Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 13.COM 10.b.4

The Committee

  1. Takes note that the Bahamas has nominated Strawcraft in the Bahamas (No. 01401) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

The straw craft in the Bahamas, which is found throughout the Bahamian archipelago, involves the hand production of straw craft plaits and weaves by local inhabitants, using traditional plaiting and weaving methods transferred centuries ago through the link with the country’s African heritage. The raw material is harvested from Bahamian grown straw palms and sisal that grow wild in selected areas of the forests, as well as from other flora. Artisans prepare the raw materials using traditional methods in the open air, before creating long strips of plait from the dried fibres, which are sewn into functional, decorative and artistic craft items and souvenirs sold both to the local population and to visitors. Both men and women are engaged in the practice, as well as in retailing the products. Strawcraft in the Bahamas is considered as a dynamic component of the resourceful, resilient spirit of Bahamians and has played an intricate role in the economy of the islands. The craft is environmentally-friendly as the raw material grows unhampered in the wild and product manufacturing is mainly carried out by hand. Various handicraft associations have been formed and the Bahamian Craft Market provides artisans with the opportunity to sell their products downtown to visitors.

  1. 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.1:   Instead of explaining the cultural significance of the practice, the file stresses its economic dimension and its role as a product of a creative industry. There is also contradictory information on its viability and transmission. On the one hand, the straw craft is presented as a living tradition with many practitioners, while on the other serious concerns are raised about its continued transmission due to a lack of interest.

R.2:   The file claims that the inscription of the element would legitimize ‘local ownership and increase pride in the element as a defining symbol of being uniquely Bahamian’, which could be understood as contrary to the requirements of mutual respect among communities (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). It also concentrates on promoting the craft as a staple brand of the country and a source of pride, rather than explaining how its inscription could raise the visibility of living heritage in general, encourage dialogue among communities and promote respect for cultural diversity and creativity.

R.3:   Despite proposing certain important measures aimed at securing the sustainable development of the element, the safeguarding plan does not reflect the unstable situation of the straw craft as far as its cultural and social meanings and transmission to future generations are concerned. On the contrary, it appears to promote the element as an economic activity that involves the production and marketing of crafts. Responsibilities for the implementation of the safeguarding measures are not systematically divided up and a transparent system of collaboration is missing. The weaknesses of the safeguarding plan could negatively impact coordination between artisans, for instance, who are scattered around places that are difficult to access. The file explains the representative role of Creative Nassau, but fails to demonstrate that the practitioners participated in preparing the safeguarding plan and how they will be involved in its implementation.

R.4:   The file does not explain whether and how the practitioners and local communities participated in the nomination process. Instead, it speaks about the limits of community participation caused by the country’s considerable geographical fragmentation, and describes existing and envisaged partnerships and projects. The involvement of more relevant stakeholders is presented merely as an expected result of inscription, not as a step in the preparation of the nomination. The expressions of consent provided are not representative of the size and character of the community concerned. While the State Party indicates that there are no customary practices governing access to the element, it proposes the implementation of copyright and patent laws, which is outside of the scope of the Convention.

  1. Further decides that, from the information included in the file, the nomination does not satisfy the following criterion for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.5:   The State Party has declared its interest in safeguarding the straw craft as an important element of intangible cultural heritage through the Straw Market Authority Act since 2011, as documented by the Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Environment and Housing and Creative Nassau, and project documentation under the United Nations Environment Programme. According to the documentation provided, the State Party does not manage an inventory in accordance with Articles 11 and 12 of the Convention.

  1. Decides not to inscribe Strawcraft in the Bahamas on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Underlines that the Convention does not seek to establish a system of ownership such as through geographical indication and intellectual property;
  3. Invites the State Party to avoid the use of inappropriate vocabulary and concepts when referring to intangible cultural heritage, such as ‘uniqueness’ and ‘authenticity’, which are contrary to the living and dynamic nature of intangible cultural heritage as defined under Article 2.1 of the Convention;
  4. Further invites the State Party to consider the community-based and transmission-based aspects of intangible cultural heritage, as defined in the Convention, rather than only the economic dimension of cultural industries, which are better addressed in other programmes of UNESCO in the field of culture.