Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 12.COM 11.b.21

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Malawi has nominated Nsima, culinary tradition of Malawi (No. 01292) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Nsima, the Culinary Tradition of Malawi, is a compound name for the culinary and dietary tradition of Malawians as well as the name of a single component of this tradition, a form of thick porridge prepared with maize flour. Nsima is prepared through an elaborate process requiring specific knowledge, from pounding the maize into flour to selecting the accompanying food and then preparing and serving it. Certain customs are followed during mealtimes, for example to regulate gluttony and promote cleanliness and cohesion. The process of growing, storing, processing and preparing the maize from which Nsima is made is bound up with Malawians’ way of life, and eating Nsima is a communal tradition in families and an occasion to strengthen bonds. At an early age, girls learn to pound maize or sift flour to prepare Nsima, while young boys hunt for animals to provide accompaniments. Communities ensure the safeguarding of the element through continued practice, the publication of schoolbooks and recipes on Nsima, the organization of festivals and the revitalization of the practice. Most restaurants in Malawi also feature Nsima on their menus. Knowledge relating to the element is transmitted informally between adults and children, and through on-the-job training and education.

  1. Decides that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   The preparation of Nsima encompasses a specific body of knowledge, skills and practices concerning nature and the universe. Nsima represents a staple food and central communal tradition in Malawi. The file clearly identifies Nsima as a culinary/dietary tradition based on the use of thick porridge, which is usually made with maize flour, but the element is also accompanied by ritual practices. It is passed down from generation to generation by women who are responsible for transmitting knowledge to girls, while men transmit knowledge to boys on how to hunt, fish or gather wild fruits and vegetables. The element plays an essential role in terms of socialization within the community, for instance serving as a welcoming custom to express hospitality to guests. The file explains that formal institutions have included the element in their curricula and knowledge about the preparation of Nsima is also used in job training in the workplace.

R.2:   As the element is widely practised and visible in the State Party, its inscription would help to reintroduce Nsima into culinary practices in towns, where people have moved away from the tradition due to modern ways of consuming food. It could therefore contribute to raising awareness among such people, as well as to improving their nutritional status. The introduction of the meal into school textbooks will raise awareness among youth about the wealth and relevance of living heritage, such as in its association with knowledge about nature. The great diversity of traditions relating to the preparation of food can demonstrate the creativity of practitioners and further inspire bearers of similar culinary practices.

R.3:   The file presents very detailed safeguarding measures, specifying the expected outcomes. The proposed activities relate to awareness raising, monograph-oriented research into local variations of Nsima, legal protection, education, training and monitoring. The communities and groups concerned contribute to ensuring the element’s viability by publicizing books of recipes, organizing festivals by tribal chiefs, introducing machine mills into the preparation of Nsima to help lower the costs of the practice and so on. State institutions contribute through educational and awareness-raising activities despite considerable financial constraints. With the support of museums and the National Commission of UNESCO, the government bodies have helped the communities to inventory their intangible cultural heritage. Curricula are designed for the transmission of the element through formal and informal education, the production of raw materials for Nsima is encouraged and a diversified promotion of the element through the media is planned.

R.4:   The nomination process completed the previous inventorying process, which lasted four years. Through a series of meetings, the communities, groups and individuals concerned participated actively in all stages of the preparation of the nomination. The chiefs, district council officials, councillors and youths who represented the local governments and various ethnic communities of Malawi provided their free, prior and informed consent. There are no customary practices that restrict access to Nsima.

  1. Further decides that, on the basis of the information provided by the submitting State to the Committee at its present session concerning the body responsible for the inventory and the periodicity of its updating, the following criterion for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is satisfied:

R.5:   The element was included in the Inventory of Malawi’s Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011, which was created by the Department of Arts and Crafts in collaboration with Museums of Malawi, the National Commision for UNESCO and representatives of eight tribal communities. It was also included in the Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Malawi in 2013, created using a community-based approach. The submitting State provided relevant information concerning the body responsible for these inventories and the periodicity of their updating.

  1. Inscribes Nsima, culinary tradition of Malawi on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Encourages the State Party to provide adequate financial support for the safeguarding measures presented in the file and to seek further financial assistance to this end.