Who Does it Belong To?

Today I will be explaining what I believe cultural heritage to be and who can claim it. Specifically, Egyptian culture. And I will be using the movie Al Mummia as my main reference. Warning: there will be many spoilers. Basically I spoil the whole movie, but you should still watch it.


Many people use distorted views of Egyptian culture and spread it in media. These distorted views become common understanding and belief. When someone said Egypt I used to think of  “dance like an Egyptian” and Queen Cleopatra. Both are not clear or accurate depictions of the vast and unique cultural heritage of the Egyptians.

Cultural heritage, is, and I looked this up: the way of life, of a group of people, that is passed down for generations. Therefore, I believe that cultural heritage belongs to the people who continue to practice this, either by actual practice or those who share the knowledge and history. Those who identify as members of the culture.

Now this definition and right to claim makes it all the more difficult to pick a side in the movie Al Mummia.

The story revolves around Wannis, the son of the chief of a mountain tribe. This tribe’s means of survival is selling items from a mummy cache in a cave that only they know about. Wannis learns of this practice after his father’s death as he is the successor. He is disturbed by this practice. When city people arrive in the mountain, with the purpose of finding the cache, Wannis wars over what to do. After much deliberation he leads them to the cache.

The conflict in this movie is less external and more internal. Who does the mummy cache belong to? Does the cache belong to the people of the mountain? Some would say it is their cultural heritage. The tribe leaders argue that the selling of these antique goods is tradition. It is a practice that has been passed down for generation. That is cultural heritage, is it not?

al-mummia cover


However, some would find it difficult to relate to these people who were shown to kill members of their own tribe in order to keep this secret. Morally, is that unforgivable? What would you do if your way of survival was threatened? As the people of a barren mountain, this was their means of survival for generation. By taking the cache away, the city people are condemning those on the mountain.

The city people appear as the “good guys” coming to protect the ancient goods. But their only purpose may also be to, bring more economy to the city. Rather than selling the items, they will be studying them and putting them on display. Morally, these people seem better. They did not kill or wound anyone physically and they are doing nothing illegal. By my definition and right of claim they are also more in favor. They will be sharing the items and knowledge with the people of egypt.

Though in this instance I believe the city people are correct, I realize that this may be my stance only because of my own societal norms. I can see why the mountain tribe did what they did, and I cannot condemn them for this, I believe what happened was necessary. Surviving the way they were is not living. Egypt and the Egyptian people deserve to share what was in that tomb.

There is also the idea of world heritage, which claims that the antiquities of the world belong to the entire world. I don’t know if I can back this idea simply because of practical reason. I believe the idea itself is cool and I like learning about cultures around the world, but claiming cultural heritage from a society I am ignorant about makes no sense to me. I see this leading to problems such as Britain claiming more artifacts from various parts of the world and putting them in their museums.
Conclusively, Al Mummia is based off the actual discovery of a cache of mummies in 1881. The  man, who we will consider to be the parallel of Wannis, was actually tortured for the location of the cache. If this had been depicted in the movie, I believe there would have been much more sympathy with the mountain tribe. In my class there were some who had sympathy, and others who saw the killings by the tribe unforgivable. I believe this depends on your moral views and ability to see more than one side. Similarly, cultural heritage is a difficult thing to apply to peoples when their has been such a gap between their modern culture and that of their past.

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