The Heritage Project is a community-arts concept for children. Participants are guided to make a music-theatre performance based on their cultural heritage. A local folk story is selected along with traditional music and dance, and molded into a script. During the project week the story is dramatized, rehearsed, and performed for friends and family.
The first project took place in Sri Lanka in 2012, where the children from Lunugamvehera and Panama Village dramatized the story of the Sri Lankan folk legend Mahadenamutta. Since then, The Heritage Project has been organized in eight different countries, working with refugees and indigenous communities.
In every project, children from different cultural backgrounds participate, making each performance vibrant and unique. By raising awareness about the importance of cultural heritage, the project contributes to the longevity of local folklore, language, and tradition.
The Heritage Project returned to Sri Lanka to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Two projects were organized in Pallegama and Wallakanda village.
In Pallegama the children performed the story of the Lion Queen “Sinha Raja”, protector of the Sinharaja Rainforest.
In Wallakanda several small plays were written by the students themselves with “unity” as the main theme. These plays were performed on the Sri Lankan Independence Day.
Together with the Dusun people in Borneo (Malaysia), “The Legend of Tambunan” was dramatized by the students of St. David Toboh primary school in Tambunan. The story tells how the Tamadon and Gombunan tribes defeat their mutual enemy Tonsudung. After their victory they lived together in harmony, naming their settlement “Tambunan”.
The Dusun are an indigenous people living in Sabah, Northern Borneo. They have a rich culture that is closely connected to the natural environment home to the Dusun. Traditional dances resemble the movement of flying birds, and musical instruments are made of natural materials. The Dusun culture as well as its unique language is at risk of being completely assimilated into the dominant Malaysian culture. Projects like The Heritage Project encourage children to maintain their mother tongue, and to cherish their local customs.
The Heritage Project was organized at Poolbari Primary School in Nepal in connection with the Tihar festival. Tihar, like Diwali, is a five-day Hindu festival that celebrates the four creatures associated with Yama, the God of Death. The children at Poolbari Primary School portrayed these five days in their play to visualize the legend behind the Tihar festival.
The demographics in Nepal are composed of multiple ethnic groups with the majority being Hindu. The remains of a strong caste-system still facilitate social injustice to many of these ethnicities.
In Som Poi and Mor Wa Kee village in Northern Thailand, the Karen folk story “Pujs Da and Deif Muj Bau” was dramatized. Deif Muj Bau plots to have her seven stepsons murdered. After many failed attempts the stepsons take revenge and kill her. Deif Muj Bau spirit transforms into an angry buffalo who eats all the sons, except for Pujs Da, the youngest of the seven. Pujs Da manages to release his brothers, but then transforms into a buffalo himself.
The Karen are an indigenous people living in Myanmar and Northern Thailand. They have their own language as well as many unique traditions. During the Burmese insurgency in 1949 the Karen were prosecuted and displaced. Many are now living along the Thailand-Myanmar border being in a fragile position as a minority.
The Heritage Project was organized for the children participating in the festival for Latvian Music in Madona. During the week the folkstory “Sprīdītis” was rehearsed and performed at Cesvaine Castle.
The Mother of the Wind awarded Sprīdītis with a magic flute that could force someone to dance whenever it was played. He used this to defeat the devil that wanted to kidnap the princess. Because Sprīdītis was the only one that succeeded he was granted the kingdom as well as the princess as his wife. The princess however did not want to marry Sprīdītis. She made a pact with a witch to have Sprīdītis murdered. By using a magic ring, Sprīdītis could transform into a swan and fly back home.
As response to the refugee-crisis in Europe, The Heritage Project collaborated with an asylum center in Trondheim, Norway. About fifteen refugees from Africa and Asia proudly presented their cultural heritage in a small music and dance performance.
Since 2015 Europe has seen multiple waves of refugees fleeing war, poverty, prosecuting and climate change. The treatment and reception of refugees has not been equal, and many must wait years in uncertainty to receive an answer on their status.
In an isolated community deep in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador the Quechuan story of The Magic Flute was dramatized by its inhabitants.
The Quechua are an indigenous people from the Andes Region in South America. They represent a rich culture with their own language and traditions.
The Heritage Project had its startup in Sri Lanka where the children from Lunugamvehera and Panama Village dramatized the story of Mahadenamutta. This Sri Lankan folk legend is an old guru that is supposed to be wise, but really is not. He is appointed with the task to save the cattle from a terrible monster. After a long journey he stumbles across a group of dancers and musicians. Their songs could tame the beast! The plan works. The monster likes the music so much that he joins the village as protector of the cattle.
After a long and bloody civil war between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority, poverty and ethnic tension still prevail. Cultural projects like The Heritage Project that work with mixed communities are a small step towards reconciliation and unity.
The Heritage Project has had the privilege to collaborate with ethnic minorities and refugees whose culture is vulnerable and undervalued.
The Heritage Project guides children to produce a full music-theatre show from the ground up in a playful manner. In less than a week the participants learn to explore artistic ways of expressing themselves. They also improve their language skills, learn to work as a team, and acquire a deepened respect for each other and their surrounding environment.