Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 13.COM 10.b.16

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Indonesia and Malaysia have nominated Pantun, Malay oral tradition (No. 01407) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Pantun, Malay oral tradition is a poetic form most commonly dealing with the subject of love. Pantun is considered as the soul that brings together the various communities and aspects of Malay life, describing ideas and thoughts central to the local wisdom of its people. Imbued with moral messages, the Pantun is relayed to listeners in a four-line verse with an ABAB rhyme scheme, and can be transmitted orally, in music, or in song. The first and second lines act as the foreshadowers – describing nature, life lived and the wisdom gained thereof – while the third and fourth lines carry the core meaning. Traditionally, the foreshadower employs elements from the flora, fauna or nature around the settlements concerned. For the Malay community, the Pantun serves as an instrument of guidance and support since it is laden with social meanings and upholds various important values in life such as balance, harmony and flexibility. Pantun remains popular and relevant for three main reasons: it is diplomatic, democratic, and often serves as an instrument of conflict resolution. The practice has mainly been spread through the activities of daily life, as well as through the education system. At the community level, Pantun is still practised on occasions such as engagement and wedding celebrations.

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

R.1:   Pantun conveys social content as well as important moral and religious values and therefore serves as a means of communication and an instrument of guidance and support for its practitioners. Despite being connected with the past, the contemporary social uses of Pantun are not limited to traditional performances and sociocultural spaces; Pantun can be found in many modern forms, including political speeches, road signs or media presentations. Traditional modes of transmission have been successfully supplemented by formal education. As such, Pantun represents a vital element of intangible cultural heritage of the Malay people with good prospects for the future.

  1. Further decides that the information included in the file is not sufficient to allow the Committee to determine whether the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity are satisfied:

R.2:   The inscription of Pantun could promote respect for oral traditions and expressions at the international level, particularly poetry. However, the file mostly concentrates on the expected benefits of the inscription for the element and its community of practitioners, failing to explain how it could raise awareness about intangible cultural heritage in general, or how it could promote cultural diversity. Furthermore, the file emphasizes the ‘uniqueness’ of Malay heritage and the prospect of using Pantun as a new tourist attraction; such concepts contradict the spirit of the Convention, which encourages mutual respect and international cooperation among communities.

R.3:   The past and planned safeguarding measures are mostly state-organized, disregarding the community aspects of the element and its spontaneous practice and transmission. There are significant differences between the safeguarding plans submitted by Malaysia and Indonesia, which may imply insufficient collaboration between the States Parties. Although the file states that the safeguarding measures were discussed with the communities of practitioners, their participation in the planning process seems rather limited. The safeguarding plan contains a declaration that Pantun should be protected from negative effects by ‘turning it into a kind of standard and repetitive performance’, which would lead to the undesirable ‘freezing’ and decontextualization of the element.

R.4:   The file describes multiple meetings held between governmental authorities, researchers, communities and NGOs. However, the nature of most of these meetings is unknown and community participation is lacking since their relation to the nomination process is unclear, as is the role of the practitioners involved. Consent was obtained in the territories of both States Parties and includes several stakeholders ranging from national and regional governments to NGOs and local communities. As the community of Patun practitioners is extremely large, the process of selecting the representatives invited to the meetings should be clearly described, and their capacity to speak on behalf of the others justified. The standardized form used for many of the community consents raises doubts about the level of awareness and understanding of its content and consequences.

R.5:   The element is included in two inventories of intangible cultural heritage present in the territories of the submitting States Parties. However, only very general information about the updating of the inventories is presented in the file and the communities’ participation in the inventory process is not explained at all.

  1. Decides to refer the nomination of Pantun, Malay oral tradition to the submitting States Parties and invites them to resubmit the nomination to the Committee for examination during a following cycle;
  2. Further invites the States Parties, in the future preparation of nomination files, to involve the communities, groups and individuals concerned in the nomination process as broadly as possible and to ensure that they are at the forefront of all the safeguarding measures;
  3. Recommends that the States Parties, should they wish to resubmit the nomination during a following cycle, improve the formal quality of the nomination file, especially as far as language is concerned, and that they provide English and/or French subtitles for the video, so that the content of the oral texts as well as the messages by the presenters can be understood;
  4. Also invites the States Parties to avoid the use of inappropriate vocabulary and concepts when referring to intangible cultural heritage, such as ‘uniqueness’, which may seem to introduce a hierarchy among expressions of living heritage and are therefore contrary to the definition of intangible cultural heritage under Article 2.1 of the Convention and the aim of the Representative List to encourage dialogue which respects cultural diversity (Article 16 of the Convention).