Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 13.COM 10.b.24

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Malawi and Zimbabwe have nominated Art of crafting and playing Mbira/Sansi, finger-plucking traditional musical instrument in Malawi and Zimbabwe (No. 01408) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Mbira/Sansi concerns the art of playing and making a traditional finger-plucking musical instrument in Malawi and Zimbabwe. The instrument consists of a wooden board with metal keys attached on top and is sometimes mounted on a calabash/wooden resonator. The keys are plucked using the thumbs, or a combination of thumbs and fingers. The Mbira/Sansi produces a fluid percussive sound considered to be mystic, tranquil and enchanting. An important feature of the music is its cyclical nature: each new repetition of a theme varies slightly from the last and incorporates numerous interwoven melodies. The instrument can be played on its own or with multiple instruments in a group. In Malawi, the songs sung during the music contain important messages about good behaviour, as well as communicating information about events that happened in the past. In Zimbabwe, the instrument is played at spiritual invocation ceremonies, funeral wakes, memorials, and traditional healing ceremonies. The music is also used as a form of general entertainment during social gatherings. Knowledge and skills relating to the practice are traditionally transmitted by apprenticeship, mainly within the family. However, nowadays transmission also occurs through formal coaching. The organization Music Crossroads has music academies in both countries that offer training to young people, and workshops are organized that culminate in competitions and international exchanges.

  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:   Mbira/Sansi and music related to this instrument form an integral part of the musical culture in southern Africa. The practice constitutes a syncretic element of traditional culture connected with the music, rituals and self-representation of its practitioners. Mbira/Sansi music has a primarily spiritual and ceremonial function and reflects the rich cultural heritage of African communities. Its wide practice, expansion to other social spheres and acceptance by contemporary society illustrate how deeply rooted it is in the culture of both nations.

R.3:   The safeguarding measures reflect the practice of the element as part of traditional and contemporary culture in the territories of both countries. Continuous transmission is secured by the tradition bearers as well as in the semi-formal and academic environment. The safeguarding measures aim at improving the documentation, promotion and enhanced transmission of Mbira/Sansi music. Particular attention is paid to improvements to legal frameworks for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage in both countries. The government, research institutes and communities are committed to safeguarding the element.

R.5:   The element was inscribed in the relevant inventories on the territories of Malawi and Zimbabwe in 2011 and 2012, as well as on the Southern Africa Intangible Cultural Heritage Platform. The inventories are updated once a year through a community-based approach, reflecting the evolution of the elements inscribed.

  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:   Though the file foresees that the visibility of the element would be raised once the promotional safeguarding measures proposed have been applied, it fails to explain and provide concrete evidence on how the inscription could contribute to increasing the visibility of intangible cultural heritage in general. In particular, the information provided is restricted to the communities concerned in the two countries and does not demonstrate the effects that the inscription could have beyond.

R.4:   The participation of the communities in the nomination process was very limited, as only two practitioners from Malawi are mentioned, and no particular community from Zimbabwe is mentioned apart from a vague statement about the full participation of community members. The letters of consent from one of the countries were dated in September 2017, that is after the 31 March statutory deadline, contrary to the principle that evidence concerning free, prior and informed consent should be obtained by the time of submission and should not be created ex post facto, after the nomination deadline (Decision 9.COM 10). The file does not demonstrate that it was prepared with the widest possible participation of the communities, groups and individuals concerned and that consent was sought in an appropriate, timely manner.

  1. Decides to refer the nomination of Art of crafting and playing Mbira/Sansi, finger-plucking traditional musical instrument in Malawi and Zimbabwe to the submitting States Parties and invites them to resubmit the nomination to the Committee for examination during a following cycle;
  2. Reminds the States Parties that the tradition bearers must be involved in every stage of the safeguarding process as widely as possible, including in the nomination of elements under any of the Convention’s mechanisms.