Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 11.COM 10.C.5

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Fiji has proposed Cultural mapping, methodology for the safeguarding of iTaukei intangible cultural heritage (No. 01195) for selection and promotion by the Committee as a programme, project or activity best reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention:

In 2004, a programme to safeguard traditional knowledge systems and associated cultural expressions of Fiji’s iTaukei population began in response to community concern that its cultural practices could be lost indefinitely. The iTaukei Institute of Language and Culture set up the Cultural Mapping Programme (CMP) to identify, document and register intangible cultural heritage important to community identity and sustainability, whose viability had been weakened by economic and climatic factors, as well as the influence of mass media. Working in collaboration with iTaukei leaders, administrators, elders and practice bearers, the programme began with awareness-raising workshops on the initiative for district representatives and village headmen. CMP field officers then conducted talanoa sessions (an iTaukei traditional learning method of dialogue and storytelling) with community chiefs, elders and practice custodians resulting in the identification of living heritage elements to be mapped. Informants were designated to document the practices using audiovisual tools, then categorize and store them in a digital database. So far, cultural mapping has been done for 11 of the nation’s 14 provinces. To assist in revitalizing the traditional practices, such as pottery making, for future generations the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs has organized workshops on these techniques run by bearers for young people.

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

P.1:   The programme aims at providing methodological guidance for mapping the intangible cultural heritage of the indigenous community in Fiji (the iTaukei people), thus safeguarding traditional knowledge and cultural expressions of all domains of its intangible cultural heritage (existing rituals and ceremonies, dances, and knowledge of the environmental systems and other customary practices). The file describes a participatory method, with some innovations (e.g. data openly discussed and vetted by informants – inspired by the tradition of storytelling – before it is documented through audio and video recording; general public informed and encouraged to participate through a public research and resource centre; provision of platforms for the revitalization of endangered elements; and safeguarding plans to enhance community‑driven sustainable resource management). The programme is still in progress, but already shows a long-term and fruitful history, since it is based on initiatives that date back to 2003, and it focuses on a variety of intangible cultural heritage elements of the iTaukei.

P.2:   The file indicates how the Cultural Mapping Programme has coordinated with other governments – Tonga, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu – and organizations such as the International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO (ICHCAP). A partnership was established between ICHCAP and the iTaukei Institute of Language and Culture of the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs. The Government of Fiji and ICHCAP jointly organized a conference and discussed effective ways of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, as well as the model for cultural mapping, including the production of a documentary film.

P.3:   The file indicates that the initiative reflects the objectives of the Convention in multiple ways. It embraces the Convention’s attention to inventorying as an essential measure for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. It implements other measures for safeguarding, and for education, raising awareness and capacity building. The latter include the publication of a book on traditional iTaukei herbal medicine in the iTaukei language and a quarterly newsletter distributed to primary and secondary schools. The programme contributes to raising awareness by the production of an animated film on traditional legends collected in Fiji’s provinces. Implementation fosters collaboration with various government agencies, international partners, and other organizations.

P.4:   The programme appears to have so far mostly resulted in successful and important official national strategies focused on school curriculum reforms to integrate culture, as well as in organizing iTaukei festivals. The effectiveness of these measures in contributing to the viability of intangible cultural heritage is not clearly demonstrated. Additional information is needed regarding what concrete impacts the programme has had among the communities, groups and individuals concerned and the effectiveness of the inventory activities (the programme’s main goal). Vocabulary such as ‘unique’ and ‘uniqueness’ should be avoided and attention given to mitigate any potential negative effect of over-commercialization of intangible cultural heritage (such as through festivals).

P.5:   The file states that the Cultural Mapping Programme and its rich outcomes could not exist without the strong involvement of communities and individuals concerned. The file describes how information on intangible cultural heritage is collected by seeking their collaboration and consent through storytelling (talanoa) and other traditional methods. The programme, however, appears to be run by the government and the file does not clearly explain how the community is involved in all stages of its planning and implementation. The proposal presents letters expressing free, prior, and informed consent to the programme (but not to the proposal for the Register of Best Safeguarding Practices) of representatives of the Provincial Offices (RokoTui), responsible for the welfare of indigenous people.

P.6:   The file describes the salient features of the Cultural Mapping Programme that may be part of an international or regional model: participation of communities and bottom-up approach in identification of intangible cultural heritage and safeguarding activities; inventorying through documentation of all forms of intangible cultural heritage; and use of culturally rooted protocols. The method has already been used at regional level (Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, Tonga and French Polynesia) and a toolkit developed.

P.7:   All 14 provinces of Fiji are involved in the initiative and the chiefs of each village, the provincial authorities and the staff of the Cultural Mapping Programme have agreed to disseminate their knowledge and experience. The examples presented, however, are related to the support of the provincial authorities for the implementation of mapping activities and the organization of festivals. Additional information would be useful to fully attest to the willingness of the communities concerned to disseminate the programme as a best safeguarding practice.

P.8:   The file describes several assessment processes to gauge the results of the Cultural Mapping Programme (verification of the data on intangible cultural heritage collected with the participation of community leaders and informants; progress reports and quality control by the iTaukei Institute of Language and Culture; and instigation of the revitalization process by the community itself). The iTaukei Institute has established a Revival Unit to facilitate community revitalization workshops on endangered intangible cultural heritage identified from the mapping process and six revitalization initiatives have provided an opportunity for the community to evaluate results.

P.9:   The methodology of the Cultural Mapping Programme appears to be applicable to the needs of developing countries, especially island states that face similar challenges (including loss of a traditional knowledge system of coping with natural disasters, over-exploitation of natural resources, threats of invasive species, climate change, and negative influence of the mass media on the viability of intangible cultural heritage). The file states that the programme is applicable to developing countries in view of its cost-effectiveness; its focus on adaptation and resilience through traditional knowledge; its orientation towards respect of cultural values; and following culturally-compliant data collection protocols. The Cultural Mapping Programme also promotes cooperation in intangible cultural heritage safeguarding between professionals and local communities. Communities with similar social structures in developing countries could also take advantage of their traditional administrative system to improve inventorying of their intangible cultural heritage by adapting the methodology to their own situation.

  1. Decides to refer Cultural mapping, methodology for the safeguarding of iTaukei intangible cultural heritage to the submitting State and invites it to resubmit the proposal to the Committee for examination during a following cycle.