UNESCO assembles peoples around transnational traditions like couscous, one of 32 new inscriptions on its Intangible Heritage Lists

Children are parading with holding buddha-shaped lanterns
Children are parading with holding buddha-shaped lanterns
© The Cultural Heritage Administration and the Yeondeunghoe Safeguarding Association, Republic of Korea, 2018

During this year’s session (14 to 19 December, online), the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage inscribed three elements on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, and 29 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Members of the Committee, chaired by Olivia Grange, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport of Jamaica, also added three programmes to the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices and allotted $99,239 from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund to a project to safeguard Aixan/Gana/Ob#ANS TSI //Khasigu ancestral musical sound, knowledge and skills in Namibia.

For the first time this year, Finland, Malta, Paraguay and Singapore had inscriptions on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists, which now feature elements from a total of 131 States.

This year saw the highest number of multi-country nominations, with 14 inscriptions testifying to the ability of intangible cultural heritage to bring people together and promote international cooperation.

Additions to List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in order of inscription

Colombia – Traditional knowledge and techniques associated with Pasto Varnish mopa-mopa of Putumayo and Nariño. The traditional knowledge and techniques associated with Pasto Varnish mopa-mopa of Putumayo and Nariño encompass three traditional trades: harvesting, woodwork and decorative varnishing. Harvesting the mopa-mopa requires extensive knowledge of the forest trails, tree climbing and care to avoid damaging the plants. The practice is important to communities’ identity and a source of self-employment. It is however threatened by various factors including development and globalization as well as the fact that harvesting sites are hard to access and home workshops operate under precarious conditions.

Egypt - Handmade weaving in Upper Egypt (Sa’eed). Handmade weaving in Upper Egypt (Sa’eed) is a complex process requiring intricate craftsmanship. Many steps and techniques are involved in preparing the looms, threading and weaving to achieve the final product. The basic principles have remained unchanged through the ages, but factories have gradually shifted to using cotton rather than expensive silk yarn and small narrow looms have replaced wider ones. Although the practice is a source of identity and pride for the communities concerned, it faces many threats, which have led to its neglect and weakened transmission to the young.

Namibia – Aixan/Gana/Ob#ANS TSI //Khasigu, ancestral musical sound knowledge and skills. Aixan/Gana/Ob#ANS TSI //Khasigu ancestral musical sound, knowledge and skills relates to the specific traditional music of the Nama people. Nama ancestral music involves the use of traditional instruments and is characterized by a specific sound, texture and rhythm, consisting of a leading melody and rhythm accompanied by a systematic harmony. The music is also complemented by dances known as Nama-stap. In the past, the music connected entire communities and villages, but it now faces many threats and only a few elders still practise the tradition and possess the related knowledge and skills.

The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding features elements of living heritage whose viability is under threat. It mobilizes international cooperation and assistance to strengthen the transmission of these cultural practices, in agreement with the concerned communities. The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding now numbers 67 elements.

Additions to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in order of inscription

Republic of Korea – Yeondeunghoe, lantern lighting festival in the Republic of Korea. Yeondeunghoe, lantern lighting festival, takes place throughout the Republic of Korea. As the eighth day of the fourth lunar month (Buddha’s birthday) approaches, streets are hung with colourful lanterns and crowds holding handmade lanterns gather for a celebratory parade. The annual festival starts with the sacred ritual of bathing an image of the baby Buddha. This is followed by a public procession, after which participants gather for recreational events and collective games. The festival plays a key role in integrating society and is a time of joy in which social boundaries are temporarily erased.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait – Traditional weaving of Al Sadu. Traditional weaving of Al Sadu refers to the traditional woven textile made by Bedouin women: in Arabic, ‘Al Sadu’ means weaving in a horizontal style. It is a form of warp-faced plain weave made on a ground loom using natural fibres. The cloth forms a tightly woven, durable textile, with patterns that reflect the desert environment. The primary bearers of Al Sadu are older Bedouin women, who play a key role in transmitting their skills to others. Nowadays, Al Sadu has become less of a functional product than a bearer of deep tradition and culture.

