Informal heritage-making at the Sarawak Cultural Village, East Malaysia
Scholars have always been fascinated with cultural theme parks as tourism attractions or as vehicles for identity formations. With respect to the latter, the focus has been on how these consumption landscapes also portend spaces of representation that mobilize certain attributes of ethnic groups within territorial boundaries as a means to bind them together and link them to their terrains, although these ideological exercises are often times contested by the very people they seek to depict. Yet, comparably less emphasis has been paid on how local visitors can themselves draw upon their own cultural reserves to rethink the meanings of these spaces to make them more relatable. Drawing on participant ethnography and interviews with key staff and visitors, this paper examines how locals have sought to unmake and remake one such theme park, the Sarawak Cultural Village, to enhance resonance for them and for other visitors, at times even going against intended narratives. In so doing, the paper extends current scholarship beyond seeing themed spaces just as places where the formal employment of heritage for identity-building may be contested; they are also where meanings can be (re)negotiated ‘from below’, proffering more possibilities for co-constructive heritage-making.