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Although the selfie has displaced the sending of postcards and travellers are less motivated to take back souvenirs to prove that they have been there - the selfie has preceded landing back home, whereas the postcard would often arrive after you had returned to work. We talk about trophy photographs which now perform the same function as the souvenirs purchased for friends, families and sometimes workmates.
This "platform for change" draws heavily on personal experience as a tour leader and tourist, on research in The Gambia, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia and consultancy visits in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. Definitions of art and craft are many and held with passion, I will not add here to that debate except to remind us of the adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and one person's art is another person's craft and vice versa. Souvenirs are more easily, and less contentiously, defined as things that are kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event.
These souvenirs may be regarded locally in the culture in which they are produced as art or craft, and defined quite differently by the tourist or traveller, depending on their home culture; and the home culture will not have a simple view of what counts as a souvenir.
So amongst the souvenirs that grace the bookcases and windowsill of my home, there is a Maasai Milk Gourd, kitchens tools from China, Slovenia and Indonesia, a Cataplana (cooking pot) from Portugal, a length of coir rope I made in Kerala during a Village Life Experience, and I have a collection four different mouse traps from Slovenia - there are many more. The is a whole culture of dormouse hunting in southern Slovenia - be distracted and take a look.
I have a very large collection of more traditional sources, backrests from Uganda, pewter from Rwanda, Marioska Dolls from Russia, musical instruments from India, early skis from Slovenia, rugs and textiles, a tea set from China - these, and many more, are conventional souvenirs. A very fine cheetah purchased from an antique shop in Deal and a stunning Komodo dragon from a secondhand furniture shop in Faversham function as souvenirs, they carry memory but they were not brought by me in the country of which they remind me.
I have had the experience of meeting the last man who could make a number of traditional objects in Saudi Arabia, crafts are still threatened, for example in Japan there were more than 300 gold leaf craftsmen in Kanazawa. Now there are fewer than 20. If you have time watch this video The Last Master Swordsmiths In Japan - Master And His Last Disciple - Katana Documentary
In many nations, there are concerns about the disappearing arts, Egypt, UK, India, Tanzania, tourism can be a way of enabling crafts to survive and evolve, they are heritage. The British Museum now has an Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP) that aims to call attention to, research and preserve the crafts, skills, practices and knowledge of the material world that are in danger of disappearing.
In 1880 an English textile designer William Morris declared to his Birmingham audience: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” He led the Arts and Crafts Movement motivated by (a) a rejection of cheap inferior goods produced in poor conditions for low wages in factories; (b) a concern to conserve traditional skill; and (c) a desire to see art and design thrive.
The import of factory-manufactured cheap craft replicas, often from another country, can undermine local crafters and artists. The local crafters and the tourists are cheated, the crafters lose on sales and the tourists are duped into buying a souvenir which is not from the place they wish to remember. The destination loses because it is "cheapened" and heritage is lost because heritage needs to be actively inherited and practised by the next generation if it is not to become a relic culture and die. Living cultures must thrive beyond the museum.
William Morris's wise words "know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" are important in understanding the market for arts and crafts. Crafters and artists have the opportunity to discuss their art or craft with purchasers and potential purchasers, to ask what they like and don't like and how the product might be made more attractive. Within their cultural tradition small amendments in design or producing something of utility to the ttourists may increase sales - for example a bag, paperweight or decoration
Sargaalaya Arts & Crafts Village in Kerala was established to raise awareness of the state's art and craft heritage, to preserve and enrich them and empower traditional artists and crafters. Arts and crafts naturally evolve.
Adama Bah worked with a number of informal sector groups in The Gambia and we learned a great deal about craft markets there. By engaging the craft sellers and producers in the research it was easier to secure beneficial change. The research methodology and findings were published: Bah A & Goodwin H (2003) Improving Access for the Informal Sector to Tourism in The Gambia Pro-Poor Tourism, London
This list of ideas, do's and don'ts, are intended to provoke thought, they are not prescriptive, although they are based on experience in a number of destination cultures which attract tourists from around the world. However, it is always important to take into account local cultures and the source markets, domestic and international, for the destination you are working in. There will be less hassle and better revenues if the craft is sold at fixed prices - however, it can be culturally difficult to reduce bargaining particularly given the unequal relationship between the artist or craft vendor who really needs to sell to feed their family and the tourist who may buy or not on a whim. Guides and guide book writers can assist by reminding tourists that people's livelihoods are at stake, that the relationship is very unequal and they should not exploit their power to drive a hard and unfair bargain
These Platform for Change pages are not static - if there are resources or ideas you would like to add please send them in.
§ Goodwin, H J, Kent, I J, Parker K T, Walpole M J (1997) one of four reports on Tourism, Conservation and Sustainable Development. Vol IV Southeast Lowveld, Zimbabwe Department for International Development, London pp 293-305