Serbia - Zlakusa pottery making, hand-wheel pottery making in the village of Zlakusa. Zlakusa pottery making, hand-wheel pottery making in the village of Zlakusa, relates to the practice of making unglazed vessels for thermic food processing. Used in households and restaurants across Serbia, Zlakusa pottery is made of clay and calcite and the wheel is run exclusively by hand. The finished vessels are decorated with geometrical ornaments. It is claimed that some dishes prepared in Zlakusa earthenware have a unique taste, and the pottery’s close association with the village of Zlakusa and its environs reflects its close link with the natural environment.

Singapore – Hawker culture in Singapore, community dining and culinary practices in a multicultural urban context. Hawker culture is present throughout Singapore. Hawkers prepare a variety of food for people who dine and mingle at hawker centres. These centres serve as ‘community dining rooms’ where people from diverse backgrounds gather and share the experience of dining together. Activities such as chess-playing, busking and art-jamming also take place. Having evolved from street food culture, hawker centres have become markers of Singapore as a multicultural city-state. Hawkers often specialize in a particular dish refined over many years and transmit their recipes, knowledge and skills to younger family members or apprentices.

Spain - Wine Horses. Los Caballos del Vino is an equestrian ritual that takes place each year from 1to 3 May in Caravaca de la Cruz, involving a series of events. First, the horses are dressed in richly embroidered cloaks and various parades are held to showcase them. The most awaited moment is a race up the hill to the castle, when prizes are awarded to the best racers and finest cloaks. Wine-growing and horse-breeding form an inherent part of the economy, history and culture of the area and the festival showcases values such as comradeship and the relationship between humans and horses.

Switzerland, France - Craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics. The skills related to the craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics are used to create objects designed to measure and indicate time, art automata and mechanical androids, sculptures and animated paintings, music boxes and songbirds. These technical and artistic objects all feature a mechanical device that generates movements or emits sounds. While serving an economic function, these skills have also shaped the architecture, urban landscape and everyday social reality of the regions concerned, where craftsmanship remains particularly dynamic.

Tunisia - Charfia fishing in the Kerkennah Islands. Charfia fishing in the Kerkennah Islands is a traditional, passive fishing technique that capitalizes on local hydrographic conditions, seabed contours and natural resources at sea and on land. The ‘charfia’ is a fixed fishery system usually operated only between the autumn equinox and June, to give the marine wildlife a biological rest period. The annual rebuildiing of the charfias involves communities’ social practices. Charfia fishing requires extensive knowledge of underwater topography and marine currents and is the main fishing technique used in the islands, making it a unifying element for all Kerkennians.

United Arab Emirates - Al Aflaj, traditional irrigation network system in the UAE, oral traditions, knowledge and skills of construction, maintenance and equitable water distribution. Al Aflaj and the related oral traditions, knowledge and skills of construction, maintenance and equitable water distribution relate to the irrigation system used to conduct water over long distances from an underground source to a basin. The water flows by gradual gradient, while underground tunnels reduce evaporation. Al Aflaj also includes a network of surface channels to distribute water to local farms. For centuries, the Al Aflaj system served to provide drinking water and irrigate farms, demonstrating the community’s creativity in the face of water scarcity in a desert environment.

United Arab Emirates, Oman - Camel racing, a social practice and a festive heritage associated with camels. Camel racing, a social practice and festive heritage associated with camels is popular in the communities concerned. Camels are selected based on type, origin and age, given a special diet and trained to take part in the races. The racing, usually involving 15 to 20 camels per round, is conducted in specially designed fields. Related knowledge and skills are acquired through observation, simulation and oral expressions and the importance of camel racing in Bedouin society is connected to the prominent role camels play in the desert environment.

Zambia - Budima dance. The Budima Dance is a warrior dance performed all year round by the Wee people on various spiritual and sombre occasions. The dance includes men, women and children. The men represent skilled soldiers or fighters who mimic war with long spears, while others blow the sets of one-note antelope horn flutes/trumpets and shout chants. The women sing along and dance energetically wearing beaded jewellery and rattles on their feet,. The Budima Dance serves as a unifying practice for the communities concerned, who take great pride in the dance.

Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia — Knowledge, know-how and practices pertaining to the production and consumption of couscous. The knowledge, know-how and practices pertaining to the production and consumption of couscous encompass the methods of production, manufacturing conditions and tools, associated artefacts and circumstances of couscous consumption in the communities concerned. Preparing couscous is a ceremonial process involving different operations and is associated with a set of exclusive tools. Accompanied by a variety of vegetables and meats depending on the region, season and occasion, the dish is replete with symbols, meanings and social and cultural dimensions linked to solidarity, conviviality and the sharing of meals.

Argentina - Chamamé. Chamamé is a form of cultural expression that is mainly practised in Corrientes province. Key elements include a style of ‘close embrace’ dancing, musiqueada social events, and sapukay, a typical cry accompanied by movements to convey emotions. The singing involved has its roots in religious songs. Originally, Chamamé was sung in Guarani, but it is now transmitted in a combination of Spanish and Guarani. Chamamé music and dancing are common features in community and family gatherings, religious celebrations, and other festive events.

Azerbaijan - Nar Bayrami, traditional pomegranate festivity and culture. Nar Bayrami is an annual festival in October/November in Azerbaijan’s Goychay region that celebrates the pomegranate and its centuries-old traditional uses and symbolic meaning. Pomegranate culture encompasses practices, knowledge, traditions and skills related to the cultivation of the fruit, which is used not only in a range of culinary preparations, but is also featured in crafts, decorative arts, myths, storytelling, and other creative expressions. The festival highlights local nature and culture celebrating the pomegranate’s practical and symbolic importance.

Azerbaijan, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Turkey, Uzbekistan - Art of miniature. The miniature is a type of artwork that involves the design and creation of small paintings in books, rugs, textiles, ceramics, and other supports using raw materials such as gold, silver, and various organic dyes. Historically miniature paintings were chiefly produced as book illustrations, but the practice has evolved and can now also be found in architecture and as an adornment in public spaces. It is a traditional craft typically transmitted through mentor-apprentice relationships and is an integral part of societies’ social and cultural identity.

Bosnia and Herzegovina - Grass mowing competition custom in Kupres. The annual mowing competition that takes place in July at a specific meadow called Strljanica is the most important social event in the Kupres municipality. The contest involves the manual mowing of grass using a scythe and is judged by the time, effort, and amount mown as cutting grass at that altitude requires strength and a special technique. Traditionally, the competitors are men aged 18 and above. The practice is transmitted within families from father to son.

China - Taijiquan. Taijiquan is a traditional physical practice characterized by relaxed, circular movements in concert with breath regulation and cultivation of a righteous and neutral mind. Originating during the mid-17th century in Henan Province in central China, the practice has spread to the rest of the country and is followed by a wide array of people. Influenced by Daoist and Confucian thought and traditional Chinese medicine, the element has developed into several schools (or styles) named after a clan or a master.

China, Malaysia - Ong Chun/Wangchuan/Wangkang ceremony, rituals and related practices for maintaining the sustainable connection between man and the ocean. The Ong Chun ceremony and related practices is rooted in folk customs of worshipping Ong Yah, a deity believed to protect people and their lands from disaster. The element is centered in coastal communities in China’s Minnan region and in Melaka, Malaysia. The ceremony includes welcoming Ong Yah to temples or clan halls, delivering ‘good brothers’ (people lost at sea) from torment, and honouring the connection between people and the ocean. Performances during the procession feature different types of dancing.

Czechia - Handmade production of Christmas tree decorations from blown glass beads. The handmade production of Christmas tree decorations from blown glass beads, uses beads that are silvered, coloured and decorated by hand. Considered a key cultural element of the Giant and Jizera Mountain regions of North Bohemia, the traditional craft has been passed down through families for generations. It is also safeguarded by the Kulhavý family workshop, the only small production workshop to have survived economic transformation. The creation of Christmas ornaments such as these appear in folk tales about Krakonoš, the legendary ruler of the mountains.

Finland - Sauna culture in Finland. Sauna culture is an integral part of the lives of the majority of the Finnish population. Traditionally the sauna was considered a sacred space, ‘a church of nature’. It is not only used to wash one’s body, but also to cleanse the mind and enjoy a sense of inner peace. There are a variety of forms and approaches in sauna culture, with none taking precedence over another. Traditions are transmitted through families and can be practised in private homes or public places.

France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy - Musical art of horn players, an instrumental technique linked to singing, breath control, vibrato, resonance of place and conviviality. The musical art of horn players, an instrumental technique linked to singing, breath control, vibrato, resonance of place and conviviality relates to the techniques and skills used to play the horn. Playing the horn is a performative art open to musical creativity and practised on festive occasions. Players come from all backgrounds and this great social mix is one of the hallmarks of current horn practice. Horn music maintains a vast, lively musical repertoire constantly enriched since the 17th century and a great sense of belonging and continuity stems from interpreting this common repertoire.

Indonesia, Malaysia - Pantun. Pantun is a rhyming form of Malay verse. It is the most widespread oral form in maritime Southeast Asia. Many verses express love of a romantic partner, family, community, and the natural world. Pantun is a socially acceptable medium of indirect communication and also provides moral guidance as verses contain religious and cultural values. Pantun is recited in song and writing at weddings, rituals, and official ceremonies.

Iran (Islamic Republic of), Armenia - Pilgrimage to the St. Thaddeus Apostle Monastery.The annual three-day pilgrimage to St Thaddeus Apostle Monastery in northwestern Iran venerates two prominent saints: St Thaddeus, an Apostle of Christ, and St Santukhd, the first female Christian martyr. The pilgrimage is the primary social and cultural event of Iranian-Armenians and followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The commemoration ceremony includes special liturgies, processions, prayers, and fasting. It culminates in a Holy Mass. Special times are set aside for traditional Armenian folk performances and Armenian dishes are served during the event.

Italy, France - The art of glass beads. The art of glass beads is linked to the wealth of knowledge and mastery of a material (glass) and an element (fire). It uses specific traditional tools and processes. Different types of beads are produced, such as a lume and da canna beads in Italy, or hollow beads made either on a mandrel or by blowing into a hollow cane in France. Gifts made with glass beads are used to mark certain events and social occasions and the practice promotes social cohesion and dexterity in manual and craft work.

Japan - Traditional skills, techniques and knowledge for the conservation and transmission of wooden architecture in Japan. Traditional skills, techniques and knowledge for the conservation and transmission of wooden architecture in Japan involves a set of traditional skills, techniques and knowledge, including sakan plastering, harvesting of Japanese cypress bark, lacquer painting, production of tatami mats, and much more. Wood has been used in houses since ancient times, with master craftsmen training apprentices as successors. Nowadays, knowledge and traditional skills are mainly transmitted through preservation associations. Restoration of traditional wooden structures requires cooperation, fosters social cohesion and strengthens the cultural identity of communities.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey - Traditional intelligence and strategy game: Togyzqumalaq, Toguz Korgool, Mangala/Göçürme. Traditional intelligence and strategy game: Togyzqumalaq, Toguz Korgool, Mangala/Göçürme is a traditional game played on either dedicated or improvised boards such as pits on the ground. The game has several variations and can be played with pellets made of stone, wood, nuts or seeds, which are distributed across the pits. The player who gathers the most pellets wins. The practice is also linked to other traditional crafts such as wood and stone carving and jewellery making. The game improves players’ cognitive, motor and social skills, and is transmitted both informally and through formal education.

Malawi, Zimbabwe - Art of crafting and playing Mbira/Sansi, the finger-plucking traditional musical instrument in Malawi and Zimbabwe. The art of crafting and playing Mbira/Sansi, a traditional finger-plucking musical instrument in Malawi and Zimbabwe, has a key role for the communities concerned. The Mbira/Sansi consists of a wooden board with metal keys attached on top and is sometimes mounted on a calabash/wooden resonator. The instrument produces a fluid percussive sound considered to be mystic, tranquil and enchanting. The music played on the instrument is characterized by its cyclical nature with songs that convey important messages condemning negative behaviour, for example. The Mbira/Sansi acts as a ‘weapon’ to denounce violence and other societal ills.

