Forum: Keep stories and values behind hawker culture alive for posterity, Forum News & Top Stories

I am dismayed to read that many elderly hawkers are adversely affected by the current Covid-19 measures.

Unable to jump on the bandwagon of food delivery apps, they face the possibility of retiring for good (Buzz of online support for older hawkers, May 30).

How will this impact our cultural heritage now that Singapore’s hawker culture has been added to the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity?

I found out from the Unesco website that “cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants… The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next”.

So what is worth protecting are not just hawker centres or the trade itself, but the stories of hardship and the unique values behind our hawker culture.

We need to systematically capture these “cultural stories” so that our descendants will still have a chance to hear them.

Old people tell stories while the young dream.

An ageing hawker can be replaced by another, but his unique story of how he started in this trade and honed his craft needs to be passed down, even as memories of the food long fade.

In the book Intergenerational Space, Associate Professor Thang Leng Leng said that community and commercial facilities that are co-located can serve as important inter-generational contact zones.

I think our hawker centres can be such inter-generational contact zones.

Whether we are on Unesco’s list or not, we need to safeguard this intangible cultural heritage like how we protect our heritage buildings.

We should not allow something so precious to be lost, and leave future generations poorer because we did not do enough.

Our national reserves can help us to weather economic downturns.

But our intangible cultural heritage, as it is retold from generation to generation, can help us face any future crisis together with hope.

Tristan Gwee

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