Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 18.COM 8.B.43

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Malta has nominated Maltese Village Festa, an annual community celebration (No. 01871) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

The festa is a community event of religious origin held annually in village parishes across Malta and Gozo. The main festa season in Malta starts towards the end of April and runs until the beginning of October, with multiple events taking place in different villages. Community volunteers prepare the festa throughout the year and the event itself typically lasts a week. On the final day, a statue is carried in a procession led by the clergy and accompanied by members of the parish and marching bands. Festa weeks entail concerts, band marches, firework displays and bell ringing. Typical festa food, such as nougat, is sold from street stalls. The practice is transmitted informally through participation in the preparation and events. For instance, youth learn the stories and songs of the village and its sacred figures and how to participate in the festa by attending community events. Some parishes organise a children’s festa in conjunction with the church, and children carry a smaller statue through the town. Despite its increased secularisation, the festa remains an important part of cultural heritage in Maltese villages, uniting families, outsiders and local communities in a celebration of popular religiosity and local identities.

  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:   Bearers and practitioners include members of religious confraternities, choirs, musicians and statue-bearers for the liturgical ceremonies. In the festa that takes place in the streets, many volunteers are involved in the decorations and fireworks productions. Participants also include band members, festa organizers and residents. Transmission takes place in the family and community spheres: young people attend and experience the festa with their families and ‘children’s festa’ are organized. The clergy is involved in the liturgical component, and residents learn about the festa by volunteering in the event organization, joining band clubs and completing apprenticeships with pyrotechnicians. The festa fosters social cohesion, uniting families, local communities and visitors in celebrating popular religiosity and local identities. A sense of identity is intensified by the friendly rivalries between residents of different parishes around the festa.

R.2:   Inscription of the element would further increase awareness of the 2003 Convention, the value of living heritage and the importance of local collaborative safeguarding efforts. At the national level, inscription would stress the importance of intangible cultural heritage in general, and it would encourage volunteering related to living heritage in the country. It would promote community engagement, fostering a more holistic approach to living heritage and safeguarding. At the international level, inscription would raise awareness of the importance of popular religiosity arising from different cultural contexts in transmitting cultural identity and skills. Inscription of the element would provide an opportunity for ongoing dialogue between festa communities while promoting musical, artistic and linguistic creativity. The element supports sustained livelihoods.

R.3:   Past and current safeguarding measures include formal accreditation by the University of Malta in collaboration with bands, fundraising activities, restoration of artifacts, and the development of state regulations on pyrotechnics. The State Party has allocated funds for restorations, provided tax reductions and subsidies, and implemented health and safety measures. The file highlights potential threats, such as over-commericalization and overcrowdedness, and how the proposed safeguarding measures would address them. Festa organizations and local councils will coordinate planning work on policing, by-laws and public works affecting festa street decorations and routes. A Unit for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage will be established to monitor and evaluate the impact of the inscription of festa and provide a platform for stakeholder consultations. Community participation in the nomination was based on an eight-member working committee, and a social media campaign was launched to gather input.

R.4:   Community participation in the nomination process is well established. The Maltese festa community initiated the nomination in 2014. Subsequently, a national conference, a public awareness campaign on the 2003 Convention, inscription of the tradition on the national inventory, and several community meetings with an eye on a nomination have taken place. Based on this preliminary work, a working committee was established to complete the nomination file and a national social media campaign was launched. The community approved of the nomination file through a virtual meeting. Various stakeholders provided consent in the form of letters, petitions and a video. Communities withhold certain ‘secrets of the trade’ in the preparation of the festivals in order to maintain an element of surprise, which are respected by organizations and volunteers.

R.5:   The element is included in the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage, administered by the Directorate of Culture, Ministry for Heritage, Arts and Local Government. The National Band Clubs Association prepared a file for the national inventory, with feedback from band club members, festa decoration artisans, members of confraternities, pyrotechnicians and the general public. The inventory was updated with the feedback received, with the assistance of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Malta, and subsequently approved. The inventory was updated in 2020 and in 2021. Elements are subject to review every four years under the supervision of the Cultural Directorate and with the participation of the communities concerned. The Inventory is open to new submissions, which are evaluated by the National ICH Board on a quarterly basis.

  1. Decides to inscribe Maltese Village Festa, an annual community celebration on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Commends the State Party for an excellent video which displays broad consent from the communities concerned;
  3. Further commends the State Party for safeguarding measures that demonstrate inclusion of people with disabilities.