Abstract Title
The Voice of Cultural Heritage Zombies: Korean Shamans and Intangible Cultural Heritage Designations
Starting in the 1980’s many practices associated with Korean Shamanism have been designated as Important Intangible Cultural Heritage properties by the South Korean government’s Cultural Heritage Administration. In the summer of 2018, we conducted ethnographic research with Korean shamans in Seoul, South Korea. We found that many people, including political leaders, academics, and museum personnel, lauded the recognition of Korean Shamanism as an Important Intangible Cultural Heritage property. They felt that the designation would ensure the preservation of an important part of Korean history. However, we were surprised to find that the shamans we interviewed, some who themselves are recognized as Living National Treasures, were very critical of these designations. They felt that designating shamanistic rituals as cultural heritage prevented the Korean people from understanding shamanism as a valid form of worship, and that, as a result, most people lacked an understanding of the real purpose and importance of these rituals which was, for the shaman, keeping evil spirits at bay, connecting with the gods, and bringing blessings to individuals and to the community. The concerns that these shamans voiced have strong resonances with Gambi’s (2006) notion of cultural heritage as a “zombie”. Only in this case, the human part of the zombie is still able to actively narrate their discomfort at being turned into a zombie. This points to the equivocal nature of designations such as Intangible Cultural Heritage and Living National Treasures.
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