The body with overall responsibility for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage is the Ministry of Culture, which issued the Policy for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage in Colombia (2009) and established the National Cultural Heritage System. Under this, the Intangible Cultural Heritage Group (ICHG) was created within the Heritage Office as the body with competence for implementing the 2003 Convention and that issues public policy guidelines and management tools to promote and strengthen safeguarding the social processes of intangible cultural heritage. Law 1185 of 2008 provides for the preparation of a national Intangible Cultural Heritage Representative List (ICHRL) and creates the National Cultural Heritage System for heritage safeguarding and protection policies. The Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History (ICANH) supports the management of the ICHRL.
The Ministry of Culture’s Heritage Office has a ‘Capacity Strengthening Strategy’, which aims to promote, in a participatory manner, ownership of the Safeguarding Policy in the field of intangible cultural heritage through training. The Strategy aims to weave a network of multipliers through the ‘training of trainers’ and promote management of intangible cultural heritage among local inhabitants and public servants of the cultural sector. The training methodology is based on open dialogue and cultural exchange scenarios that contribute to safeguarding through direct communication with communities, groups, cultural agents, cultural institutions and other social actors. The Safeguarding Policy aims to strengthen management capacity of intangible cultural heritage through six strategies: strengthening social management; promotion of intangible cultural heritage and development of knowledge; effective safeguarding; acknowledgment of cultural diversity: education and a differential approach; intangible cultural heritage as a sustainable development strategic factor; and communication and dissemination.
There is currently no single institution charged with collecting and holding documentation related to intangible cultural heritage and the challenge is to establish institutions for this at the national level and promoting and strengthening-related research. Some specific documenting-related measures have been adopted in ‘Special Safeguarding Plans’ (SSPs), such as creating a dedicated Library and Information Centre in cooperation with the General Archive of the Nation and the National Library of Colombia. Undertaken in a participatory manner, this included the recovery of historical records, as well as training for local people in the National Archive System and preparation of a space for the conservation of documents locally. The Heritage Office also holds official documents of protection and safeguarding projects and is accessible for public consultation. In addition, an information system is being designed for managing documents gathered through various safeguarding strategies of the Ministry of Culture. Anyone may request information from the ICHG and all information kept is public and may be distributed freely, taking into account any reservations expressed by bearers, particularly concerning restrictions to access.
There are two types of inventory records in Colombia: (i) the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List (ICHL) administered by the Heritage Office and the ICANH; and (ii) Intangible Heritage Inventories under the supervision of regional governments. Both the ICHL and the regional inventories are participatory tools aimed at safeguarding through communities’ collective reflection on the importance of their own heritage. In addition, the ICHL requires preparation of a SSP, understood as a social agreement among bearers and resource-obtaining management tool, as well as technical and financial support from the State. In contrast, there are now 21 regional inventories in 32 Departments. The ICHRL is organized according to 12 domains (e.g. traditional medicine, traditional products, handicraft manufacturing techniques, popular arts, festive and ludic acts) while the regional inventories may be territorial, population-related (by ethnic group, group, gender, age etc.) or thematic. In addition to other criteria, the viability status of an element is taken as a fundamental criterion for its inclusion in any of the foregoing inventories.
As far as other safeguarding measures are concerned, there is a need to strengthen public and private institutional capacities for safeguarding and to position safeguarding within governmental planning programmes, particularly for education. The aforementioned Law also establishes a tax incentive for those who invest in heritage safeguarding. A ‘Policy for the knowledge, safeguarding, and promotion of foodways of Colombia’ was adopted in 2012 aimed at valuing and safeguarding cultural knowledge and practices of traditional Colombian cuisine as key factors of identity, belonging, and welfare. A further ‘Policy for safeguarding and promotion of popular arts’ is being developed.
