During their annual meeting, held online from 13 to 18 December, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage inscribed four elements on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding and 39 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Chaired by Punchi Nilame Meegaswatte, Secretary General of the National Commission of Sri Lanka for UNESCO, the Intergovernmental Committee also added four projects to the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices and allotted $172,000 from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund to a safeguarding project presented by Mongolia, $116,400 to a project in Djibouti and a further $266,000 to a project in Timor-Leste.
For the first time this year, the Intergovernmental Committee decided to inscribe elements from Congo, Denmark, Haiti Iceland, Federated Republic of Micronesia, Montenegro, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Seychelles and Timor-Leste to UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage lists which now feature 630 elements from 140 countries.
New inscriptions on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:
Federated States of Micronesia — Carolinian wayfinding and canoe making
Carolinian wayfinding and canoe making refers to the centuries-old tradition of building and navigating long-distance canoes. Communities in Micronesia continue the indigenous traditions of building the ocean voyaging sailing canoes from local materials and of navigating, or wayfinding, with environmental cues rather than with maps or instruments. The canoes have a unique form and use dynamics quite unlike western craft. The asymmetrical design supports high-speed sailing and allows access to very shallow water. The practice is passed on through traditional apprenticeships lead by master canoe carvers and navigators who are organized into guilds.
Timor-Leste — Tais, traditional textile
Tais is the handwoven traditional textile of Timor-Leste. Used for decoration and to create traditional clothing for ceremonies and festivals, it is also a means of expressing cultural identity and social class, since the colours and motifs vary according to ethnic groups. Tais is made from cotton dyed with natural plants, and the complex process is traditionally reserved for women, who pass on the skills to the next generation in their communities. However, men sometimes participate by gathering plants to dye the cotton and by making the weaving equipment.
Estonia — Building and use of expanded dugout boats in the Soomaa region
The Estonian expanded dugout boat from the Soomaa region is a canoe-like boat, hollowed out from a single tree, with expanded sides and a shallow base. The most distinctive stage of the dugout boat construction is the expansion of the sides. With a combination of heat and moisture, the board of the dugout boat is significantly expanded, thus increasing its volume and maneuverability. Transmitted through apprenticeships and formal studies, dugout boat building and use is a communal activity that is accompanied by storytelling about legendary masters and their boats.
Mali — Cultural practices and expressions linked to the 'M’Bolon', a traditional musical percussion instrument
The M’Bbolon is a musical instrument used in southern Mali. It has a large calabash sound box covered with cowhide and a bow-shaped wooden neck with strings. The number of strings of the M’Bbolon determines how it is used. Single-stringed and two-stringed M’Bbolon are used for popular events and for rituals and religious ceremonies, whereas three-stringed and four-stringed M’Bbolon are used to accompany the praising of traditional chiefs, celebrate the heroic deeds of kings and accompany farmers in the fields. The instrument is taught through apprenticeships and by local associations.
The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding features elements of living heritage whose viability is under threat. It mobilizes international cooperation and assistance to strengthen the transmission of these cultural practices, in agreement with the concerned communities. This List now numbers 71 elements.
Inscriptions on the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices:
Philippines — The School of Living Traditions (SLT)
In 1995, the Sub-commission on Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts – the lead agency mandated to preserve, promote and develop Philippine culture and the arts – affirmed the need to safeguard traditional knowledge and practices from rapid cultural devaluation. This paved the way for the School of Living Traditions programme, involving informal, community-managed learning centres where practitioners can transmit their communities’ knowledge, intangible cultural heritage, skills and values to younger generations.
Kyrgyzstan – Nomad games, rediscovering heritage, celebrating diversity
Kyrgyz people’s cultural heritage is intrinsically linked to the nomadic lifestyle. However, during the Soviet era, which came with forced sedentation, many elements became endangered, including traditional games. Traditional game practitioners and knowledge bearers held their first major meeting in 2007 to discuss current challenges and safeguarding needs for the traditional nomad games. These discussions shaped the Nomad Games: Rediscovering Heritage programme, which focused on documentation and identification of the variety of traditional games in different parts of the country.
Islamic Republic of Iran – National programme to safeguard the traditional art of calligraphy in Iran
With the advent of technology, the tradition of Iranian calligraphy gradually declined. The safeguarding of the Iranian calligraphic tradition thus became a major concern in the 1980s, and a national programme was developed for this purpose by NGOs in collaboration with the government. This programme aimed to expand informal and formal public training in calligraphy, publish books and pamphlets, hold art exhibitions, and develop academic curricula while promoting appropriate use of the calligraphic tradition in line with modern living conditions.
Kenya – Success story of promoting traditional foods and safeguarding traditional foodways in Kenya
In Kenya, traditional foodways were under threat. Understanding that a decline in food diversity and knowledge would have serious ramifications on health and on food and nutrition insecurity, in 2007 Kenya committed to safeguarding related practices. Two main initiatives were launched, in collaboration with scientists and communities. The first involved inventorying traditional foods and their uses, and the second entailed working with primary schools to identify and inventory traditional foodways. Both initiatives have led to related activities carried out independently by local institutions.
The Register of Good Safeguarding Practices allows States Parties, communities and other stakeholders to share successful safeguarding experiences and examples of how they surmounted challenges faced in the transmission of their living heritage, its practice and knowledge to the future generation. The Register now features 29 good practices.
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