The Planning Division of the Ministry of Culture and the Arts (‘the Ministry’) is the body with overall responsibility for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and an Intangible Cultural Heritage Unit (‘ICH Unit’) established within it in May 2014 to take measures for implementing the 2003 Convention. The Ministry also cooperates with other ministries and institutions whose activities relate to ICH, such as the Ministries of Indigenous Medicine, National Heritage, Mass Media, Education and Higher Education.
The ministry uses the National Training Centre in Veyangoda where 45 participants can be trained in situ at one time, for training in ICH and to provide in-service training for Cultural Promotion Officers. Other governmental training centres, situated in different cities, include the Management Development and Training Institute, the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute and the Cultural Training Centre. The ministry also provides training programmes for Cultural Officers and other staff (about 600) on the importance of safeguarding measures for ICH.
The Planning Division of the Ministry of Culture and the Arts coordinated three capacity-building training workshops between 2012 and 2014 organised by UNESCO in the framework of the UNESCO Japanese Funds-in-Trust and with assistance from the UNESCO New Delhi Office. In these three workshops on implementation of the Convention at national level, inventory-making and elaboration of nomination files to Lists of the Convention, 25 universities, the Library Science Board, the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation, as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the media etc. participated.
Some departments of anthropology, sociology and history in the universities of Sri Jayawardena Pura, Kelaniya, Peradeniya, Ruhuna and the University of the Performing Arts have established institutions which can be used as ICH documentation centres. Some professionals working in these institutions have already participated in capacity-building workshops conducted by UNESCO trainers, trained as resource persons and are involved in other local ICH-related activities conducted by the ministry. Initiatives on collection and documentation of ICH in the districts of Kandy and Nuwara Eliya were taken by the ICH Unit following a training workshop held in 2014. The ministry also opened a Folk Music conservation library consisting of modern and sophisticated technology in 2010 that holds information on artistic traditions held by individuals and institutes in different parts of the country, records and conserves this information using digital technology, makes it available for study and research purposes and publishes the knowledge as a promotional exercise.
The ICH Unit has also conducted a research project on the history of traditional drumming, current status, future potential and rituals, folklore and social background connected with it, as well as ways and means of preserving the art.
There are five inventories of ICH in Sri Lanka, namely: (1) Inventory on ICH in Polonnaruwa District, administered by the ICH Unit; (2) Inventory on ICH in Anuradhapura District; (3) Inventory on ICH in Matale District; (4) Inventory on ICH in Kandy District; and (5) Inventory on ICH in Nuwara Eliya District (the last two are in progress). The fundamental ordering principle used is territorial, based on the country’s 25 districts which are divided into several Divisional Secretariat Division(s) (DSDs). Each DSD has a Cultural Officer who, with the help of local people (a village chief, temple priest, church priest and community members), have collected data and information from ICH bearers in a given DSD area. Information on the element’s viability is collected but not mentioned in the inventory. Inventories will be updated every four years. The ministry has started inventorying-making in 2013 and is expected to update in 2016. Non-governmental partners for identifying and defining ICH are not involved so far, but community members are participating.
For promoting the function in society of ICH and integrating its safeguarding into planning programmes, the Planning Division of the ministry is currently including several safeguarding programmes into the Annual Action Plan of the ministry.
Since 2010, specific safeguarding measures undertaken by the ministry have included implementing several projects with the main objectives of preserving and promoting selected ICH elements, raising awareness among the public and heritage bearers and ensuring transmission. The main projects are: (i) ‘The Conservation of Folklore and Folk Music’ project which has, as a prime objective, to conserve folk heritage such as folk songs, their sound patterns, and sound patterns of folk musical instruments (such as hewisi and wannam), rites and rituals; (ii) ”The Preservation of Ola leaf’ project which will study and conserve ola leaves and study traditional knowledge and artistic skills related to them to be transmitted to future generations; (iii) ‘Revealing intangible cultural heritage in Matale’, a pilot project to collect information on living heritage practices of people living in Matale district through a three-month survey launched in August 2012; and (iv) ‘Angam Martial Art Project’ which aims to identify masters of this 2,500 year-old martial art, preserve it, ensure its transmission, bring together all Angam fighters under the patronage of the government and measure and promote this martial art throughout the country.
Following the training described above, Cultural Officers will work to raise awareness about the importance of ICH and its safeguarding with students and their parents who visit the 172 cultural centres located in various Divisional Secretariat Divisions of the country.
At the higher education level, the University of Sri Jayawardenapura has already introduced ICH and related areas for anthropology undergraduates. Various research areas related to ICH have been selected by undergraduate and post graduate students of the above universities for research. A new subject area entitled ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage and Folklore Studies’ has been introduced for an external degree programme from 2014.
In terms of regional and international cooperation, the ministry has participated in activities pertaining to regional cooperation, such as an international seminar on ICH organised by UNESCO in Thailand. The ministry has also participated in 5th Session of the General Assembly of the State Parties to the 2003 Convention.
Sri Lanka has no elements inscribed on the Representative List or the Urgent Safeguarding List.