7.COM 8.2

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Ethiopia has nominated Ongota oral tradition for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:

Ongota oral tradition comprises poems, legends, tales, myths, proverbs and riddles transmitted in the Ongota language among the Biraile community, who live along the western bank of Woyto River in southern Ethiopia. At present only twelve mostly elderly people remember Ongota oral traditions out of 115 members of the Biraile community. Community members increasingly favour the language and intangible cultural heritage of the neighbouring Tsemay community. Performance of oral traditions is consequently decreasing, and Ongota oral tradition is at great risk of disappearance. Bearers perform this heritage only when they encounter one of the other twelve bearers, for instance at coffee ceremonies with neighbours; they also perform Ongota songs during agricultural tasks. Oral traditions encompass the culture, history, worldview and philosophy of a community. Ongota legends, in particular, are a repository of community history, detailing their previous homeland and their reasons for migration and subsequent classification of the clans. Ongota oral tradition also includes animal and fairy tales with a diverse cast of human beings, animals and spirits. Ongota poems, meanwhile, transmit the sentiment of affection and dislike, victory and defeat, pleasure and sadness.

  1. Decides that, from the information provided in nomination file 00493, Ongota oral tradition satisfies the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:

U.2:   Ongota oral traditions are enacted infrequently by a very limited number of old people of the Biraile community, being supplanted day by day by the language and intangible cultural heritage of the neighbouring Tsemay community;

U.5:   The oral traditions of the Biraile community were included in 2007 in an inventory of intangible cultural heritage elaborated by the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage with the active involvement of community members;

  1. Further decides that, from the information provided in nomination file 00493, Ongota oral tradition does not satisfy the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:

U.1:   Practice and transmission of Ongota oral tradition seem to have almost ceased, given that the Ongota language itself is spoken by only a dozen people within the Biraile community and that the oral traditions do not continue to function in their daily lives; it is not demonstrated how they provide a sense of identity and continuity to the community;

U.3:   The proposed safeguarding measures essentially concern formalized education, without a clearly designed methodology or curriculum and without a preliminary phase of research and documentation; their relationship to the existing education system is not clear; they seem to be designed largely to support the community with financial incentives and offer no evidence of funding commitments or other support from the State;

U.4:   Although representatives of the Biraile community have provided their free, prior and informed consent to the nomination and expressed their will to safeguard Ongota oral tradition, the participation of the community in the nomination process and in the elaboration of safeguarding measures seems to be very limited;

  1. Decides not to inscribe Ongota oral tradition on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding at this time and invites the State Party to submit a revised nomination that responds more fully to the criteria, for examination by the Committee in a subsequent cycle;
  2. Notes with satisfaction the efforts of the State Party to seek recognition for the intangible cultural heritage and language of a community living in a very remote area and under difficult circumstances;
  3. Also takes note that the viability of Ongota oral tradition depends directly on the viability of the Ongota language as the vehicle of its expression, and further notes the very small number of speakers;
  4. Invites the State Party to cooperate with the Biraile community to document this endangered language and encourage its speakers, even if it may not be possible to expect successful revitalization of the Ongota language and oral tradition;
  5. Encourages the State Party to submit a request for international assistance for documentation in view of safeguarding the Ongota language in close collaboration with the Biraile community.

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