Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 14.COM 10.b.26

The Committee,

  1. Takes note that Morocco has nominated Gnawa (No. 01170) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Gnawa refers to a set of musical events, performances, fraternal practices and therapeutic rituals mixing the secular with the sacred. Gnawa is first and foremost a Sufi brotherhood music combined with lyrics with a generally religious content, invoking ancestors and spirits. Originally practised by groups and individuals from slavery and the slave trade dating back to at least the 16th century, Gnawa culture is now considered as part of Morocco’s multifaceted culture and identity. The Gnawa, especially in the city, practise a therapeutic possession ritual through all-night rhythm and trance ceremonies combining ancestral African practices, Arab-Muslim influences and native Berber cultural performances. The Gnawa in rural areas organize communal meals offered to marabout saints. Some Gnawa in urban areas use a stringed musical instrument and castanets, while those in rural areas use large drums and castanets. Colourful, embroidered costumes are worn in the city, while white attire with accessories characterize rural practices. The number of fraternal groups and master musicians is constantly growing in Morocco’s villages and major cities, and Gnawa groups – organized into associations – hold local, regional, national and international festivals year-round. This allows young people to learn about both the lyrics and musical instruments as well as practices and rituals related to Gnawa culture generally.

2. Considers 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:   Gnawa provides its followers and practitioners with a very strong sense of identity promoted within society and therefore constitutes a social link that not only brings members of a group together but also connects such groups with the rest of the population in a city, village or region. Gnawa also has many deep cultural meanings. Gnawa songs, rhythms and practices embody a culture linked to the history of slavery and the slave trade in North Africa. The knowledge and skills related to Gnawa culture are transmitted informally within the family or within the close social circle of Gnawa families.

R.2:   The inscription of Gnawa would encourage other communities around the world with similar musical practices to increase their efforts to safeguard their intangible cultural heritage. It would foster and strengthen dialogue and exchanges between Gnawa groups at the local, regional and national levels through the increasing number of local, regional and national festivals and meetings, promoting cultural creativity.

R.3:   As it is deeply rooted in the community practice and its transmission is firmly secured, the viability of Gnawa is ensured. The bearers of the element have taken many measures to keep this element alive, as has the State Party. The safeguarding measures have been drafted with the communities concerned and are organized around five main axes: documentation and data archiving; academic and university research; communication and media outreach; awareness-raising; and financial and logistical assistance. Moroccan state institutions will support the implementation of the proposed safeguarding measures by providing direct funding for the activities proposed.

R.4:   The community played a key role in all stages of the process. The Yerma-Gnaoua Association – an association for the promotion and dissemination of gnaoui heritage – was responsible for the initiative to undertake this nomination in 2013. Since then, the State party and communities concerned have partaken in many meetings, workshops and activities to safeguard the element, draft the nomination file and define the safeguarding measures.

R.5:  Gnawa was included in the Inventory and Documentation of Moroccan Cultural Heritage in 2015, which is updated when necessary. The process was achieved with the participation of the communities during the festivals and special events and with the support of the Yerma-Gnaoua Association. The Directorate of Cultural Heritage, Ministry of Culture is the body responsible for maintaining and updating the inventory.

3. Decides to inscribe Gnawa on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
4. Encourages the State Party to pay more attention to achieving a gender balance in the safeguarding of the element by recognizing women’s active role in its practice;
5. Commends the State Party for providing evidence of community consent in a personalized rather than standardized format, notably through the use of video.