Affect in the Aftermath of Disaster

Project Team: Hayley Saul, Emma Waterton, Meredith Potts (FIRE), Peter Blystone (Blystone Productions)

Project Support and Funding: Flagstaff International Relief Effort (FIRE), Community Action Nepal (CAN), with funding provided by Western Sydney University’s Vice-Chancellor, the Institute for Culture and Society (WSU) and public donations, Leverhulme Trust

In 2015, the Langtang Valley in the Nepalese Himalayas witnessed incredible tragedy following two magnitude 7.9 earthquakes which dislodged a hanging glacier from Langtang Lirung (7,234m) mountain. The resulting landslide destroyed the village beneath. The Langtang Heritage Trail is an oral history project that is recording stories of landscape and co-designing these into a series of small digital exhibition ‘huts’ with the Langtangpa community in the Nepalese Himalayas. The aim is to record the stories of ‘special places’ in this animate landscape, creating a repository that is available to support knowledge-transfer in the community and be shared with visitors to the small exhibitions. This project was initiated following an invitation from the community after the Gorkha Earthquakes. Upon returning to the valley after the disaster some of the first activities that the community prioritised were the rebuilding of mani walls (ceremonial avenues of stones upon which prayers are inscribed), the erection of memorial flags and the reconstruction of the small monastery at Kyanjin Gompa. It was evident that reestablishing spiritual security, and using heritage-making to respond to the disaster, was an important part of recovery. Through storywork with community members we are exploring how disasters have shaped feelings of security, risk and care in the Langtang Valley, how cultural memory offers ways to respond to tragedy, and how cultural flourishing is enmeshed with histories of precarity. As such, Gerald Vizenor’s (1999) notion of ‘survivance’ is a guiding principle of this research that recognizes the role adversity plays (and has historically played) in cultural creativity, innovation and vitality. For Vizenor (1999, vii), “Native survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, tragedy and victimry”, and an antidote to resilience frameworks that can often reduce a community’s cultural identity to practices of resistance or endurance.

Sustainable Development Goal/s: