Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 16.COM 8.B.42

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Thailand has nominated Nora, dance drama in southern Thailand (no. 01587) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Nora is a lively and acrobatic form of dance theatre and improvisational singing from southern Thailand. Performances normally include a long oral invocation, followed by a presentation by a lead character who dances with vigorous and elaborate movements of the legs, arms and fingers. The performances are usually based on stories about the former lives of Buddha or about legendary heroes. An ensemble plays highly rhythmic and fast-paced music, with a traditional southern oboe providing the melody and strong rhythms produced by drums, gongs, cymbals and wooden clappers. The main Nora performers – whether male or female – wear colourful costumes with crowns or headdresses, beads, bird-like wings tied around the waist, ornate scarves, and swan tails that give them a bird-like appearance. Performers also wear long, metallic fingernails that curl out from the fingertips. Nora is a community-based practice with deep cultural and social significance for the people of southern Thailand. Performances use regional dialects, music and literature to reinforce cultural life and social bonds among local people. Over five hundred years old, Nora is performed in local community centres and at temple fairs and cultural events, and is passed on through training by masters in homes, community organizations and educational institutions.

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

R.1:  The element is linked to rituals and ceremonies, including those with religious practices and meanings. Dance scenes are usually based on religious aspects, tales or local traditions. The bearers and practitioners include masters who perform Nora rituals, lead troupes, and perform as lead singers and dancers. Masters often teach Nora in schools and higher education. Other practitioners include performers, musicians, artisans and participants of Nora ceremonies. Traditionally performed only by males, there are now opportunities for girls and young women to be involved in various aspects. Transmission is done through training by masters in homes, community organizations and educational institutions. Nora is linked to oral traditions and dialects of the community and reinforces the local cultural life and social identity of the communities concerned.

R.2:  At the local level, inscription would enhance the confidence of the Nora community to collectively safeguard the element, while promoting respect for equality, inclusiveness and diverse cultural expressions. At the national level, inscription would increase the sense of socio-cultural stewardship and create diverse participation platforms, such as those provided by government, media and educational institutions and by the community at large. At the international level, inscription would bring attention to this traditional art form and its community-based wisdom and bridge communities in the region with traditions and practices that share similar features, such as musical instruments, imagery and dance moves. It would also increase exchanges among practitioners of different Nora lineages and facilitate the expression of human creativity through costume design.

R.3:  Although safeguarding measures were traditionally done through a lineage system, since the 1960s educational institutes began inviting Nora masters to teach students, including women, in clubs. Nora-trained graduates have since taken up teaching positions across southern Thailand, and Nora has been taught in schools and universities since the 1970s as part of the formal curriculum for primary, secondary and higher education, with support from the government. Artist associations and networks also financially assist artists. A series of measures is outlined and includes support for research, funding, increasing appreciation through regular and seasonal performances and coordinating a mechanism to support Nora artists and practitioners as a whole. They are proposed as joint measures that will be undertaken by the State in collaboration with the communities, bearers and practitioners concerned. The file outlines the work of communities in developing the safeguarding measures.

R.4:  The file outlines a systematic process for the participation of communities, groups and individuals concerned with the element. Scholars and other stakeholders in southern Thailand formed the Rak Pak Tai Society in 2016 and, with government support, began the community-based inventorying of Nora with the objective of an eventual UNESCO nomination. The process continued through 2018 with the drafting of the nomination file. Free, prior and informed consent is established by the letters of consent attached to the file. The element is accessible to all communities, groups and individuals concerned, as well as to non-local observers who wish to participate in a respectful way and who make polite and formal requests to do so. It is worth noting that special sacred verses are still passed down to select apprentices.

R.5:  The element has been included in the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Thailand since 2009 and the inventory administered by the Department of Cultural Promotion in the Ministry of Culture. The element was identified and defined from surveys, research and documentation of local researchers working with Nora communities. The nomination process took place between 2016 and 2018, and the Inventory is updated and new elements are included every two years. The documented information is reviewed every three years and is initiated by provincial-level committees, in collaboration with the communities concerned, after which information is sent to the Department of Cultural Promotion for public dissemination.

  1. Decides to inscribe Nora, dance drama in southern Thailand on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Encourages the State Party to develop safeguarding measures to address the unintended consequences associated with increased tourism in order to avoid the potential impact of over-commercialization and de-contextualization of the element.