More about “Whispers of the Sea”!

Written by Janet Ranson,  Artist behind the “Whispers of the Sea” exhibition

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We set up the Whispers of the Sea exhibition on the top floor of the Pan African Market in Long Street, Cape Town on 4th June. Tahirih and Andisiwe, Claire and Sam Murgatroyd helped with the installation.

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Participants at the NAS training – they contributed bottles of things they felt were “heritage significant” to the Exhibition as well!

We decided to place our ring of ‘treasure jars’ in the centre of the landing, to create drama as you came up the stairs. 16 jars were suspended from hooks in the ceiling, appearing to float at head height. The contents included pot-shards and beads collected on the beach near Lambasi village (donated by the collectors), a copy of a gold bell recently found, mussel shells, photographs from the research and images of precious heritage as documented in the NAS training. Each jar was internally lit by LEDs.

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Andisiwe and Janet!

Speakers were placed on either side of the ring of jars, playing a selection of clips from the research interviews, edited by musician Eric Michot. These clips were edited in the original isiXhosa with English translation, fading into sea sounds, creating the effect of a multiplicity of voices, telling stories and commenting on Eastern Cape maritime heritage.

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We also displayed a worn spade and hoe with worn-away blade, which had been used by some of the interviewees for digging on the beach for many years. For an extra interactive element, a rusted chest was filled with sand and ‘salted’ with beads, shells, pot-shards and chocolate coins, with visitors invited to dig for ‘treasure’ (this was not popular and won’t be repeated at future exhibitions). Alongside the usual opening night offering of a glass of wine, Tahirih set out jars of favourite childhood sweets: stars, cachous, chappies, wicks and liquorice gob-stoppers, which were enthusiastically enjoyed by visitors.

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When visitors arrived at the exhibition, they were curious about the display and a somewhat puzzled over the jars, although they liked the effect. This was the intention: while they examined the jars they could hear the sound piece. Janet Ranson has observed that people are not used to listening, and calculated that they would need a visual distraction to help them take time to hear the stories.

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Vuyo Koyana from the Pan African Market, the person who made this event possible!

Positioning the exhibition at the Pan African Market and partnering with First Thursdays helped attract a large and varied audience. At the opening, the space was packed, despite the cold weather and 3 flights of stairs. Andisiwe was on hand to explain the research project and the significance of the objects in each jar. We found that tourists, artists and even historians were fascinated by her tales. The recorded voices proved so effective that one visitor thought the voices were coming from the jars themselves!

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Lunga, Andisiwe and Sbu – the team of people that welcomed and guided visitors through the exhibition!

People were visibly engaged and animated and emotional discussions ensued: urban Xhosa-speakers seemed delighted to see some of their culture and customs recognized in this way. Waves of visitors kept arriving, including some of the ‘who’s who’ of Cape Town’s contemporary performing arts scene, who came to see Khaya Witbooi and Jacqueline Manyaapelo’s performance (in the same space) and stayed to comment on the exhibition. It was exciting to see so many people take an interest in the research from an isolated and neglected part of South Africa.

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Khaya Witbooi’s performance art piece beginning

 

NAS Training – A Community Workshop!

IMG_2925Written by Heather Wares – Selection from project report

As part of the agreed upon project outcomes, a five day community workshop was held in the week of the 26- 30 May. This workshop was mandated to include both a discussion around the importance of protecting Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage (MUCH) sites and the teaching of basic archaeological survey skills through the Nautical Archaeological Society (NAS) courses. A team of seven people travelled to the Eastern Cape to present the workshop, including a SAHRA intern who participated in the NAS training.

The aim was to integrate the oral histories gathered over the course of the project within the structured topics of the workshop. In order to create an atmosphere of interaction and gauge the level of understanding, the participants were divided into three groups who would produce mini-projects representing a heritage site which they deemed important to the community and area. The resulting projects far exceeded the expectations of the project team and illustrated the outcome of the workshop as being one of mutual teaching and learning.

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NAS courses were originally designed for the United Kingdom and within South Africa shipwrecks have been a central focus for previous NAS training. While shipwrecks continue to hold importance, there is a realisation that many South African cultures attach intangible meaning to various bodies of water such as lakes and rivers. Thus, the NAS training was adjusted accordingly.

The design of the workshop was informed by the field work done over two ten day periods, giving the team an idea of what to focus on to serve the needs of the community and the project. Presentations were done on topics such as Introduction to Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage (MUCH), Site Types, Site Survey, The Grosvenor Case Study, Heritage and Tourism, and Heritage and Legislation. Over the week these topics were introduced, explained and discussed.

