The national body charged with the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MOCT) established under Proclamation No. 209/2000 (2000). It is mandated to identify, inventory, register, safeguard and promote the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of Ethiopia. The ARCCH has been designated by the Government as the body responsible for coordinating efforts of safeguarding and raising awareness of the Convention. The ARCCH has established two Directorates: (1) the Cultural Heritage Inventory, Inspection and Standardization Directorate; and (2) the Cultural Heritage Research Directorate. In addition, each Regional Culture and Tourism Bureau has responsibility for collecting and researching the intangible cultural heritage of its region. The University of Addis Ababa has also been a major partner to the Government in developing and implementing safeguarding policies.
The Cultural Heritage Inventory, Inspection and Standardization Directorate (under the ARCCH) is responsible for training in the management and safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage. Regional Cultural Offices are authorized to carry out training in intangible cultural heritage-related activities. However, due to a lack of trained manpower, expertise and budgetary constraints, all capacity building for intangible cultural heritage management has thus far been coordinated and facilitated by the ARCCH. In terms of specific capacity-building activities, the ARCCH developed and published an inventory manual in 2009 with the support of UNESCO that was disseminated countrywide. In 2011, the ARCCH held a national workshop for the implementation of the Convention (with the financial and expert support of UNESCO) with participants from the nine Regions, experts from two city administrations of culture and tourism, non-governmental organizations, research institutions and journalists. Also in 2011, ARCCH held a five-day workshop on the Convention, inventorying and safeguarding in Butajira (southern Ethiopia).
The ARCCH is also the body mandated to collect information and organize intangible cultural heritage data and documentation at the national level, primarily through the Cultural Heritage Research Directorate, and it holds all inventory-based and research documentation and publications (including audio-visual materials, photographs, etc.). Research projects have been conducted on social practices, best practices on traditional conflict resolutions, traditional educational systems and the documentation of traditional folktales and proverbs. Regional Culture and Tourism Bureaux are also responsible for collecting and preserving data and documentation on their intangible cultural heritage and for sending these to the ARCCH. For instance, the Harari Regional Cultural and Tourism Agency has collected traditional medicinal knowledge and researched traditional conflict resolution mechanisms and the oral traditions of the Harari people, and in the Benishangul Gumuz Region, the social practices of the Komo and Shinasha people have been recorded in VCD format.
With the collaboration and financial assistance of the UNESCO Office in Addis Ababa, the ARCCH developed and published a manual for conducting inventories according to the Convention in 2009. With further such financial support, community-based inventories were conducted by ARCCH experts in the Southern Region (56 of 82 of the country’s nationalities) over three phases during 2008 and 2009. The resulting inventory has been published in three volumes in both Amharic and English. This inventory process continued in 2011-2013 with the inventorying of the intangible cultural heritage of other regions in Ethiopia.
The main criterion for inclusion of an intangible cultural heritage element in the inventory is the acceptance and full recognition of the element by the community, group or individuals who value it, consider it to be significant to their identity and are motivated transmit it. The following specific criteria are applied: (1) each element should have a relationship with the history and tradition of that particular community or ethnic group; (2) the element should be transmitted from generation to generation; (3) the element should reflect the identity of its particular nation and nationality; (4) the element should reflect the creativity of that particular nation and nationality; (5) the element should be identified by the community as its own intangible heritage. Thus far, the inventory has taken into account the viability to the community and of intangible cultural heritage threatened with disappearance (e.g. the Ongota language, which has been a vehicle of the traditions and culture of the Biraile ethnic group).
In the five inventories that have been conducted in different regions, communities, groups and individuals were actively involved in and gave their consent to identifying and giving information on their intangible cultural heritage. Experts from non-governmental organizations (such as the Ethiopian Music Association, the Ethiopian Writers Association and those working on indigenous knowledge and traditional medicine) participated in and made valuable contributions to identifying and defining intangible cultural heritage.
With regard to measures to promote the function of intangible cultural heritage in society, the Cultural Policy of Ethiopia (1997) was designed, in particular, to ensure that the languages, heritage, history, fine arts, handicrafts, oral literature, customs, beliefs, and other cultural elements of the different nations and nationalities of Ethiopia receive equal recognition, respect and opportunity for development. This policy document also included actions relevant to intangible cultural heritage. The Growth and Transformation Plan (2010-2015) of the MOCT for intangible cultural heritage safeguarding (covering the completion of the inventories, promotion, enhancement, research and documentation) is to be cascaded to the Culture and Tourism Bureaux of the nine regional and two city administrations. The concepts of the Convention and of intangible cultural heritage have been promoted through social and other media, such as national radio, local FM radio stations, and national and regional TV and newspapers, as well as by museums throughout the country.
As far as education is concerned, knowledge and information about different festivals and the associated tangible aspects are integrated into school curricula. Educational and training programmes have also been conducted within the communities and groups concerned. For example, with the financial assistance of a UNESCO Participation Programme grant, a training workshop for 27 traditional women potters and 17 community representatives and governmental and non-governmental representatives concerned was organized in Awassa in 2011. This covered, inter alia, social and economic challenges facing traditional potters and discussions with designers about how they can adapt to the market without abandoning their traditional skills. Traditional forms of transmission are relatively strong and community elders use various social gatherings to transmit information and inform young people about cultural spaces. Regional and national festivals (held periodically and annually) and performances during such events are also an important means of non-formal transmission. Knowledge transmission through the practice of craftsmanship skills is gradually gaining greater recognition by young people.
Bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation includes hosting a regional meeting concerning the inventorying of intangible cultural heritage in which experts from Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia participated. The meeting focused on the identification and safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage in the three countries, and also on sharing experiences with each other.