Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 11.COM 10.b.31

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Sri Lanka has nominated Traditional art of string puppetry in Sri Lanka (No. 01171) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

String puppetry is a traditional practice of Gamwari communities in southern Sri Lanka, designed to entertain and educate audiences with stories about folklore, history, religion and issues related to social injustice. Humour is part of the narrative, as well as singing and music. Considered an important medium for communication, string puppetry caters for adults and children, working to enhance child socialization and is a tool for the informal education of young people living in rural communities. Performances of traditional string puppetry can be seen at public halls and temples, particularly during festivals. Bearers of the practice are mainly families. Each family member has a role to play in the production of a performance. Activities can vary from creating the string puppets that are made of wood, to designing costumes for them, writing story scripts and providing sound and technical support. Techniques are taught orally to children. Younger generations in turn, help to continue the tradition and provide support to older family members wanting to remain involved. In addition to being a form of entertainment, education and aid for socialization, the practice is also said to reinforce societal values, such as generosity and living harmoniously.

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

R.1:   The file describes the element as part of the intangible cultural heritage of communities concerned. Puppets are used to tell stories and legends, to entertain the public and to address in a humorous way issues of social injustice. The element contributes to cultural identity, the socialization of children and fulfilling the social functions of conviviality and peace. The bearers and practitioners of the element belong to the Gamwari community and their skills are orally transmitted to young people. No part of the element is incompatible with existing human rights or the requirements of sustainable development;

  1. Further decides that the information included in the file is not sufficient to allow the Committee to determine whether the following criteria are satisfied:

R.2:   While the file states that inscription would raise the visibility of the element among the bearers, government and universities, it does not adequately explain how inscription would increase the visibility and awareness of the significance of intangible cultural heritage in general. The file states that inscription may lead to exchange and a transmission of knowledge, resulting in active dialogue and respect for cultural diversity, but more attention should be given to the possible negative impacts of commercialization and the need to avoid any danger of de-contextualization of the element as a result of increased tourism;

R.3:   Various parties concerned, with State support, have taken measures to ensure the viability of the element, including propagating the traditional puppet plays through print media, participating at international puppet festivals, establishing a puppet museum to conduct research and training, and arranging lectures for school and university students. Proposed safeguarding measures focus on protection (revision of the intellectual property law), documentation, training of young people, and dissemination to a large public through tourism. More details are, however, needed as to the ways in which the relevant community has been involved in the development of these measures, while ensuring that the element is not frozen in time, but allowed to be constantly re-created. The possible negative effects resulting from tourism and commercialization need to be addressed with preventive or mitigating measures;

R.4:   A wide variety of people worked with government agencies on the nomination process. The evidence submitted to attest to consent to the nomination is, however, primarily from organizations/institutions, rather than from communities concerned. It is also important to clearly present the consent of the Gamwari community (bearers of the element), particularly since one of the proposed safeguarding measures is ‘to train non Gamwari people’;

R.5:   The submitting State indicates that the element has been included on the National Inventory of Intangible Heritage of Sri Lanka, maintained by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and the Arts, and an excerpt has been appended. No information is, however, provided regarding the participation of communities, groups and relevant non-governmental organizations in the preparation of this entry. Information is also required on proposed future updates of the inventory.

  1. Decides to refer the nomination of Traditional art of string puppetry in Sri Lanka to the submitting State and invites it to resubmit the nomination to the Committee for examination during a following cycle;
  2. Encourages the submitting State, should it wish to resubmit the nomination, to provide a translation of lyrics played in the video in English or French, as well as to avoid the use of inappropriate wording such as ‘unique’.