• World
  • Dec 20

UNESCO adds 32 traditions to its Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists

• The UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage inscribed three elements on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding and 29 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, during its session from December 14 to 19.

• For the first time this year, Finland, Malta, Paraguay and Singapore had inscriptions on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists, which now feature elements from a total of 131 countries.

• India houses a repository of unique Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) traditions, 13 of which have already been recognised by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 

Significance of intangible cultural heritage

• The term ‘cultural heritage’ has changed content considerably in recent decades, partially owing to the instruments developed by UNESCO. 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, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

• While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalisation. An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life.

• The “intangible cultural heritage” means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills — as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith — that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. 

• This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.

• 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. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a country, and is as important for developing nations as for developed ones.

• Following UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, this list has been classified into five broad domains in which intangible cultural heritage is manifested:

1) Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage.

2) Performing arts.

3) Social practices, rituals and festive events.

4) Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe.

5) Traditional craftsmanship.

The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding features elements of living heritage whose viability is under threat. It mobilises international cooperation and assistance to strengthen the transmission of these cultural practices, in agreement with the concerned communities. The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding now has 67 elements.

This year’s additions are:

• Colombia – Traditional knowledge and techniques associated with Pasto Varnish mopa-mopa of Putumayo and Nariño. It encompasses three traditional trades: harvesting, woodwork and decorative varnishing. Harvesting the mopa-mopa requires extensive knowledge of the forest trails, tree climbing and care to avoid damaging the plants. The practice is important to communities’ identity and a source of self-employment. It is however threatened by various factors including development and globalisation as well as the fact that harvesting sites are hard to access and home workshops operate under precarious conditions.

• Egypt - Handmade weaving in Upper Egypt (Sa’eed). Handmade weaving in Upper Egypt is a complex process requiring intricate craftsmanship. Many steps and techniques are involved in preparing the looms, threading and weaving to achieve the final product. The basic principles have remained unchanged through the ages, but factories have gradually shifted to using cotton rather than expensive silk yarn and small narrow looms have replaced wider ones. Although the practice is a source of identity and pride for the communities concerned, it faces many threats, which have led to its neglect and weakened transmission to the young.

• Namibia – Aixan/Gana/Ob#ANS TSI //Khasigu, ancestral musical sound knowledge and skills. It relates to the specific traditional music of the Nama people. Nama ancestral music involves the use of traditional instruments and is characterized by a specific sound, texture and rhythm, consisting of a leading melody and rhythm accompanied by a systematic harmony. The music is also complemented by dances known as Nama-stap. In the past, the music connected entire communities and villages, but it now faces many threats and only a few elders still practise the tradition and possess the related knowledge and skills.

The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

The Representative List seeks to enhance visibility for the traditional practices and know-how of communities. It now has 492 elements.

This year’s additions are:

• South Korea – Yeondeunghoe (Yeon Deung Hoe), lantern lighting festival in the Republic of Korea. 

• Saudi Arabia, Kuwait – Traditional weaving of Al Sadu. 

• Serbia - Zlakusa pottery making, hand-wheel pottery making in the village of Zlakusa. 

• Singapore – Hawker culture in Singapore, community dining and culinary practices in a multicultural urban context.

• Spain - Los Caballos del Vino (Wine Horses), an equestrian ritual that takes place each year from May 1-3 in Caravaca de la Cruz, involving a series of events. 

• Switzerland, France - Craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics.

• Tunisia - Charfia fishing in the Kerkennah Islands.

• United Arab Emirates - Al Aflaj, traditional irrigation network system in the UAE, oral traditions, knowledge and skills of construction, maintenance and equitable water distribution.

• United Arab Emirates, Oman - Camel racing, a social practice and a festive heritage associated with camels.

• Zambia - Budima dance, a warrior dance performed all year round by the Wee people on various spiritual and sombre occasions.

• Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia — Knowledge, know-how and practices pertaining to the production and consumption of couscous.

• Argentina - Chamamé, a form of cultural expression that is mainly practised in Corrientes province. 

• Azerbaijan - Nar Bayrami, traditional pomegranate festivity and culture. 

• Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, Uzbekistan - Art of miniature. It is a type of artwork that involves the design and creation of small paintings in books, rugs, textiles, ceramics, and other supports.

• Bosnia and Herzegovina - Grass mowing competition custom in Kupres. 

• China - Taijiquan, a traditional physical practice characterised by relaxed, circular movements in concert with breath regulation and cultivation of a righteous and neutral mind. 

• China, Malaysia - Ong Chun/Wangchuan/Wangkang ceremony, rituals and related practices for maintaining the sustainable connection between man and the ocean.

• Czechia - Handmade production of Christmas tree decorations from blown glass beads.

• Finland - Sauna culture in Finland. 

• France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy - Musical art of horn players, an instrumental technique linked to singing, breath control, vibrato, resonance of place and conviviality.

• Indonesia, Malaysia - Pantun, a rhyming form of Malay verse.

• Iran, Armenia - Pilgrimage to the St. Thaddeus Apostle Monastery.

• Italy, France - The art of glass beads.

• Japan - Traditional skills, techniques and knowledge for the conservation and transmission of wooden architecture in Japan.

• Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey - Traditional intelligence and strategy game: Togyzqumalaq, Toguz Korgool, Mangala/Göçürme.

• Malawi, Zimbabwe - Art of crafting and playing Mbira/Sansi, the finger-plucking traditional musical instrument in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

• Malta - Il-Ftira, culinary art and culture of flattened sourdough bread in Malta.

• Paraguay - Practices and traditional knowledge of Terere in the culture of Pohã Ñana, Guaraní ancestral drink in Paraguay.

• Poland, Belarus - Tree beekeeping culture. 

13 elements from India

UNESCO has already inscribed 13 elements of India in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

They are: 

1) Tradition of Vedic chanting

2) Ramlila - the traditional performance of the Ramayana

3) Kutiyattam (Koodiyattam) - Sanskrit theatre

4) Ramman - religious festival and ritual theatre of the Garhwal Himalayas

5) Mudiyettu - ritual theatre and dance drama of Kerala

6) Kalbelia - folk songs and dances of Rajasthan

7) Chhau dance

8) Buddhist chanting of Ladakh - recitation of sacred Buddhist texts in the trans-Himalayan Ladakh region

9) Sankirtana - ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur

10) Traditional brass and copper craft of utensil making among the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru, Punjab

11) Yoga

12) Nowruz

13) Kumbh Mela.

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