Accepted Paper:

The "blue colour" conflict: negotiations over the preserving of heritage in Sapanta, Romania  


Maria Iancu (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

The paper exposes the disputed issues and the negotiation processes, related to the preservation of the material and intangible heritage of the Merry Cemetery in Romania. I argue that the paper’s foreign public and my non-political, neutral expertise were crucial points to make my opinion heard.

Paper long abstract:

The paper explores the processes through which the local power agents in Sapanta, Romania work for the preservation of the Merry's Cemetery heritage. This site is an eccentric graveyard, where the crosses are painted in vivid colours and the epitaphs consist of humourous verses. Despite being an obvious site of material culture, I argue that it bases its continuity on intangible heritage, such as the skills, the familial transmission of knowledge and as an alternative source of pride and authority, largely identifiable with the community's identity.

Through my research in the site, I identified several power agents, including the priest, the factions of artisans and the laymen, to whom the tradition of funerary crosses is enforced.

These actors continously negotiate among divergent views for the preservation of heritage. The paper proves that the national and centralist authorities were little succesful in imposing their strategies of restoring and preserving the heritage; nevertheless, external approval was always sought and esteemed.

Legitimating myself as neutral researcher and of foreign-training, I sought to impartially expose the current needs of the community and the manner in which skills have evolved and adapted. My work reveals that much source of conflict stemmed from economic interests; hence by a resolution upon the inheritance rights, including the rights over the local "blue tone", the heritage would fit better with the present interests of the community. Subsequently, my written analysis was demanded for reference in the official publications of the heritage site.

Panel P06
Intangible heritage and the challenges for the theory and practice of anthropology