Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 13.COM 10.b.34

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Sri Lanka has nominated Rūkada Nātya, traditional string puppet drama in Sri Lanka (No. 01370) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Rūkada Nātya is a type of drama performed using string puppets, traditionally to provide light entertainment and convey moral lessons to village communities. Rūkada Nātya is performed by family groups who belong to, or are connected with, the lineage known as Gamwari, living around the southern coastal towns of Ambalangoda, Balapitiya and Mirissa. The themes are chosen from folktales, Buddhist stories, ancient literature, historical narratives and trivia with humorous anecdotes from contemporary life or nadagam, an extinct form of ‘folk opera’. Puppeteers make their own wooden puppets and prepare handwritten scripts with dialogues and songs, which they recite while manipulating the puppets. A small band provides a musical accompaniment, and performances are community events. Through the medium of puppet drama, worldviews and core values essential for peaceful communal co-existence come alive for young people to easily comprehend; the practice is therefore an effective way of conveying messages crucial for maintaining cohesiveness among community members. It also allows community members to laugh and have fun together, helping them socialize. Museums play a key role in contributing to the dissemination of related knowledge, as does the traditional practice of holding performances during festive times in May and June at temple premises, traditional community centres in Sri Lankan culture.

  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:   Rūkada Nātya is a form of entertainment that conveys moral and ethical lessons to children, youth and other members of village communities. Traditional knowledge and ancient wisdom are transmitted to people through narratives from religious texts, classical literature and folklore. The practice fosters harmony and cohesiveness and helps people socialize and share common values. The file demonstrates that the element constitutes an important part of Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage and identity and promotes respect for cultural diversity.

R.2:   The inscription would help raise interest in traditional forms of art and entertainment, especially among youth. It would also raise awareness of the relevance of traditional wisdom and promote common value systems integral to intangible cultural heritage in general. The file shows that the nomination process itself stimulated dialogue between puppetry groups and local experts, and that Rūkada Nātya has the potential to encourage youth to engage with their own heritage. Improvisation, the variation of the practice and creative freedom are important features of the element.

R.3:   The file contains a systematic, well-structured set of safeguarding measures to be implemented by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. The proposed measures include inventorying and documentation, encouraging studies through grants to conduct research projects aimed at safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, and raising awareness through educational activities among school children and youth. A monitoring mechanism is foreseen to be developed to take preventive measures to protect the element from over-commercialization, inappropriate modernization or misrepresentation. The puppeteers participated in preparing the safeguarding measures and will be involved in their implementation.

R.4:   The nomination process began in 2012, when several prominent Gamwari groups of puppeteers contacted the Department of Cultural Affairs with a request to support the safeguarding of the art. The file describes the nomination process in detail. A rich display of different expressions of free, prior and informed consent was provided by Gamwari puppeteers and other practitioners of Rūkada Nātya, along with Cultural Officers, Divisional Secretaries, the National Library and Documentation Services Board, the National Institute of Education and other stakeholders.

R.5:   In 2013, the element was included in the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Sri Lanka with the wide participation of the practitioners. The inventory is maintained by the National Library and Documentation Services Board and has been gradually expanded and improved. Updated information is collected from Cultural Officers attached to Divisional Secretariats, who submit updated information on the status of elements as part of their routine annual progress reporting.

  1. Inscribes Rūkada Nātya, traditional string puppet drama in Sri Lanka on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Commends the State Party for the improved file following the referral of this nomination in 2016.