Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 16.COM 8.b.24

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Mauritania has nominated Traditional teaching system of the Mahadras in Mauritania (no. 01691) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Mahadra is a traditional education system that uses methods and tools adapted to the lifestyle of the nomadic populations in Mauritania. Sometimes called ‘the university of the desert’, mahadra provides different levels of teaching with the aim of acquiring and transmitting knowledge under conditions that are adapted to the nomadic way of life while using local materials for the production of teaching tools. Mahadra is an educational institution that is open to all, regardless of age, gender, level or social status. Its teaching is multidisciplinary and includes religion, grammar, literature, ethics, history, mathematics, astrology, medicine, logic and geography. Lessons are written on wooden boards using ink made from a mixture of water, gum and charcoal, and students are asked to repeat the lessons until they can recite them. Mahadra is also a centre for learning and disseminating values such as honesty and solidarity, and a space where students learn to respect each other’s differences. Access is free of charge and the teacher’s duties are carried out on a voluntary basis, without any payment. However, community members provide the teacher with help and material support, according to their capacity.

  1. Considers 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:  The file describes the traditional education system as an institution that teaches various subjects. The bearers and practitioners are defined as the teachers and students of mahadras. The description focuses on mahadra as an educational institution, rather than on the knowledge and skills associated with the element. The description of the institution is broad and the information could be used to describe other forms of educational institutions. The file provided insufficient information to determine how the knowledge and skills related to the element are transmitted from one generation to the next.

R.2:  At the local and national level inscription will give rise to feelings of respect and pride among the concerned communities and individuals and encourage reflection on the value of the element. Nationally, the file puts forward that inscription would consolidate the spirit of tolerance, understanding and consolidate feelings of national cohesion and unity. However, the information provided in the nomination file claims the existence of “true religious and cultural values” and does not provide a proper description or definition of these values, nor how they contribute to the establishment of “principles of dialogue, fraternity and citizenship”. The file also does not provide enough information about ensuring visibility and awareness about intangible cultural heritage in general nor does it provide sufficient information about how dialogue among communities, groups and individuals will be encouraged.

R.3:  The proposed safeguarding measures are largely State-led. It is therefore unclear what role the concerned communities and individuals played in the development of the proposed measures and their roles in the implementation of the measures. The element has continued to exist in Mauritania for centuries, with the majority of the 6,500 schools created in the last three decades. This is attributed to its flexibility and low costs. The State and its institutions make efforts to preserve the mahadra system by recognizing associations, engaging former students as teachers and organizing training workshops.

R.4:  The file does not demonstrate the widest possible participation of the communities concerned. The State Party provided a description of the process of the elaboration of the nomination file while stressing that every attempt was made to ensure the participation of the stakeholders concerned by the element. However, a more detailed description of the steps followed in the preparation of the dossier, as well as the methodologies used at each step to ensure this participation would have been helpful.

R.5:  The file does not clearly indicate whether there is an existing inventory. There is only an indication that the element itself was inventoried. Information on the periodicity and means for updating the inventory are also not well-elaborated in the file.

  1. Decides to refer the nomination of Traditional teaching system of the Mahadras in Mauritania to the submitting State Party and invites it to resubmit the nomination to the Committee for examination during a following cycle;
  2. Reminds the State Party to ensure the widest possible participation of communities in the development of safeguarding measures as well as in the preparation of the nomination file.