The national body charged with the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is the Ministry of Culture and Sports acting through its Dirección Técnica de Patrimonio Intangible (DTPI, Department of Technical Management of Intangible Heritage) and Dirección General de Desarrollo Cultural y Fortalecimiento de las Culturas (Directorate-General of Cultural Development). Other institutions safeguard intangible cultural heritage relating to the different groups in the country, e.g. the cultural commission of the Municipality of Quetzaltenango (Mayan-Quiche culture) and the Pixab Chi Institute (western Guatemala). A new dedicated Intangible Cultural Heritage Law is under development. The country’s cultural heritage policies form part of a ‘broader vision’ that allows national and/or municipal authorities to recognize the contribution of intangible cultural heritage bearers to national identity and inter-cultural dialogue. An Intangible Cultural Heritage Policy was developed in 2007 with UNESCO support and the participation of 45 social organizations from the four main ethnic groups. This intangible cultural heritage policy was monitored in 2013 after its first six years of implementation.
Actions for training in intangible cultural heritage management are promoted by the DTPI at the municipal level for those entities responsible for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage locally. The Ministry of Culture has two research centres specializing in research and documentation in the areas of Cultural Heritage and Cultural Development. In addition, research concerning intangible cultural heritage is carried out by the Centro de Estudios Folklóricos (CEFOL, Folklore Studies Centre), the Instituto de Estudios Interétnicos (IDEI, Institute of Ethnic Studies), both based at the University of San Carlos, and the School of History (which offers degrees in Anthropology and Archaeology) is also involved in designing and undertaking research into intangible cultural heritage and developing appropriate research methodologies. TV Maya broadcasts documentaries about various communities, as do several other television broadcasters.
An Inventories Unit has been established and an inventory registration form and the methodology for its use were defined in 2012 by national experts, anthropologists and historians with the help of an expert from IPHAN in Brazil. Importantly, the inventory is regarded as a tool for linking intangible cultural heritage safeguarding plans. A separate process is being developed for inventorying previously-declared intangible cultural heritage elements through an evaluation exercise to determine the current state of such heritage.
The criteria used for the inclusion of intangible cultural heritage in the inventory are as follows: it relates to an intangible cultural heritage element as defined under national legislation and by the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage; an application for entry is accompanied by documentation showing the free, prior and informed consent of the bearers and their participant community; the participating community appoints culture bearers or cultural representatives to support the process of data collection in the field; and a spatial review, validation and analysis of the current state of the inventory item has been set, allowing for risks, threats and potential problems in safeguarding measures to be identified. On the basis of the information gathered, safeguarding measures are evaluated, along with the potential of the groups and the authorities to fulfil these. Tripartite agreements for this are established between: the local authorities, community organizations and culture bearers.
Inventories are participatory and consensus is established with the local population prior to the inventorying. The development of inventories promotes community participation and often results in the assessment and recognition of the community’s own culture. Once the final entry has been completed, it is validated and analyzed with the culture bearers, the participating community and the local or municipal authorities. The aim is to empower people so that they can take the lead in the safeguarding measures proposed.
In terms of measures to promote the function of intangible cultural heritage in society, intangible cultural heritage is viewed as important for the construction of identity and valuing the differences between and cultural diversity of the 23 ethnic groups of the Maya, Xinca, Garifuna and Ladino peoples. For example, the Pawajtun award is annually given to two outstanding artisans or craftspeople in recognition of their contribution to national identity and to the transmission of their knowledge and techniques.
Among measures to ensure the recognition of, respect for and enhancement of intangible cultural heritage, TV Maya has produced documentaries about the intangible cultural heritage of Garifuna-African descendants and the Xinca and Mayan communities, creating opportunities for dialogue with the community about the living culture manifested in their festivals, cultural activities, rituals, etc. Since 2012, the Technical Directorate has developed a series of information and awareness-raising workshops targeted at girls, young people, adults, culture bearers and interested communities. Local media have supported the dissemination of this information. The Comisión de Lugares Sagrados de los Pueblos Indígenas (Commission of Sacred Sites of Maya Peoples) is building a geo-referenced map and has developed a User Manual of sacred places which maps the energies that are located in the hills, mountains, rivers, lakes, caves, archaeological sites and parks, etc. In addition, discussions have been held with archaeologists over the management plans for sites and parks, where intangible values are assessed to complement tangible elements.
Guatemala’s bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation includes its membership in the Regional Centre for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Latin America (CRESPIAL), a Category 2 Centre under the auspices of UNESCO based in Peru, thus facilitating capacity building, the exchange of experiences and the promotion of an integrated vision of intangible cultural heritage. CRESPIAL has also supported the financing of safeguarding projects with three national organizations: the culture of San Mateo Chuj Ixtatan Huehuetenango; the rights to use the Xinca language in Jalapa; and the rescue of Garifuna culture in Livingston. Also within the CRESPIAL framework, Brazil has cooperated in helping to identify safeguarding measures with community participation; and Colombia has facilitated capacity building for the development of safeguarding plans.
Guatemala has two elements on the Representative List, namely: the language, dance and music of the Garifuna (incorporated in 2008, having been proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001) (multinational with Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua); and the Rabinal Achí dance drama tradition (also incorporated in 2008, after its proclamation as a Masterpiece in 2005). For the Garifuna, inscription has been a strategic tool allowing for a revitalization of the element, which has increased awareness and greatly improved the bearers’ situation within Guatemala, particularly in reducing discrimination towards them and giving a marginalized group national recognition. It has also given visibility to the role of women as the bearers and transmitters of the element. The inflow of tourists has increased and this provides important additional income for families. For Rabinal Achí, inscription has also encouraged the modification of paternalist and centralist models that did not allow for sustainability: In communities like Rabinal, facing extreme poverty and the effects of internal armed conflict, working with intangible cultural heritage can provide an opportunity for development. Nevertheless, prior to inscription, communities developed unrealistic expectations of the financial benefits that would result, and this has required careful and patient efforts to implement more realistic safeguarding measures.
For the preparation of the present reports on the elements, a team based in Livingston worked directly with members of the Garifuna community. Consultations were held by telephone and in meetings. The report on the Rabinal Achí element was based on monthly reports submitted by the Xajoj Tun Association. In parallel, meetings were held with the bearers and the information was compiled by the Ministry of Culture.