Malta - Il-Ftira, culinary art and culture of flattened sourdough bread in Malta. Il-Ftira, culinary art and culture of flattened sourdough bread in Malta, is a key part of the cultural heritage of the Maltese archipelago. Ftira has a thick crust and light internal texture, characterized by an open crumb. The halved loaf is filled with Mediterranean-type ingredients such as olive oil, tomatoes, capers, and olives, with seasonal variants. Eating ftira as a filled snack or appetiser fosters a shared identity in Malta, and skilled bakers are required to shape it by hand. Apprentices learn the practice in bakeries and various other types of training programmes are also available.

Paraguay - Practices and traditional knowledge of Terere in the culture of Pohã Ñana, Guaraní ancestral drink in Paraguay. Terere is a traditional drink prepared in a jug or thermos, in which cold water is mixed with Pohã Ñana medicinal herbs crushed in a mortar. It is served in a glass pre-filled with yerba mate and sucked with a bombilla. Preparing the Terere is an intimate ritual based on a series of pre-established codes and each Pohã Ñana herb has health benefits linked to popular wisdom passed down through the generations. The practice fosters social cohesion and helps raise awareness of the rich Garani cultural and botanical heritage.

Poland, Belarus - Tree beekeeping culture. Tree beekeeping culture includes knowledge, skills, practices, rituals and beliefs connected to wild bee-breeding in tree hives or log hives in forest areas. Tree beekeepers take care of bees in a special way by trying to minimize any interference with their natural life cycle. Tree beekeeping culture has given rise to numerous social practices and culinary and medicinal traditions. Transmission takes place mainly within tree beekeeping families and through brotherhoods. The practice fosters a sense of community and a shared awareness of responsibility to the environment.

The Representative List seeks to enhance visibility for the traditional practices and know-how of communities. It now numbers 492 elements.

Additions to the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices

France - The Martinique yole, from construction to sailing practices, a model for heritage safeguarding. Created several centuries ago, the Martinique yole reflects the importance of traditional boats in the history of the region and is ideally adapted to the specific conditions along the island’s coasts. A spontaneous movement to safeguard these boats developed while they faced the threat of disappearing and the safeguarding programme has grown over the years. The programme’s main purpose is to preserve the know-how of local boat builders, transmit know-how on sailing, strengthen ties between yole practitioners and the local community, and create a federation to organize major events.

Germany, Austria, France, Norway, Switzerland - Craft techniques and customary practices of cathedral workshops, or Bauhütten, in Europe, know-how, transmission, development of knowledge and innovation. The Bauhüttenwesen appeared in the Middle Ages on the construction sites of European cathedrals. In German Bauhüttenwesen refers both to the organization of a network of workshops which build and restore edifices and to the workshops themselves. Now, as then, these workshops are home to various trades working in close collaboration, forming a supra-regional network that extends beyond national borders. Faced with the progressive shortage of technical skills, the workshops have become institutions that preserve, transmit and develop traditional techniques and know-how.

Greece - Polyphonic caravan, researching, safeguarding and promoting the Epirus polyphonic song. The Polyphonic Caravan is a longstanding project aimed at researching, safeguarding and promoting the Epirus polyphonic song that touches on almost every aspect of life and is performed by a group of singers. In the mid-1990s, a group of young people founded the NGO ‘Apiros (Polyphonic Caravan)’ to address the threats to the element after inhabitants of Epirus began migrating to large urban centers. Their primary goals remains to raise awareness of the practice, document it, build bridges among practitioners and bring them together.

The Register of Good Safeguarding Practices facilitates the sharing of successful safeguarding experiences. It showcases examples of the effective transmission of living cultural practices and knowledge to future generations. As of this year, the Register numbers 25 Good Practices.

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