IMG_2927The overall outline of the workshop was to present the basic idea of what an archaeological site type was, why they are important to preserve and how that preservation can be done through basic archaeological survey techniques. In the design of the workshop and the integration of the NAS curriculum, the team had to keep in mind that this was the first time that most of the participants had any interaction with the archaeology. In addition, all of the presentations and discussions were translated between English and Xhosa.

Thus it was necessary for the workshop to extend over 5 days. To best satisfy the objectives of the workshop the week was structured with theoretical and practical components. The mornings were dedicated to theoretical presentations and these were put into practice in the afternoons through group project preparation. This structure allowed the participants to use what they had learnt from the theoretical components to inform and mold their projects.

The numbers of participants varied throughout the week, due to other commitments, with between 13 and 19 attendees. However, with a core group in full attendance the combination of presentations and discussions provided the participants with a new understanding of Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage. The participants could then relate the concept of MUCH to their local heritage sites and implement practical ways of protecting these sites for the benefit of the community as a whole.

 

Press Release: “Whispers of the Sea” exhibition

IMG_20140608_091134Oral traditions bearing testimony to people’s relationship with water is explored in an art exhibition in Cape Town from June 5 to 10. The exhibition, ‘Whispers of the Sea’, opened on Thursday night at 6pm at the Pan African Market on Long Street in central Cape Town as part of First Thursdays.

It is the culmination of the Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project, a collaboration involving the South African Heritage and Resource Agency (SAHRA), the African Centre for Heritage Activities (ACHA) and Cape Town-based artist Janet Ranson.

‘Whispers of the Sea’ is an installation of research that focuses on maritime history and water, from the perspective of residents of a designated coastal area. It delves into mythology, historical accounts, archival records and research data to bring together local perspectives on the history of the sea.

ACHA director Jonathan Sharfman, a maritime archaeologist, says this project “explores some of the forgotten, marginalised and ignored histories of South Africa while investigating ways to implement economically sustainable, community driven heritage activities”.

Ranson created the exhibition based on the research project’s findings, working on the premise that a single bold display has more impact than an overload of information. The exhibition includes sound recordings of local voices commenting on issues of heritage, ownership, sustainability and local economics. The exhibition sound track was created by Eric Michot, a French music producer.

Project manager Tahirih Michot says: “Visitors will enter the space and hear excerpts from the research interviews and literally hearing a range of voices commenting on issues of heritage, ownership, sustainability and local economics.”

“Glowing glass jars will be suspended in the exhibition space in a circle, at eye height. This will add to the ritual mood of the space and engage the visitors’ eyes while they listen to the sound recording,” she adds.

“Each jar contains an image from the research: ceramic fragments washed up on shore, from a shipwreck, beads retrieved from the sand, photographs of the local residents, and an antique gold bell.”

Michot explains that the South African Heritage and Resource Agency (SAHRA) commissioned the research project at the end of last year. SAHRA is a statutory organisation established under the National Heritage Resources Act, No 25 of 1999. The primary objective of SAHRA is to coordinate the identification and management of the national estate which is defined as heritage resources.

According to Sophie Winton, Heritage Officer at SAHRA’s Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit (MUCH), “This project centers around the collection of oral histories from communities living along the Pondoland coast in order to build a fuller picture of the heritage landscape in the Eastern Cape. This project forms part of the Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit’s efforts to expand the focus of MUCH resources beyond the traditional shipwreck to non-traditional, locally applicable examples of South Africa’s relationship with water. Xhosa culture strongly emphasises the importance of oral tradition, so this research method was a natural choice.”

ACHA was appointed to conduct archival and field research as well as heritage education workshops in Pondoland’s coastal communities in the Eastern Cape. “ACHA undertook this project as the first phase of a far larger community based heritage programme. Its focus was to explore some of the forgotten, marginalised and ignored histories while investigating ways to implement economically sustainable, community driven heritage development activities,” says Michot.

“The project focused on the collection of maritime oral histories for the geographic area between Port St Johns and the Msikaba River in the Eastern Cape Province.” She adds: “It involved the review of secondary literature to create a historical context for the research and field work to gather oral histories from people currently living in the designated area. The objective of this project was to share the research findings in the form of both report as well as a public exhibition.”

ACHA, a non-profit international heritage centre based in South Africa, is inspired by innovation, people, water and identity. It intends for this exhibition and ongoing work to have a positive impact on the heritage sector by focusing on innovative, sustainable community owned heritage activities.

Its objective is to support shifts in attitudes, values and perceptions of communities in relationship to their heritage and the heritage of others. The focus is on improving people’s lives through increased awareness of their own context, sense of place resulting in a great degree of empathy and connectedness.

