Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 18.COM 8.C.1

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Panama has proposed ICH safeguarding practices program for the cultural and ecologic Sea Turtle Festival of Armila (No. 01888) for selection and promotion by the Committee as a programme, project or activity best reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention:

For centuries, the guna people of Armila, Panama have lived in harmony with their natural environment and local fauna, a relationship that is embodied in oral traditions. In response to the decreasing transmission of these oral traditions, and to strengthen the artisanal practices and ritual expressions, dances and music associated with nature, local authorities and the communities implement a safeguarding programme centred around the organization of an educational festival. The four-day event coincides with the arrival of the large leatherback turtles, a key element of local narratives, and includes neighbouring communities. It is an opportunity to understand the communities’ traditions and relationship with the sea and the natural environment. The safeguarding programme is based on the inclusion of educational elements within cultural festivals, and the combination of content related to nature, the universe and oral traditions. One of its objectives and achievements has been the creation of an ‘intangible cultural heritage green seal’ for festivals that implement environmentally-friendly practices. It has also led to the revival of tales about the turtles and other oral traditions, particularly among children. The model has influenced festivals and festivities throughout Panama and can be adapted to festivals in other countries.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the programme responds as follows to the criteria for selection as a best safeguarding practice in paragraph 7 of the Operational Directives:

P.1:   The Festival was established as a response to diminishing knowledge about oral traditions, artisanal practices and ritual expressions, dances and music associated to nature and the sea turtle. A main contributing factor therein was the migration of youth, who leave Armila to finish their education. The communities considered strengthening their culture through a festival that could include neighbouring guna and non-guna communities. The Festival is a way of ensuring that traditions and the relationship with the sea are understood, and of raising awareness about environmental sustainability and protection and about how intangible cultural heritage can contribute to sustainable development. Safeguarding measures are explained and include inventorying efforts, efforts by schools, formal and informal education workshops, research efforts, promotion and transmission.

P.2:   Currently, the cultural and ecologic Sea Turtle festival of Armila is being promoted at the national level only. Panama celebrates various festivals and festivities, many of which feature manifestations or expressions of intangible cultural heritage. The safeguarding model used in the Festival of Armila is being proposed for use with these other elements of intangible cultural heritage. The programme does not promote the coordination of safeguarding efforts at the regional, subregional or international levels.

P.3:   The programme reflects the Convention’s principles of involving the communities in safeguarding efforts. The programme has a strong link between intangible cultural heritage and sustainable development, livelihoods, the protection of animals and the natural environment. The Festival and the promotion of intangible cultural heritage with the natural environment raises the communities’ self-esteem and promotes peace with neighbouring non-Indigenous communities that will learn to respect the community that cares for the turtle hatchlings.

P.4:   The programme has helped to revive the people’s association with the oral tradition, which is linked to fellowship with the turtles and knowledge of nature and the universe. It has also revitalized the related stories thus children, who were forgetting these tales about the turtles, can now tell them and other traditional stories. Furthermore, the programme has enhanced the viability of musical instrument production and fostered the conservation of nature and raw materials. It is a positive example of how intangible cultural heritage, traditions and modern science (specifically wildlife conservation) can be combined into effective safeguarding of living heritage and the natural environment.

P.5:   Coordination and planning of the Festival of Armila is led by the local Congress, which is a traditional authority. It organizes commissions comprised of authorities, educators and local leaders of the Yaug Galu Foundation. All members of the community have roles within the Festival, representing strong community participation. In 2015, community leaders requested to nominate the Festival to the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices. Attached to the nomination is a video of the community, along with notes, supporting signatures and photographs.

P.6:   The programme relates to activities around oral tradition, nature and the universe, as well as the artisanal techniques requiring natural raw materials, carried out during the Cultural and Ecological Sea Turtle Festival of Armila. Its different components can be adapted elsewhere, according to the local context. The programme provides a positive model for linking a festival and similar activities to research and sustainable craft or creative industries, in order to enhance the craft industries and increase understanding and appreciation of nature and ecosystems. It offers an alternative to other types of festivals that have become over-commercialized and decontextualized.

P.7:   As precedents in relation to the Festival indicate, the community concerned has shown its willingness to disseminate their activities geared towards safeguarding, such as by having youth participate in marine biology studies and having prominent individuals share their experiences in other countries or give interviews.

P.8:   The file explains various ways of assessing the results of the programme. Some examples include the General Directorate of Artisanship which tracks the concerns and successes of the artisans, or the Ministry of Environment training and recording those working in turtle preservation. Visitors and the number of boats arriving for the Festival are recorded each year. The number of children who participate in the activities are also noted by their schools, and scientists and the communities keep detailed documentation on the development of the turtles.

  1. Decides to select ICH safeguarding practices program for the cultural and ecologic Sea Turtle Festival of Armila as a programme, project or activity best reflecting the principles and objectives of the Convention.