10.COM 10.A.3

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Egypt has nominated Traditional hand puppetry (No. 01020) for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:

Al-Aragoz is an old form of Egyptian theatre that uses traditional hand puppetry. Performances are highly popular events attracting a diverse audience, during which the puppeteer remains hidden inside a small portable stage, while an assistant interacts with the puppets and the crowd. Al-Aragoz takes its name from the main puppet, whose distinctive voice is created with the use of a voice modifier called an Al-amana. Shows explore a variety of themes related to daily life, but a central recurring theme is the struggle against corruption, making Al-Aragoz a vital and contemporary component of Egyptian consciousness and identity. Practitioners must be skilled in manipulating and maintaining the puppets, as well as in improvisation and music. The skills involved are transmitted from master to apprentice and performances constitute the main source of income of practitioners. Once performed throughout Egypt, shows now take place mostly in Cairo under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, with occasional performances organized for schools and family social occasions. The number of surviving practitioners has diminished, and many once-performed stories have disappeared from the repertoire. The lack of professional puppet-makers, the disappearance of traditional venues and folk ceremonies linked to Al-Aragoz performance, and the rise of religious radicalism are also negatively affecting this traditional heritage.

  1. Decides that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria:

U.1:   Passed on orally in a generational chain from masters to their apprentices, the traditional hand puppetry conveys everlasting and topical messages, including particularly the critique of negative social phenomena such as corruption, thus sustaining social and cultural values; performers and audience interact dynamically throughout the shows;

U.2:   The viability of the element is at risk due to changing social, political, legal and cultural circumstances of its enactment, such as laws concerning public gatherings, the rise of religious radicalism and an overall decrease of interest among younger generations, as well as causes specific to the element such as a shortage of documentation, disappearance of certain techniques together with their bearers and the lack of puppet-makers; today’s regular performances are limited to Al-Suhaimi House in Cairo and rely on fewer than ten active practitioners, all of advanced age;

U.5:   Since 2013, Aragoz has been included in the inventory of the Egyptian Archives of Folk Life and Folk Traditions; this was accomplished with the participation of concerned individuals and non-governmental organizations, while the Egyptian Society of Folk Tradition and an expert are responsible for maintaining and updating the inventory.

  1. Further decides that, from the information included in the file, the nomination does not satisfy the following criteria:

U.3:   The proposed safeguarding plan does not address several of the identified threats, and at the same time incorporates activities that seem unnecessary, unrealistic and/or imbalanced; it would be essential to devise activities that could help strengthen the cultural meanings of the element for its audiences and communities, as well as to clarify how the diversity and creativity characteristic of the element will be retained in the context of the prominence given to formal settings and institutions;

U.4:   Although the nomination was elaborated with the participation of various parties including practitioners and stakeholders, it lacks information to demonstrate active participation of a broader community in all stages of the nomination process; the practitioners seem to have served predominantly as informants instead of being more active partners in the process, and the names of six of them who provided their consent are not provided in English or French, thus making it difficult to reconcile the description of the nomination process and the consent documents.

  1. Decides not to inscribe Traditional hand puppetry on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding and invites the State Party to resubmit the nomination to the Committee for examination during a following cycle;
  2. Recommends the State Party, if it wishes to resubmit the nomination, to clearly delineate typical audiences and communities that identify themselves with the element, as well as to provide additional information on the practitioners’ attachment to the element beyond revenue generation;
  3. Further recommends the State Party, in the case of resubmission, to emphasize measures promoting the viability of the oral, improvisatory and interactive character of the element when elaborating the safeguarding plan.

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