The national body responsible for intangible cultural heritage is Lok Virsa (the National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage), which is active both directly and indirectly in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. Established in 1974 for the research, collection, documentation, safeguarding and dissemination of Pakistan’s folklore, oral traditions and regional culture, it holds the largest collection of sources and the largest ethnological museum in the country. It also has a Research Section, a well-equipped Media Centre and a publishing house. Lok Virsa’s private partner, the National Institute of Cultural Studies, offers courses with a special focus on intangible cultural heritage. Lok Virsa also organizes programmes and activities in collaboration with a number of non-governmental organizations working on safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. The report nevertheless points to a lack of will and commitment at the political level which, despite the best attempts of the specialist bodies, makes it difficult for them to operate effectively.
As far as training in the safeguarding of cultural heritage, the National Institute of Cultural Studies, established on its premises by Lok Virsa in collaboration with private partners, offers various professional diplomas (e.g. in hotel management, interior design, fashion and textile design, museum studies, and television direction and production) in which a special focus is placed on intangible cultural heritage. Lok Virsa also holds special music classes to build on the capacities of newcomers to the field.
Within Lok Virsa, the National Database of Cultural Assets (NDCA), along with the Research Section, Media Centre, Heritage Library, Ethnological Museum and the Pakistan Movement Museum, are the bodies active in the documentation of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The National Database of Cultural Assets, established in 2011, contains data from the cultural mapping of six districts. These data are directly indicated and shared by the community members of the relevant area. It is planning to conduct a cultural survey of the whole country which will help to identify many more intangible cultural heritage elements and, hopefully, stimulate their safeguarding. In 2012, Lok Virsa established a database of data on all known artisans in the country and a survey is currently underway to collect the complete data on folk artists and artisans from all over the country. This survey is being conducted at the district level and involves the central administrative departments and all other formal governmental and non-governmental organizations. In its Heritage Library, Lok Virsa also holds over 1,500 hours of video and 3,500 hours of audio recordings. These cover the folklife of Pakistan in various forms and formats and include dances, songs, documentaries and interviews etc. All this recorded data has also been digitized. Access to this Library, which also contains original manuscripts, original reports, field surveys and research monographs on Pakistani culture, is open to all.
An expert proposal for establishing a committee for the preparation of an inventory has been presented to the relevant Ministry. However, an informal ‘inventory’ is being developed in which elements of intangible cultural heritage are entered as they are identified through various sources e.g. individuals, experts, non-governmental organizations, communities and governmental bodies in the region where that particular intangible cultural heritage is found. In this process, the viability of the element, its ownership and how it is valued by the tradition’s bearers and, above all, its compatibility with the 2003 Convention are taken into account. The information is gathered either by community members and/or the tradition’s bearers or by Lok Virsa in the course of its day-to-day work of identifying, collecting and disseminating this heritage. However, recent efforts to carry out a cultural mapping of the whole country can serve as a first step towards the systematic preparation of a national inventory by helping to indicate the range and spread of intangible cultural heritage elements in the country.
One of the main measures to promote and disseminate intangible cultural heritage, support its transmission and raise awareness of Pakistan’s intangible cultural heritage is through National Folk Festivals which are held in all regions of Pakistan. These feature artisans at work, performances by folk singers, folk dancers, and folk artists as well as traditional cuisines, folk medicines, traditional games etc. The participation of performers and artisans is arranged by the provincial government in order to ensure representation from the region. Pavilions are also allocated to non-governmental organizations working on the promotion and safeguarding of the country’s folk and traditional heritage. Other such events are week-long festivals with the theme of Artisans at Work, which are a rich source of education and awareness raising for ordinary Pakistanis. Another means of raising awareness of intangible cultural heritage and its practitioners and of valuing their skills is the presentation of annual awards to folk artists and artisans by Lok Virsa. Such awards include Pride of Performance Awards, National Awards and National Recognition Certificates.
Lok Virsa also engages in educational programmes, awareness-raising and information programmes for the general public, in particular for children through educational museum visits to which all schools are invited for a nominal entry fee. It has also established Children’s Folklore Societies at schools in the remote areas of Sind, Baluchistan and Chitraj. This is an important action since these children probably cannot benefit from museum visit activities. The idea is to practise traditional culture at schools on special days, to ensure young people’s awareness of it and its transmission to the next generation. These folklore societies create museums in their schools by collecting cultural artefacts from their locality. Children then learn about the legends, folk tales and epics from their elders and present them on special cultural days in the different art forms of dance, drama and tableaux wearing traditional costumes etc. One example of non-formal education is a series of innovative workshops for artisans from all over the country on different themes (e.g. textiles, woodwork, metal work etc.) aimed at building the capacity of master artisans as master trainers in collaboration with various non-governmental organizations and governmental bodies. In these training sessions, artisans are trained in market trends, product design, packaging and market access. This workshop series is the brainchild of the Sungi Development Foundation (a non-governmental organization) and has received funding from GIZ (a German international cooperation organization) and resource persons are provided by Sungi and Dacchi (another non-governmental organization).
Pakistan has one element inscribed on the Representative List: the multinational element, Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Navruz, Nauroz or Nevruz (2009). As a result of its inscription, Nowrouz has a much higher profile and is now celebrated throughout the country and not just in specific geographic areas in the south-west, as was previously the case. A non-governmental organization based in Gilgat Baltistan, the Gojal Educational and Cultural Association (GECA), plays a special and central role in safeguarding this element. This non-governmental organization is composed of members of the community who have celebrated Nowrouz for centuries and are helping to promote and safeguard it at the national and international levels. GECA and authorities on the subject from the communities concerned were consulted through emails, telephone calls and interviews for the preparation of the present report.