Whispers of the Sea runs at the Pan African Market on Long Street at these times:

Thursday, June 5, opening night 6pm to 9pm

Friday, June 6, 10am to 5pm

Saturday, June 7, 9am to 1pm

Monday, June 9, 10am to 5pm

Tuesday, June 10, 10am to 5pm

 

For more information, have a look at these online links:

ACHA blog about Under Water Heritage https://underwaterheritage.org/

ACHA Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/African-Centre-for-Heritage-Activities-ACHA/149723961898756

ACHA website: http://acha.co.za/

SAHRA website: www.sahra.org.za

For more about the artist Janet Ranson http://janetranson.withtank.com/

NAS Training in the Eastern Cape!

ImageA team from ACHA are heading to the Eastern Cape tomorrow to run a Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) Training Programme. The training forms part of the Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project for SAHRA. The programme will be run with people living the same communities that participated in the oral history field work process earlier this year. Some of the participants are in fact the interviewees themselves!

Members of the ACHA team include Lusanda Ngcaweni (lead researcher), Andisiwe Qubekile (assistant researcher), Jonathan Sharfman (facilitator & director of ACHA), Heather Wares (trainer-in-training and project historian). The team is also joined by a number of people from SAHRA, Sophie Winton (co-facilitator), Stephanie-Ann Barnardt, Shawn Berry, Dumisani Sibayi and Nkosazana Machete.

The training will last for a week, take place in a hut close to the ocean and involve a mixed group of participants from the area! This includes people from KwaNdengane village (Sao Bento wreck), KwaRhole village (Grosvenor wreck), Cuthwini (another coastal village in the same region), Mbotyi (coastal village) and Port St Johns. As part of the training process, participants will be developing something to contribute to the project Exhibition, “Whispers of the Sea” being held at the beginning of June in Cape Town. Stay tuned to find out more about the training programme from Lusanda’s blog!

Freedom Day Exhibition

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Our Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project was exhibited on Freedom Day as part of the SAHRA display! Janet Ranson, the professional artist working with the project team to create an exhibition, constructed a visual display of diverse artifacts encountered during the field work process by the research team. Bottles on a table filled with “treasure”! Visitors were encouraged to get involved and share their thoughts about the meaning of ‘heritage”. The exhibition is just a “taste” of what is to come in the main exhibition taking place in May!

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Janet with the visual display created for the day!

The visual display consisted of various bottles containing artifacts countered in the field by the research team. Each bottle was accompanied by a label to invite audience participation and engagement with the concept of “Heritage”!

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The bottles were as follows:

Plastic cool drink bottle of seawater – Label: Some people think sea water can cure all kinds of diseases. Others think the sea can cleanse their sorrow and pain. Some people say it belongs to all of us. What do you think of the ocean?

Jar of mussel shells – Label: For centuries, people who live on the coast have picked shellfish to feed their families – sometimes more than their permit allows. How do you think natural resources should be preserved?

Jar with photo of beads – Label: The man who collects them carefully prices these carnelian beads. Do you think this is fair? What do you think heritage is worth?

Jar of pot shards – Label: These are pottery fragments found on a Cape Town beach. Even archaeologists can’t really tell where they came from or how old they are. Do you think people need licenses to collect them?

Jar with pic of purple house – Label: XX turned to digging for beads out of desperation, and earned money to build this house. How do you balance financial need with preserving heritage?

Feel free to join the discussion and share your thoughts with us here too. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Wrapping up the Field Work!

The Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project group with SAHRA CEO, Peter Mokwena

The Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project group with SAHRA CEO, Peter Mokwena

The phase of conducting field work for the Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project has come to a conclusion. Lusanda and Andisiwe returned from the second phase of field work on April 4th  which was even more successful than their first trip!

Lusanda writes in her field work report, “The ocean plays a significant role in the day-to-day lives of the people living in close proximity to it. We spoke to a number of people in the coastal villages of KwaNdengane, Cuthwini and Mbotyi in Lusikisiki and Noqhekwane in Port St Johns, who told us how the sea fits in with their daily lives. We have divided these into 10 subheadings, namely: Ownership, “Nature”, Food & Income, Tourism, Leisure, Health, Religious & Traditional Practices, and Mythologies.”

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Lusanda right before her big presentation to SAHRA

The holistic nature of the field work yielded engaging and at times, challenging information which was subsequently presented at 2 different forums. The first presentation was to the research team reference group on April 12th and the second presentation was to SAHRA on April 16th. The collective process of reflecting on the material that was presented to the groups led to lively and vigorous debate. It ic clear from the response of those that came to listen to the findings that the creation of a sustainable approach to heritage management is supported through the process of conducting research of this nature!

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The presentation to SAHRA took place in the boardroom at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town and was well attended!

The project now moves into the next stage of activity which will involve the creation of an exhibition and NAS training which will take place in the area that the field work was conducted!