The National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) is the body responsible for the promotion and safeguarding of Belize’s culture, under NICH Act No. 331 (2000). It comprises four sub-agencies, of which three have overlapping responsibilities for various safeguarding efforts for intangible cultural heritage: the Institute for Social and Cultural Research (ISCR), the Museum of Belize and Houses of Culture, and the Institute of Creative Arts. A National Cultural Policy for Belize (finalized in 2014) provides an overall policy framework for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, among other topics. It declares that ‘the safeguarding, preservation and promotion of Belize’s tangible and intangible culture, along with the development of Cultural Creative Industries for the purpose of national unity, social cohesion and economic gain, can only come from the collective participation of cultural groups, councils, organizations, individuals and government entities’.
Since July 2012, the ISCR has brought together community culture activists to participate in training for the implementation of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage at the national level and for community-based inventorying. The Institution has also acted as the secretariat for building a national network of community culture activists with an interest in inventorying and safeguarding Belize’s intangible cultural heritage. Along with the ISCR, the main State documentation institutions are the National Heritage Library (NHL) and the National Library Service and Information System. The Belize Archives and Records Service (BARS) also functions as a secondary institution for receiving documentation. These institutions have a legal mandate to disseminate and allow access to any documentation for education and awareness so long as institutional procedures for access are met. Since 2012, the NHL and the ISCR have been required to make information available to community cultural activists for use in education and safeguarding efforts.
As a result of a series of UNESCO workshops held in 2012-2013 and supported by the UNESCO/Japanese Funds-in-Trust, the NICH and the ISCR have been tasked with establishing a national working group for inventorying. A number of cultural elements have been identified for inventorying by cultural workers and community representatives and all participants agreed that the inventorying exercise should start with the inventorying of Belize’s cultural celebrations. This will also allow for the identification of associated cultural elements for subsequent inventorying. The elements identified will be categorized into domains according to the 2003 Convention and both the degree of endangerment and how the knowledge is transmitted and safeguarded across generations will be considered. This planned inventorying exercise will treat all elements as potentially endangered. The Intangible Cultural Heritage Working Group (composed of workshop participants and other community cultural activists), supported by the ISCR, will assist communities in developing, supporting or enhancing safeguarding initiatives. The Intangible Cultural Heritage Working Group can update the inventory on the basis of need. Given the structure of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Working Group, community and NGO involvement in inventorying is ensured: it comprises members of the main registered NGOs, including the National Kriol Council, the National Garifuna Council and East Indian Councils and other community-based cultural organizations located in the six geographic districts of Belize.
National consultations leading up to the National Cultural Policy revealed that intangible cultural heritage is critical to the process of national development and that the cultural values and identity manifested in intangible cultural heritage help to contribute to pride and productivity. For example, practitioners of non-conventional and herbal medicine expressed their desire to have these elements reviewed through government entities and, where possible, to integrate these into conventional medicinal practices. Also, the policy proposes that organizers of national festivals try to integrate, showcase and highlight the intangible cultural heritage related to those celebrations. Field research on medicinal plants native to Belize and their various uses has led to the Bullet Tree programme to teach children how to create gardens and use the plant-based knowledge of community practitioners. The ISCR has studied two endangered intangible cultural heritage elements in Belize since 2009, namely: Grandball in Southern Belize and Carnaval in Caledonia Village, Northern Belize. The findings will be used to develop strategies with the communities for the safeguarding of endangered intangible cultural heritage.
Among measures to ensure the recognition of, respect for and enhancement of intangible cultural heritage, the National Festival of Arts is a major programme which systematically promotes intangible cultural heritage among children at the preschool, primary and high school levels. It is organized with the Ministry of Education in all six districts of Belize and students are assisted by itinerant teachers and others trained in the arts. Education is a primary focus of Belize’s safeguarding efforts: for instance, a programme was introduced in the Caledonia Government School in 2010, with the assistance of practitioners, to teach students about the cultural elements associated with the celebration of Carnival. The Government has also collaborated with two rural Maya communities and one Garifuna community in southern Belize to establish three community high schools for the transmission of Maya and Garifuna languages, cultural practices and beliefs. These schools rely on knowledge bearers to teach children about their intangible cultural heritage. For example, in Maya communities they are taught by bearers to play musical instruments and about Maya cosmology and beliefs about nature. The Ministry of Education encourages schools to use communities’ cultural experiences in teaching and disseminating intangible cultural heritage through its inclusive school curriculum.
Non-formal educational efforts include a Marimba Academy, established as a result of collaborative efforts between the Community of Artists for Cultural & Historical Endeavours (CACHE, a community-based cultural organization) and the Benque House of Culture, and funded by the Government. The Institute for Creative Arts provides technical support to communities interested in safeguarding performing arts and has, for instance, systematically assisted with workshops for the transmission and teaching of the Brukdong folk music genre. Such programmes are developed on the basis of requests made by community cultural groups.
As regards bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation, Belize has organized intangible cultural heritage workshops together with Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, under the auspices of the UNESCO Office in Kingston.
The incorporation of ‘Language, dance and music of the Garifuna’ on the Representative List in 2008 was the result of a multi-national effort among the Garifuna people of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, leading up to its initial proclamation as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Culture of Humanity in 2001. Since its inscription, Garifuna culture has found a prominent place in Belizean life and young people are now very involved in the transmission and performance of Garifuna music and dance, including the folk styles of Jankunu and Charikinari. The National Garifuna Council established the Guilisi Primary School for the promotion and preservation of Garifuna culture in Dangriga Town, which has a predominantly Garifuna community. In 2011, a new school building was opened (with funding from the Commonwealth Debt Initiative) with four classrooms and 175 students (some non-Garifuna). It uses the intercultural trilingual education approach for teaching English, Spanish and Garifuna languages, and teaches music and dance along with other traditional practices and knowledge. Information for the completion of the present report was provided by several cultural and educational institutions and organizations involved in implementing safeguarding practices within their communities.