Impact Of Culture On The Economy

By Agustus Sapen

In continuation of BHF 2015, The audition for Borneo Hornbill Festival's Ethnic Pageant 2016 will focus on the impact of culture on the economy of those who conserve, preserve, uphold, practice and promote at least one aspect of culture, tradition and heritage in their daily lives.

The practice of culture, tradition and heritage may be part of their daily routines whether at work or at home.  It may also be part of their hobby or passion during their free time; their personal calling or mission to ensure that their culture, tradition and heritage remains in the grasp of the present and future generations.

Examples of cultural practitioners are cultural dancers, cultural consultants, masters of ceremonies and rituals, ethnic fashion designers, ethnic costume makers, fabric weavers, basket weavers, traditional craft makers, carvers, painters, folk tales & story tellers, traditional healers, ethnic singers and songwriters, ethnic musical instrument players, social and cultural activists, traditional farmers, traditional food and beverage producers and many more.

Some cultural aspects do not require a single sen but most ethnic rituals nowadays require an increasing number of materials and equipment which can hardly be found or have become very expensive to obtain.

Traditional ethnic rituals demand extra attention and care thus can only be practiced on a full time basis.  This means that the practitioner has to generate income from it to pay for the bills and put food on the table.

Dedicated cultural practitioners have been earning a living from their cultural practices since the civilization began barter trading such as traditional healers, masters of ceremonies and rituals, pua kumbu weavers and basket weavers, painters and carvers and ethnic costume designers.  For some, it is a vanishing trade while others barely sustain in today's modern setting.

Recent economical values attributed to culture can be seen in ethnic dance services, handicraft and contemporary ethnic fashion design, ethnic music players, singers and song writers, traditional  organic farming, ethnic wedding services, traditional food and beverage producers and cultural consultants.

Culture is not only limited to the practices of the olden days but can be creatively integrated in today's modern setting.

Tourism offers very high potential for value added cultural practices.  Tour operators now offer tourists a glimpse into traditional ethnic living by arranging unique homestay packages and tribal themed adventures.  Some tourists even get involved in traditional rice farming and pick peppers, cocoa and jungle produce with their hosts.

Handicraft has long been the favorite item for tourists to bring back to their countries and the market still prove to be a huge potential despite being rather saturated.  Efforts are needed to ensure a fresh approach to handicraft and the way they are sourced. Most mass produced souvenirs of Sarawak and Sabah are not even made in Sarawak and Sabah. Instead, they are made in China and Indonesia.

The fashion industry today is also going back in time for ethnic fusion designs and tribal inspirations.  We can even see Borneo elements applied in beauty pageants in the national costume category.  Authentic woven pua kumbu, orang ulu motifs and traditional style accessories can also be seen on modern fashion designs, proudly displayed during international runway shows.

Ethnic music genre can be promoted by creatively incorporating the sounds of ethnic music instrument, folk lore, chants and lullaby thus adding value to the skill.  Many modern sape players have emerged and some are of very young age.  Jerry Kamit is now a household name in Malaysia. There are many other traditional music players who have made their name locally and abroad.

When it comes to ethnic dance, music plays a very important role.  There are only a handful musical scores available and most dance teams use the same ethnic music score.  We need more ethnic musicians to create better variety and quality.

Modern weddings today often incorporate ethnic values and costumes especially when the couples have a sense of pride for their culture.  There are even some couples from America and Europe who chose to have a traditional Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Kadazan, Dusun or Murut wedding.  The wedding reception definitely needs ethnic dancers and plenty of ethnic costumes.

Considering the diverse applications of culture to economy, it is obvious that culture, tradition and heritage has a lot to offer in terms of economic values. The possibilities are endless if we use our creativity and innovation.