Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 14.COM 10.A.1

The Committee,

  1. Takes note that Botswana has nominated Seperu folkdance and associated practices (No. 01502) for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:

The Seperu folkdance and associated practices involve singing, dancing and sacred rituals that are highly significant in the lives of Veekuhane community members. Seperu is a celebratory practice performed during ceremonies that mark important milestones in the community members’ lives. In the dance the women form a horseshoe, while male dancers face the women at the end of this horseshoe. The lead dancer uses a flywhisk to direct and choose the female dancer, while other members of the group imitate the sounds of a male dove. The selected female dancer then shows her dancing skills by reflecting the image of a peacock tail with her multi-layered dress (‘mushishi’). Although the Seperu folk dance is a key symbol of identity and pride for the Veekuhane, its knowledge bearers and active practitioners have diminished in number, affecting its visibility and transmission to the younger generations. Currently, there are only 194 active practitioners, with twelve master practitioners, all of whom are over seventy years old. Traditional methods of transmission have been undermined by the distortion of the significance of the ‘mushishi’ garment, modern wedding ceremonies, current curricula in schools, and modernization, which has led community members to move to other districts of the country.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:

U.1:   The Seperu folkdance and associated practices provide the Veekuhane community, commonly known as Basubiya, with a sense of identity, social cohesion, pride and tribal bonds, as well as ensuring the survival and continuity of the associated social functions. The practice is infused into every community member’s important life stages: from initiation to marriage and death. The ‘Ingongi’ (master practitioners) are highly respected as they are seen as the bearers of a symbol of identity and pride for the Veekuhane community. They are also the key people who pass on the knowledge and skills orally to the younger generation, directing the design of the dresses, linking with traditional leadership and guiding younger practitioners.

U.2:   After Botswana gained its independence, the importance of the element began to decline due to foreign influences and exposure to foreign cultural practices via social media, television and newspapers. This was also due to modernization, which led community members to migrate to other regions; some were seeking new pastures while others (young people) moved to urban centres to continue their studies. Moreover, the change in the educational model, with all children attending schools with homogeneous curricula, has caused a general ignorance of the element and loss of interest among younger generations. The sole agent of transmission, the family, has been replaced with the schoolteacher, who barely acknowledges the element and its associated practices. As a result, some of these practices have been standardized, with key components omitted. Moreover, the element has not been fully documented for the purposes of training the younger generation on its transmission. Despite efforts by community members and the authorities to safeguard it, the risk to the viability of the element is still very high.

U.3:   Currently, a number of initiatives have been put in place to safeguard the element and promote programmes geared at ‘cultural preservation’ in Bostwana. These include the formulation of a National Policy on Culture, the Presidents’ Day Competitions, Constituency Art competitions and the support of different cultural community festivals to safeguard, transmit and promote the Seperu folk dance and its associated practices. Following this, the safeguarding plan is directed at preventing the threats to the element. It includes activities aimed at strengthening the transmission of Seperu folk dance – including the creation of training spaces in schools –, conducting in-depth research and documentation of the element, increasing the visibility of the element, revitalizing Seperu associated practices and promoting the use of the traditional dresses.

U.4:   The practitioners of Seperu folkdance and associated practices – represented mainly by the master practitioners (Ingongi), Seperu groups, local authorities and a local intangible cultural heritage committee – actively participated in the community-based inventorying process, which resulted in the nomination process. This process included the conception and preparation of the nomination file and the planning of safeguarding measures through identification, research and documentation activities. The secrecy of some non-public, intimate parts of the rituals associated with the element, like taboos and sacred practices, will be respected.

U.5:   During a community-based inventorying project launched in July 2011, the Seperu folk dance was included in the Chobe District Inventory of ICH Elements. The important stakeholders from the local communities all participated in this process. The inventory is updated regularly by the Basubiya community in collaboration with the District Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee and the Department of Arts and Culture.

  1. Decides to inscribe Seperu folkdance and associated practices on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding;
  2. Commends the State Party for the submission of an improved file following the referral of this nomination and the recommendations of the Committee at its eighth session in 2013;
  3. Encourages the State Party to avoid standardized letters of consent when submitting nomination files in the future, while ensuring that the diverse circumstances in which such consent is given are accommodated;
  4. Reminds the State Party that inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding does not automatically imply financial assistance from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund, and that any requests for financial assistance to implement safeguarding measures should follow the due procedures outlined in the Operational Directives;
  5. Invites the State Party to ensure the sustainability of the safeguarding plan, in particular by providing sufficient funding for this purpose, and encourages it to address the lack of financial resources required to implement all the planned safeguarding activities by mobilizing funds at the national and local levels, as well as by exploring other funding possibilities through international cooperation mechanisms, including the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund;
  6. Further invites the State Party to pay particular attention to avoiding the possible negative consequences of the inscription of the element on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, such as its folklorization.