Accepted Paper:

Isukuti of Western Kenya: a cultural dance promoted into heritage  


Kahithe Kiiru (Centre for Ethnology and Comparative Sociology (LESC), University Paris West Nanterre La Défense)

Paper short abstract:

The study of dance heritage creation processes in contemporary Kenya led me univocally to isukuti dance that had recently been included in the UNESCO ICH List. This paper reviews some of the political, social and economic underpinnings of this pioneer endeavour and questions the latent representation issues.

Paper long abstract:

In a multi-situated inquiry into dance heritage creation processes in contemporary Kenya, I examine the content and the status of social and political practices grouped under the term "cultural dances of Kenya" and analyse variations of this heritage ensemble.

Intangible cultural heritage is a new and vaguely utilised resource in this natural resource oriented tourist destination. Although its potential developmental advantages are often referred to in political and social discourses, there is still little infrastructural, institutional or economical support for the establishment of real policies and for putting them in place.

In this context, the government nominates a cultural dance for the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding List. The "Isukuti dance of lsukha and ldakho communities of Western Kenya" nomination was accepted in November 2014, while the fieldwork research this analysis is based on was conducted in spring 2014. The political will behind safeguarding isukuti, the competing interest groups involved in the process, the significance of choice in a country with officially 42 ethnic communities, the perceptions of representativity, the question of urgency, the utopian economic and social benefits discourse that accompanied the process and the expectations of local community actors and members are some of the questions I wish to discuss in this paper.

Panel Heri006
Heritage as social, economic and utopian resource