A quarterly specialized journal
The Message Of Folklore from Bahrain To The World

Folk Heritage and Its Role in Deepening the Identity of the Arab Child

Issue 48
Folk Heritage and Its Role in Deepening the Identity of the Arab Child

Naji Al Tabab

Faculty of Arts and Humanities of Kairouan (Tunisia)


It is necessary to emphasize, considering the conditions of our time,  the fact that preserving identity no longer means insularity, because societies that attempt to close themselves off are doomed to disappear, and the simplest indication of that is that one who speaks only one language today may be considered illiterate. The opposite is also true. People who go with the sweeping stream of globalization and abandon their identity may also face the danger of extinction.


The development of social structure is inevitable; this development usually leads to a change in lifestyles and a disruption of cultural values. The problem across generations is that children who will soon become youth must look forward to everything new in their perspective and they usually wish to live their own life. The question is who will help them to live according to their own time? Is it for their close family to provide this help or the institutions of their community?  Does the solution lie, as some believe, in reading folk heritage that identifies the cultural values and is the content of knowledge useful for the development of science and modern knowledge?


Much of the writing of today does not hesitate to explicitly call for the need to rid cultural heritage of ‘impurities’, and refine it. Does this mean that previous generations accepted the inherited culture as faulty or poisoned, and did it result in bad and evil consequences? This position is usually justified for the child by calling for the choice of what can provide pride of belonging to a significant Arab-Islamic civilization.


What we now call “heritage” is present in our everyday life. It is made up of actual practices despite its either unintentional or deliberate absence in written texts. This means that for centuries changing beliefs has not succeeded in obliterating or marginalizing everything related to folk culture. However, at the level of schooling and educational institutions in general, children inherit distorted and even misrepresented images of folk culture, even though they live some of it at home and on the street.


For this reason, a fear of the loss of identity has emerged, and some have suggested the introduction of cultural heritage in the teaching curricula, where we find that public life is the natural area in which those heritage expressive elements and many aspects of identity interact.


In our view, “contemporary” identity means that people preserve their heritage and acquaint themselves with other cultures at the same time. To some folk heritage may suggest a narrow domestic perspective and being closed off, but when we observe inherited cultural elements, dig deep into texts, and compare the narratives of people, we find that they have common human values.


Heritage represents an open culture, and identity is a bird that flies with two wings, one local and the other universal. It cannot abandon the human dimensions. We find most of the world's children, especially the educated ones, know the stories of Arabian Nights, Cinderella and other universal tales. This is primarily thanks to the narrators’ efforts, and secondly to publishing efforts.


A child knows neither himself nor “who he is” unless he or she identifies the other, with the help of adults. Because of his limited knowledge, he may not easily be able to perceive cultural differences. It is noted that the most abiding by tradition on various occasions are immigrants. They are the most afraid that their children will lose their identities. This is why we see them when they return to their homelands for holidays, ask their parents to speak to their children in their mother tongue, Arabic, and introduce them to the traditions in details. This means that openness to the other does not mean to adapt one’s culture, except in the case when this culture is of a universal human nature, which is in this case looked at as a factor of unification rather than division.


When aiming at preserving a distinct culture or culture of identity, we do not seek to create a culture of isolation. Heritage, both material and verbal, was widely used throughout generations (‘la masse populaire’), and was closely linked to people's concerns and various activities. Thus, sociologists see that heritage is a collective voice or symbolic capital (‘les biens symboliques’), in the sense that heritage provides cultural goods that societies have used to defend and fortify themselves.


The question now is can heritage still fortify the “cultural self” of the Arab peoples to ensure the identity of their children and their immunity in light of the ongoing changes and fluctuations in the world today? Do our children now not see the far as so close and vice versa, in our global village? Is this a phenomenon that threatens their identities with consequences that we may not realize until decades later?

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