What comes to mind when you hear the word heritage? Do you think of your grandparents? Do you think of the traditions that have been passed down over the years? Or do you think of the tapestry of the world’s heritage as a blanket that binds us all together?
For me, heritage is all of those things. It is both individual and collective. We belong to a familial heritage (our bloodlines) but also a collective, community-based heritage that connects us – blood or no blood.
Heritage is in the passing of time. In every sunrise and every sunset.
It’s about our ancestors. About their influence in our lives. About the struggles that they went through.
Heritage is about telling stories and passing down knowledge through generations.
It’s about broadening our horizons – about dipping our toes into a multitude of upbringings, of histories, and of different perspectives of the world.
It’s a way back to our past, but also a flavour to our future that we can choose to incorporate into our lives.
It’s about the myriad of differences between us that actually bring us closer together.
It’s in the way a father and son share hand gestures, and a mother and daughter laugh in an identical way.
But it’s also in the lessons that a caretaker teaches to a small child who needs shelter or a young mind who is thirsty for knowledge.
It’s the practice of learning about each other, and through our shared experience, learning about ourselves and how we show up in the world.
Heritage is found in different dialects, in the many greetings of the world, and the way we pronounce the same words differently.
It’s found in the ways we prepare food, in the ancient traditions of eating together or alone, and in the way we gather around a table.
Heritage is found in the way we celebrate new life and the passing of those we love.
It’s about where you have come from. And letting this inform where you are headed to next.
It’s found in the traditions we hold sacred for special days. The traditions we pass down as a way to remember.
It’s found in our individual experiences of nature – in the scent of an ocean, or the sound an elephant makes when it steps on a branch or in the tallness of trees in a forest. It’s the way that a lion roars late in the night and the golden stare of a leopard as it walks past. It’s in the gentleness of a river that brings life and the hope of regeneration as spring rains wet the earth.
Preserve it. Conserve it. Share it with those around you. Celebrate it. Discuss it. Learn about someone else’s. Our heritage is not just about the blood that we share with our ancestors. It’s about the history we have shared with our humanity, and about the lessons we will pass on to our children, our community members and the groups of people we choose as our family.
While today is National Heritage Day in South Africa, where we celebrate a rainbow nation and the melting pot of many cultures in our country, it’s also an invitation to you – no matter where you find yourself in the world – to remember and to celebrate your own heritage and open your heart to others. It’s this that binds us all together. And it’s this that I celebrate today.
To my fellow South Africans, happy Heritage Day! May you feel energised and accepted as the unique part of this colourful nation that you are. And may you dance, sing and feel all the joy as you watch this beautiful example of the incredible potential of our country by South African artists Jeremy Loops and Ladysmith Black Mambazo…