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Type Journal Article - Transcending the Culture-Nature Divide in Cultural Heritage: Views from the Asia-Pacific Region
Title Cultural heritage and its performative modalities: Imagining the Nino Konis Santana National Park in East Timor
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2013
Page numbers 191-201
URL http://press.anu.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/ch131.pdf
In East Timor the struggle for national independence was hard won and required a unity of
shared purpose from the broad community of resistance. Part of the task of sustaining that sense
of unity in the post-independence Democratic Republic of Timor Leste is the imaginative work
of commemorative symbols that enjoin citizens within a common narrative of nation. My paper
looks at one such commemorative symbol: the establishment in 20071
of the Nino Konis Santana
National Park in the densely forested eastern portion of the island. The legislation creates the first
National Park in an independent Timor-Leste and carries with it a complex range of associations,
expectations and attributions. Within that complex, I am interested in the questions it raises around
what I call the competing performative modalities of connection and significance. The tension in
this case arises between state-making projects of institutional governance acting in the wider public
interest and the more prosaic place-making projects of customary communities’ resident within the
National Park itself from which they derive household sustenance and material needs.
Towards an understanding of this mutual entanglement of state and local sensibilities, I wish
to draw upon two inter-related analytical perspectives. One develops a useful distinction
highlighted by anthropologist, Janet Hoskins, between history and heritage as ideal types of
contrasting interpretations of the past. In her view: ‘[T]he historical past is a linear time line,
with non-repeating events by individual actors discontinuous with the present.’ This historical
consciousness: ‘creates a finished chapter that may be reopened and reread but not re-written.’
In contrast the heritage of the past, rather than a line of unique occurrences, ‘forms an array of
established and shared sequences that may be instantiated in various new and transformed ways.
People with a cultural heritage consciousness see themselves acting in the place of ancestors,
reproducing their practices and continuing a pattern of timeless reciprocities’ (Hoskins 1993).
The distinction here between history and heritage is not mutually exclusive however, and people
may sustain both forms of orientations towards the past, but it is equally evident that in doing so
they induce very different kinds of understandings about the ontology of past events.I would like to compare and complement this view with a second analytical perspective taken
from another anthropologist, Charles Zerner who writes of the ‘performative modalities of
customary attachments to particular local environments’ (2003:3). These modalities can include
poetics and mythologies of connection, ecological knowledge of plants and animals and the
various material and ideational attachments to place reproduced by local communities over
time. As diverse forms of knowledge and practice they work to authorise and legitimate local
attachments to place in customary terms. Characteristically however, from the perspective of state
regulatory agencies, local knowledge in this form confronts what Zerner calls the ‘challenge of
translation’. This is the problem of translating these diverse cultural performative modalities into
legible forms recognised by state regulatory institutions as ‘legal rights’, or otherwise ‘legally valid
representations of entitlement that still maintain their integrity and sensibility’ (Zerner 2003).
Unfortunately the history of these attempts, where they have been recognised as relevant issues by
governments, has been a poor one and frequently resulted in the denial or erasure of customary
entitlements in the interests of ‘the wider public good’ (see McWilliam 2007); in Zerner’s terms,
their distinctive logics, metaphors and modalities defined away (2003:17).
In the following discussion I seek to adapt these two analytical approaches to argue that the
contemporary development of the Nino Konis Santana National Park is part of an imaginative
and interpretive struggle over the commemorative shape of national history in the context of a
living emplaced local heritage.

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