Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 18.COM 8.B.2

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Nigeria has nominated Sango Festival, Oyo (No. 01974) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

In Nigeria, the Sango Festival of Oyo marks the beginning of the Yoruba Traditional New Year in August each year. It is an ancestral worship that takes place in Sango, Nigeria, near the ancient Koso Temple. The ten-day festival is strongly connected to the social, religious, cultural and political institutions of the Oyo State. It is held in commemoration of Tella-Oko, the third alaafin (king) of the Oyo Empire. He is believed to be the incarnation of the mythical Sango, the Yoruba divinity of thunder and lightning. When the festival commences on the Yoruba New Year’s Eve in August, Sango devotees and followers share and eat roasted new yam and palm oil. People of all genders plait their hair and dress in red, wearing white and red beads around their necks and wrists. The festival encompasses different rites and involves chanting, storytelling, drumming and dancing. Children acquire the related knowledge and skills by observing and imitating elders and attending Saturday worship at the Sango Temples. Sango magical crafts and rites, however, are transmitted through apprenticeships. The festival unites the Oyo community, which views the practice as an expression of shared identity and social cohesion and as a means of reconnecting with their ancestor, Sango.

  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 Sango festival of Oyo is lived and performed by the Yoruba people. It is a ten-day celebration that marks the start of the Yoruba traditional New Year. It includes ancestral worshipping, in commemoration of Tella-Oko, as well as a range of rites, dancing, singing, drumming and magical displays. The festival is linked to social, religious, cultural and political institutions. It is also appreciated for its ability to curb crime and promote justice. Although the festival involves the entire Yoruba community, some practitioners hold specific roles (such as the king and queen, religious leaders, devotees and drummers). Youth learn skills such as chanting, divination, singing, storytelling and dancing from elders, through informal transmission and by taking part in the events. The festival plays a unifying role in the Oyo community; it is viewed as a way of expressing conviviality and as an opportunity to develop socio-cultural interaction and to reconnect spiritually with ancestors.

R.2:   Inscription of the element would encourage and support the local community in their implementation of safeguarding initiatives for their intangible heritage. It would encourage synergies and partnerships between individuals, groups and communities working for the safeguarding and promotion of the element at the national level. It would also provide an opportunity for international participation in the festival. The nomination file highlights the artistic expressions, dances, music, costumes, chants and praises characteristic of the festival, illustrating its dynamism and evolving cultural diversity.

R.3:   Past and current safeguarding measures include transmission, education, identification, research and documentation (through community-based inventorying), preservation and protection (including of shrines and temples), promotion and enhancement. The State is committed to its continued financial, policy and administrative support towards the element. The proposed safeguarding measures address over-commercialization, decontextualization and over-exploitation. They include investigating and identifying cultural resources related to the festival, capacity building to transmit related skills; preservation and documentation for related objects and sites; scholarly research and academic exchange; collaboration and protection; planning and evaluating the safeguarding measures; and dissemination and promotion activities (such as through databases and a website). Community participation in the planning and implementation of the safeguarding measures started with the community-based inventory workshop and was followed by fieldwork, workshops and over fifteen meetings.

R.4:   The file establishes the participation of the community in the nomination process and explains how the structure of consent within the community was upheld. This entailed speaking to the Alaafin of Oyo as its first authority and then to the Sango devotees. The letters of free, prior and informed consent pertain directly to the nomination and account for various actors in the element. The file also demonstrates that respect for customary practices governing access to particular spaces associated with the element will be upheld. Some aspects of the festival, namely in relation to two shrines, are to be kept secret, and should only be accessible for initiated people. The public will continue to be educated and informed about the need to respect these customary practices.

R.5:   The element has been listed in the ‘Inventory of Nigeria Cultural Resources’ since 2017. The inventory is maintained by the International Cultural Relations Department of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Since 2016, the element has also been part of the ‘Inventory of Oyo Intangible Cultural Heritage’, which is maintained by the Culture Department of the Alaafin of Oyo Administration. Members of the community were involved in the inventorying efforts. The Inventory of Nigeria Cultural Resources is updated and revised quarterly after any cultural engagements among the communities.

  1. Decides to inscribe Sango Festival, Oyo on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Commends the State Party for playing a positive role in the element’s connection to the social, cultural and religious institutions of the country;
  3. Further commends the State Party for the submission of an improved file following the decision of the Committee to refer the file in 2021.