Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 10.COM 10.A.6

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Portugal has nominated the Manufacture of cowbells (No. 01065) for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:

The Portuguese cowbell is an idiophone percussion instrument with a single internal clapper, usually hung on a leather strap around an animal’s neck. It is traditionally used by shepherds to locate and control their livestock, and creates an unmistakable soundscape in rural areas. The cowbells are handmade from iron, which is cold-hammered and folded on an anvil until it is cup-shaped. Small pieces of copper or tin are set around the iron and enveloped in a mixture of clay and straw. The piece is fired, then plunged into cold water for rapid cooling. Finally, the burnt clay is removed, the copper- or tin-covered iron is polished and the tone of the bell is fine-tuned. The technical expertise involved is transmitted within the family from fathers to sons. Alcáçovas in Portugal is the main centre for manufacture of cowbells and its inhabitants take great pride in this heritage. However, this practice is increasingly becoming unsustainable due to recent socioeconomic changes. New grazing methods have largely obviated the need for shepherds and cowbells are increasingly made using cheaper industrial techniques. At present, there are only 11 surviving workshops and 13 cowbell makers, 9 of whom are over 70 years old.

  1. Decides that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria:

U.1:   The manufacture of cowbells is typically passed down through a patrilineal family line, yet the entire local communities perceive it as a collective cultural heritage that provides them with a sense of identity and historical continuity; in addition to their use by shepherds, the products of cowbell-makers are also used by musical groups and in various festive occasions, and are appreciated as decorative items;

U.2:   The practice of cowbell-making is today limited to fewer than ten locations, among which the town of Alcáçovar takes a lead with four active makers; the element is in imminent danger because of the shortage of male children in makers’ families or choice of other professions, as well as the introduction of grazing methods that obviate the need for shepherds and cowbells, increasing changes in the market rules and practices, and industrialization of cowbell-making;

U.3:   Taking the significant ongoing efforts of the community of Alcáçovar as a solid foundation, the proposed safeguarding plan responds to the threats identified, incorporates a series of concrete, thoughtfully elaborated activities designed in close collaboration among practitioners of the element, concerned communities and relevant stakeholders during the course of several years, and relies on realistic resources, thus demonstrating a cogent potential to enhance the viability of the element and increase the interest of young people in cowbell-making;

U.4:   With the distinctly participatory and collaborative character of the nomination process, this nomination can serve as a model; all remaining bearers of the element and key community institutions provided a broad range of attestations of their free, prior and informed consent to the nomination;

U.5:   The element is registered and described in detail in an inventorying catalogue of the Municipality of Viana do Alentejo; the process of inventorying was conducted in compliance with Articles 11 and 12 of the Convention.

  1. Inscribes Manufacture of cowbells on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding;
  2. Invites the State to take particular heed in ensuring the continuity of cultural meanings of the element for its bearers and the broader community, while avoiding possible unintended consequences of the safeguarding plan such as overuse or decontextualization of the element for tourism purposes.