Of Balafons & Boats: Where Value Lies in Conserving Material Culture

Maggie Holtzberg ()

Using insights gleaned from shipwright Harold Burnham and West African hereditary musician Balla Kouyaté, this paper questions western concepts of authenticity and the meaning of “original” in highly-valued cultural objects made of perishable materials. The 13th century Sosso Balla is revered not because its original materials have been preserved but because it is the material embodiment of a living tradition maintained by performance. Similarly, the Sylvina Beal is valued because by deconstructing, rehabilitating, and sailing her, a town remains connected to its shipbuilding heritage. It is the human-to-human transmission of how to build, refurbish, and use an object where true value lies.

Part of 04-13 Conservation and Destruction of Material Culture, Friday, November 03, 8:30 am–10:00 am