Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 13.COM 10.b.28

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Panama has nominated Ritual and festive expressions of the Congo culture (No. 01383) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

The ritual and festive expressions of the Congo culture encompass the contemporary vision of a collective celebration of the black rebel descendants enslaved during the colonial period. Nowadays, participants play congo, celebrate their freedom, cheerfully sing about their everyday lives and perform representations and sensual dances barefoot, to communicate with the earth. During the Congo season (from 20 January, San Sebastian Day, until Ash Wednesday), participants spend the day in a palisade; the gathering is celebrated in a matriarchal society ruled by a queen and her court; each person has a role to fulfil to protect the queen and members of the palisade from the devils (diablos). On Ash Wednesday, the season concludes with a confrontation between the diablos and the congos; the queen and congos take off their masks and baptize the devils in a symbolic ritual to free them and neutralize their evil until the cycle recommences the following year. For generations, the expressions have fostered social integration and provided a way of expressing joy and sensuality. Congo culture expressions are transmitted orally and everyone takes part. Congo singing, dancing and music programmes have also been held in schools, instruction is provided at the university level, and courses and weekend workshops are organized.

  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 ritual and festive expressions of the Congo culture are an important part of the cultural heritage of Panama’s communities, whose history is related to African culture brought to the American continent by African slaves. Dance, music, dramatic and other related expressions reinforce the cultural identity of the community members, strengthen their historical memory and help them cope with their collective historical trauma.

R.2:   The element highlights the successful overcoming of stereotypes and discrimination experienced by minority groups. Its inscription would raise awareness about the historical merging of different cultures and its creative outcomes, re-connect members of Congo culture countrywide, unite them in their safeguarding activities and inspire contemporary traditional and modern arts by embracing Congo’s cultural roots.

R.3:   The safeguarding plan aims to continue with several safeguarding measures already underway. Firstly, overall training on the 2003 Convention has been provided to assist the communities with effective safeguarding. Secondly, the element has been studied in terms of its viability and the impacts of awareness-raising activities with a view to proposing measures to mitigate against any potential risks stemming from excessive tourism. The plan further concentrates on the establishment of academic degrees on intangible cultural heritage and cultural management, the reproduction of audiovisual materials, the adequate inventorying of Congo culture and assistance for artisans.

R.4:   A wide range of expressions of community consent were obtained and submitted. The submitting State made a considerable effort to disseminate information about the nomination among community representatives, local governments and practitioners, and invited them to express their ideas and agreement and to confirm their commitment to safeguarding the element.

R.5:   The element has been included since 2013 in the inventory of the Colon Province, maintained by the ‘Safeguarding of the ICH’ Project team of the Ministry of Commerce and Industries in compliance with Articles 11 and 12 of the Convention. Intangible cultural heritage is identified and the inventory is updated annually by community members trained as field researchers.

  1. Inscribes Ritual and festive expressions of the Congo culture on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Invites the State Party 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 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).