An overall safeguarding approach is to involve tradition bearers by developing different safeguarding tools designed by the Ministry of Culture. As a result, the ICHG has prioritised and promoted research exercises from its different programmes which have highlighted participation as the model for effective safeguarding. For example, in formulating the policy for safeguarding and promotion of popular arts and artisanal traditions, knowledge exchange processes were undertaken in order to document artisanal techniques and trades in Santander and traditional gardening in Antioquia. The ‘Capacity Strengthening Strategy’ includes incentives of small research projects that highlight intangible cultural heritage in the daily life of participants and has led to over 60 research projects. The aforementioned SSPs include an important research component during their identification and diagnosis phase whose purpose is to develop an in-depth description of the element to be safeguarded.
Promotional actions include the ‘Live exhibit Colombia: the Nature of Culture’ within the framework of the ‘2011 Folklife Festival’; the ‘4th Cultural Heritage National Encounter: The Voices of the Intangible’ (2013) through which safeguarding experiences in the country were exchanged, as well as the ‘National Musical Bands Competition of Paipa’.
Intangible cultural heritage is not yet formally integrated into educational programmes as a national policy strategy but some local initiatives are led by different institutions. For example, an educational area was established focused on traditional foodways within the ‘School-Workshop Program: Tools for Peace’ framework of the Heritage Office. This programme combines social goals for fighting against poverty with cultural goals, by training vulnerable youngsters to protect and safeguard intangible cultural heritage.
As far as education on natural spaces and places of memory is concerned, the ICHG includes several programmes highlighting the relationship between elements of intangible cultural heritage, community memory and the physical places where they are expressed. The ‘Research, Memory and Heritage’ programme stresses the significance of social spaces for collective memory and the role they play in enactment of intangible cultural heritage. In addition, SSPs for indigenous elements include ethno-education concerning safeguarding actions and the Heritage Office has formulated public policy guidelines for the protection of systems/sacred sites of indigenous peoples as a tool for safeguarding physical spaces where intangible cultural heritage is expressed.
In terms of bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation, the Ministry of Culture participates actively in Latin American cooperation initiatives. Colombia participates in the activities of the Regional Centre for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Latin America (CRESPIAL) and the Heritage Office has held two seminars with it in Colombia (on safeguarding plans and another on the conservation of sound and audio-visual archives). Colombia is also involved in the Community Policy on Border Integration and Development of the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) and the Andean Committee for Safeguarding Tangible and Intangible Heritage established in 2012. The ‘11th Encounter for the Promotion and Dissemination of Intangible Heritage of lbero-American Countries: Memories of the Know-how’ was held in Santa Cruz de Mompox, Colombia and saw the participation of bearers of different Latin-American elements.
Colombia has entered into several regional bilateral collaborations, of which a few are noted here. Bilateral cooperation has been engaged with Venezuela over two transnational elements (the Wayuu normative system and the Labour Songs from the Llano) and with Ecuador over Marimba music and traditional chants from the South Pacific. Since 2009, Colombia has been building with Brazil the ‘Binational Initiative for the Cultural Cartography of the North-eastern Amazon’ aimed at safeguarding the indigenous spiritual heritage of the communities living in the Negro river basin. In 2012, the Colombia-Costa Rica Mixed Commission agreed to undertake a memory, cultural heritage, and entrepreneurship project in order to benefit Afro-descendant communities from Limon Centro. Since 2014, with Peru it has begun the preparation of the preliminary mapping of ‘Cultural heritage elements of the Tikuna people’ in three communities of Leticia, Amazonas (Colombia).
Eight elements from Colombia have been inscribed on the Representative List, namely: Carnival of Barranquilla (2008); Cultural Space of Palenque de San Basilio (2008); Holy Week processions in Popayán (2009); Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (2009); Wayuu normative system, applied by the Pütchipü’üi (palabrero) (2010); Marimba music and traditional chants from Colombia’s South Pacific region (2010); Traditional knowledge of the jaguar shamans of Yuruparí (2011); and the Festival of Saint Francis of Assisi, Quibdó (2012).