Vieux Grand Port, one of the oldest villages on the island of Mauritius, is rich in tangible as well as intangible heritage. The ‘Living Our Heritage’ project aims to revive both – the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of this village, attract tourists and ensure that the locals reap the benefits of this tourism venture directly and lead a stable and sustainable lifestyle.
The project is conceptualized by the NGO, Our Heritage Foundation (OHF), in collaboration with the local community and is still in the initial stages of development.
The point of departure
While there is a clear demand for handicraft items produced by local women’s self-help groups, their potential has not been maximized. The ICH of the village is relatively underdeveloped, and there is a risk of monopolization and economic exploitation by big businesses, which happens in many parts of the country. In addition, cultural heritage sites that fall within the bounds of this village, more often than not, are inaccessible and suffer from limited visibility.
What is hoped to work
The local community and members of the village council are considered to be primary stakeholders of the project. The philosophy of establishing a self-sustaining model for the heritage village project has been embedded in this initiative from its inception. The planning and drafting phases relied heavily on the active participation of the locals through community consultations and exchanges.
Emphasis has been laid on ensuring the independence of the community in this venture – external intervention will be sought only to streamline, organize, and ensure the accessibility of the tangible as well as intangible heritage. A need-based approach will be adopted by OHF, which means that the project will be run by the locals on an everyday basis, however, the NGO will provide assistance and guidance to the community as and when the need arises.
The development of a trail consisting of tangible and intangible cultural heritage is planned to combat the issue of lack of awareness of the heritage of Vieux Grand Port and ensure that visitors make the best of their visits. At present, it is envisioned that tourists will be able to visit the sites and participate in basket-weaving, candle-making, and traditional boat-building workshops. It will also be possible for them to witness traditional fishing and enjoy regional food alongside occasional local performances.
Challenges in developing sustainable ICH Tourism
Although the project has been conceptualized by OHF in collaboration with the primary stakeholders, its manifestation is heavily dependent on the cooperation of members of the tourism, transport, and hospitality industries. Possible funding and support from the Ministry of Arts and Cultural Heritage, the Ministry of Tourism, and authorities from the leisure and tourism sectors, remain a critical subject as the implementation of the project is largely reliant on them.
To ensure that the proposed self-sustaining model works, OHF is encouraging the locals to set up cooperatives and associations – the basketry association already exists. This will guarantee that the profits are shared equally among the locals and that the products on offer are diverse.