portrays rural life and exposes urban life as both complicated and less meaningful.

The boundary between the North and the South in a particular country may not be that obvious for it is not clearly visible. Yet, there is a gap as Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South (1855) describes it. She confronts modern industrial thriving (prospère) Northern England and out-dated Southern England.

2) A yawning chasm

Landscapes may be scarred by conflicts over territories and cultures that cannot be solved. Such has been the case of Northern Ireland ever since the partition of Ireland in 1921 although a political status quo has put an end to armed conflict. Belfast’s murals are a vivid testimony of the gap between its two communities. In Everything in this Country Must (2000) Colum McCann focuses on the everlasting effects on individuals on both sides.

It seems that there is a yawning chasm (gouffre béant) between irreconcilable parties and that it is forever visible on maps. The ingrained racism of the Southern states of the USA is at the heart of Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor (1965) as the main characters seem unable to adjust to the new integrated South. Even American towns geographically map that enduring social segregation.