Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 14.COM 10.c.3

The Committee,

  1. Takes note that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has proposed Biocultural programme for the safeguarding of the tradition of the Blessed Palm in Venezuela (No. 01464) for selection and promotion by the Committee as a programme, project or activity best reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention:

The activities associated with the biocultural programme for the safeguarding of the tradition of the Blessed Palm in Venezuela involve gathering several palm species in a specific group of mountains. After receiving a blessing during the religious ceremony, the ‘palmeros’ go up to the mountain, where they spend several nights, undertaking different activities: they tell stories, stop at specific points as if going through the Stations of the Cross, take care of the trails and plant and prune palm trees. These palm leaves – blessed as part of Holy Week – are then distributed within several communities. The tradition was close to disappearing three decades ago as the palmeros did not have reforestation plans in place, and national park authorities saw them as a threat to the environment. Aware of the need to change how the palm was collected, the palmeros started pruning the plant rather than cutting it completely. Several innovative measures were designed as part of the biocultural programme, including educational projects for young people and cultural activities for the wider community. The biocultural programme has encouraged hundreds of children and young people to get involved, and its educational component could be seen as a model for other communities engaged in gathering the Blessed Palm during Holy Week, or indeed any living heritage practices where culture and nature are closely connected.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the programme responds as follows to the criteria for selection as a good safeguarding practice set out in paragraph 7 of the Operational Directives:

P.1:   The programme has applied several different kinds of safeguarding measures, mostly focusing on education and training. These include an educational and training programme on the environment, a tourism education programme, a nursery management plan and many cultural activities, all of which involve children, young people, school teachers and university professors. Furthermore, the programme established a creative interconnection between safeguarding and nature conservation based on the concept of biocultural heritage.

P.2:   Although there is no proof that the coordination of efforts to safeguard intangible cultural heritage at the regional or international levels has been promoted, the programme is a good example of cooperation and collaboration among communities, a large number of public institutions in the country (the National Guard, the Instituto Nacional de Parques (Inparques), the Civil Defense and others), universities and non-governmental organizations.

P.3:   The programme has supported the safeguarding of local traditions, contributed to strengthening community cohesion and a sense of belonging among its bearers and creatively supported the interconnection of the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage with the protection of natural diversity. Furthermore, the vitality of the tradition relies on dialogue, cooperation and, in particular, community participation, reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention.

P.4:   The programme has proven effective in contributing to the viability of intangible cultural heritage. This is demonstrated by the change in mentality of the tradition bearers and by the fact that children and young people have been encouraged to get involved. They are now more aware of and committed to the reforestation of the palm tree, assuming greater responsibility in this regard. The programme has also helped revitalize people’s interest in the importance of the Blessed Palm for their cultural lives and raised awareness of the importance of taking care of it to ensure the viability of related traditions. Without this programme, these traditions would probably have disappeared due to the strict approach to nature conservation, the extinction of certain plant species, or the lack of interest of the younger generations.

P.5:   The community was involved in the programme through the associations of palmeros. The programme has gathered together masters of the tradition, known as Palmeros Mayores, men and women in charge of logistics, as well as children, young people and members of the community. The Palmeros Mayores have been involved in the practice for many years but are no longer physically able to hike up the mountain or can only do so up to a certain altitude. Instead, they are fully engaged in the educational activities designed for the Palmeritos, as well as in the activities of the educational plant nurseries. They have played a key role in the programme, as they are the pillars of the oral transmission of the related knowledge. The file includes letters of free, prior and informed consent both from representatives of the associations and from representatives of municipalities, schools and other cultural institutions.

P.6:   The programme could serve as a model, particularly in relation to the following aspects: the gathering of palm fronds without depleting the population of palm trees, the nurseries of palm specimens and the strong educational component. It could also serve as a model for other communities engaged in gathering natural resources at the base of cultural traditions and where the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is closely related to nature conservation practices. The approach could serve as a model not only at the regional and subregional levels but also worldwide.

P.7:   The community and individuals concerned are clearly committed to cooperating in the dissemination of the programme. This is demonstrated both by the experiences of the Association of Palmeros, the members of which have communicated their desire to pass on their experiences gathered during the development of the biocultural programme, and by the statements of teachers, biologists and journalists who have participated in the programme. The dissemination will be based on cooperation among these individuals and inspired by the many efforts at dissemination already undertaken.

P.8:   The programme includes concrete, formal examples of the measurement and assessment of its progress and results, based on elaborate standards and procedures. These have been carried out through external reports prepared by Inparques and through internal assessments based on objective formal criteria. The file also lists a number of examples of how the programme could be assessed by other agencies in the future. Moreover, the proposed safeguarding plan for the tradition of the Blessed Palm will be an important tool for monitoring and assessing the activities of the biocultural programme as a good practice.

P.9:   The programme could be applicable to the needs of developing countries. In particular, it could serve as a model for other communities that face similar issues with palms or other types of natural assets related to cultural traditions. It could contribute to the recovery of endangered species, fostering appropriate behaviour in protected natural areas and supporting programmes on human rights and the conservation of the biosphere. The main aim of the programme was to turn citizens into agents of transformation; this idea could be applied in both developing and developed countries.

  1. Decides to select Biocultural programme for the safeguarding of the tradition of the Blessed Palm in Venezuela as a programme, project or activity best reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention;
  2. Commends the State Party for its first selection and for proposing an exemplary file that sheds light on the fundamental role intangible cultural heritage plays in relation to sustainable development and protecting the environment, with an impact on a wide community, whose citizens have become agents of transformation;
  3. Encourages the State Party to share its experiences and know-how in relation to the safeguarding of the tradition of the Blessed Palm, notably when it comes to raising awareness about biocultural issues.