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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 36
September 8, 2007

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Folklore law needed for cultural tourism development

Mohammad Shahidul Islam

Bangladesh is an affluent terra firma of folklore. But for long time, its position in art and culture has become shaky and al most remains unrepresented with the young generation. Our resourceful folklore gives us the pride of cultural heritage. But we always look down on folklore because of our ignorance about its national importance. Our rich folklore contains bunches of tales, songs, dances, operas, legends, proverbs, myths, riddles and traditions which are supposed to roll on from generation to generation. But the present generation is not encouraged or privileged to know and experience the rich folklore for the lack of conservation, and transmission. Most of the folklores are fading away from the society, which once were popular to people and their spirit of life. We need to for protecting the folklores by sanctioning law without delay.

Bangladeshi folklore can give majestic insight into the country's social and ethnic background as well as people's habits and beliefs. Bengali folklore also depicts much about residents of the past such as their ideologies, customs and way of thinking on home or social affairs. Diverse ethnic groups that have resided in the land throughout the periods of time have largely influenced Bangladesh's folklore. A diversity of nitty-gritty can therefore be clearly seen in the folklore of Bangladesh. Puthis, ancient manuscripts are in fact books of folk tales and religious customs existing in rural Bangladesh. Educated individuals, both as a form of amusement and as education, read these books to the society.

In order to fully utilise the potential of folklore resources in tourism, further improvements are necessary, both in the general infrastructure and in the tourism sector itself. It must be understood that though the attractiveness of each individual folklore is limited, the power of appropriate combined attraction is multiple. One possible way of developing new types of tourist packages would be to design thematic routes for various market segments (cultural trails based on folklore events, exhibitions, workshops, textile or pottery routes, etc.). Another idea could be a stronger co-operation between tourist businesses and folklore organisations or folk artists, which would provide additional sponsorship for the artists, contribute to the improvement of service quality and to product development, and could even widen the country's existing image.

A well-known Bangla epic-lore is Manasamangal. This story is constituted to give glory and respect to Manasa, a Hindu goddess. Nevertheless, it has become popular for the love story of Behula (the heroine) and Lakhindar (her husband). The story tells how the father of Lakhindar saddens the snake goddess Manasa. She then bites Lakhindar on his wedding night. Behula takes her husband's lifeless body on a boat and sails off. After soothing the goddess, Lakhindar is brought back to life. Behula is repeatedly adored to be the model of Bengali women who exhibit extreme bravery and love.

Culture in general consists of behaviours and artifacts, beliefs and values, and underlying assumptions, i.e. ways of perceiving, thinking and evaluating the world, self and others. Through the development of tourism in a destination, culture is usually being transformed into a product as an element of the overall supply to tourists. Culture can be marketed to tourists through tangible and/or intangible elements, e.g. buildings, crafts, art objects, and/or behaviours and values. Culture is part of the tourism system, both as an attraction and as an element in the system's environment. In a country like Bangladesh, with a limited exposure of particularly attractive or internationally unique natural attractions, culture can be one of the most significant tourist attractions. Cultural tourism is a fast growing from of tourism internationally and this trend can be reflected in the development of Bangladeshi tourism as well.

Folklore art can be a unique element of the Bangladeshi tourist product. The originality and the variety of different art forms provide a special experience for the tourists and a powerful promotional tool for national marketing. Since the photos and films showing folk art objects and scenes of traditional events can play an important role in the visual representation of Bangladesh, tourists develop their expectations accordingly before their trip. So the animated and inanimate forms of folk culture can remain significant elements of the tourist supply not only in cultural tourism, but also in rural or even incentive tourism. When tourists will attend folklore programmes, participate in folk traditions or see examples of folk architecture or handicrafts, they will see their expectations fulfilled as well as reinforced. Consequently, folk art objects will be among the most popular souvenirs that international tourists will buy in Bangladesh. Since these objects can perfectly fulfil the basic requirements concerning souvenirs -- they are relatively inexpensive, easy to take home and typical to the visited area -- so can act as reminders and proofs of the trip.

The existing measures to preserve the folklore treasure trove are not enough to meet the needs. For the purpose appropriate law needs to be enacted soon. It is almost mandatory for the government to devote greater attention and resources to the aspects of preservation, conservation, documentation, development and legal protection of folklore. Government also needs to be determined to ensure the safety and security of the materials and documents to prevent unfair exploitation. In addition, government has to support communities who are dependable for the creation, maintenance, custodianship and development of folklores. On the other hand, we have to elevate the level of awareness about the legal system at the national level through transmission of information to the public by mass media, debates, discussions and studies with experts and all interested groups. To protect and conserve the folklores properly, there would be no alternative to seeking aids and assistance from UNESCO on passing the national law.

Folklore art and traditions can play a key role in Bangladesh tourism. Being part of our cultural heritage, objects of folklore art and handicrafts are among the main tangible attractions of the country. Costumes and other tangible forms of art can be best preserved in small rural settlements, where the inhabitants' everyday life can be tightly interwoven with traditions. Thus rural tourism development emphasizes the importance of these attractions, in order to attract the type of visitors who will be highly motivated to learn more about our traditional arts and crafts.

Folk arts and crafts, traditions and customs can be classified as local, regional or national attractions. There are several diverse functions of folklore. Cultural tourism of Bangladesh could be the main source of tourists' attraction in the protection of folklore. If folk tales are examined closely, we find that many are used to pass down cultures with morals and values from one generation to the next. Folklore fulfils the role of teaching the importance of tradition and roots. So we have to conserve and protect our rich folklores by passing strict law in the national interest as well as for boosting cultural tourism.

The writer is a faculty of National Hotel and Tourism Training Institute, Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation.


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