Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 16.COM 8.B.27

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Myanmar has nominated Practice of Thanakha culture in Myanmar (no. 01720) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Thanakha is a paste used by men, women and children in Myanmar for beauty, skin care and traditional medicine. Made from thanakha trees, perennial trees that are grown in the arid zone of Central Myanmar, the paste is made by grinding the bark with water on a circular stone slab. The creamy paste is applied to the face and hands, and sometimes the entire body. It can be applied to the face in a circular shape or in the shape of a leaf or a flower. Especially in summer, famers and construction workers apply the paste liberally from head to toe to benefit from its cooling, soothing effect and fragrance. The practice of applying thanakha is transmitted through and plays an important role in family circles. While applying the paste on young children, elders teach them about manners, ethics and moral values. In festivals and rituals, the fragrant thanakha bark is burnt in bonfires to provide warmth to the Buddha, and the fragrant paste is used to cleanse the image of the Buddha. Some regions also celebrate Thanakha Par Toe Pwe, a cultural festival dedicated to thanakha. Archaeological evidence of preparing and wearing Thanakha dates back to the twelfth century.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criterion for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:  The element is linked to practices concerning nature and the universe related to various religious and cultural festivals. The bearers and practitioners include men, women and children of all ages and different ethnicities and communities. The element is transmitted from generation to generation within families as well as through formal events and trainings. Thanakha plays a crucial role in the daily life of Myanmar people, and it is deeply connected to Myanmar history and to religious and family practices. Its use contributes to overall well-being and is associated with prayer and the teaching of good manners, ethics and values.

  1. Further 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.2:  The nomination does not provide sufficient information on how inscription will contribute to ensure visibility and awareness of intangible cultural heritage in general at the international level. Instead, the nomination focuses only on the promotion of thanakha and intangible cultural heritage in Myanmar. Neither does the file address sufficiently how inscription will promote respect for cultural diversity. The file strongly emphasizes the relation with the natural environment and natural resources, as well as medicinal knowledge and learning from nature.

R.3:  While a comprehensive list of proposed safeguarding measures has been drafted, the measures appear top-down and the involvement of the communities is unclear. Neither does the file discuss the unintended results of inscription and how the proposed safeguarding measures would address threats such as over-commercialization. Civic societies and non-governmental organizations are mainly involved in organizing events, but it is unclear how they will be involved in implementing the safeguarding measures. Considerable attention is given to socio-economic development and not enough to the possible negative effects such as over-commercialization.

R.4:  The file explains that a National Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage Safeguarding and Promoting was formed and elaborates on the presence of State actors. However, the file does not fully explain the role of communities, groups and individuals other than in a reference to the Myanmar Thanakha Association, which represents planters, producers and exporters in various growing communities. It is not clear who represented the communities in the workshops. Although there is a reference to the intangible cultural heritage working committees involved with research and awareness-raising activities, it was not clear how these were comprised and how practitioners and bearers were involved. Similarly, it was unclear how all components of free, prior and informed consent were established in relation to the communities, groups and individuals concerned.

R.5:  The file establishes that the element is part of the Myanmar National Intangible Heritage List administered by the Department of Archaeology and National Museum, Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture. The element was included via a government notification in March 2020, and the element and list will be reviewed and updated every two years. This will be done through the attendance of regional and State experts at an annual coordination meeting and through the assessment of the element via research that will be submitted to the ICH Preservation and Promotion National Committee. The information provided indicates, the data about the element seem to have been collected by a strictly academic team. Thus the text does not show clearly how concerned communities, groups and individuals participated in the process.

  1. Decides to refer the nomination of Practice of Thanakha culture in Myanmar to the submitting State Party and invites it to resubmit the nomination to the Committee for examination during a following cycle;
  2. Further invites the State Party to avoid top-down approaches in all stages of the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage by ensuring that the communities, groups and individuals concerned are at the centre of all safeguarding efforts and that their free, prior and informed consent is central to the preparation of the nomination file;
  3. Recalls the importance of using vocabulary appropriate to the spirit of the Convention and of avoiding expressions such as ‘uniqueness’, which may seem to introduce a hierarchy among expressions of living heritage;
  4. Reminds the State Party to pay specific attention to the linguistic quality of files submitted in the future;
  5. Encourages the State Party, when submitting nomination files in the future, to avoid standardized letters of consent;
  6. Further encourages the State Party to take particular heed of the impact of over-commercialization on the safeguarding of the element in order to prevent its potential decontextualization;
  7. Commends the State Party for using the planting of the thanakha tree as part of ‘dry zone greening’ and for recognizing its potential for socio-economic development.