Under its new policy for cultural development, the Ministry for Cultural Affairs has given prominence to intangible cultural heritage and the National Heritage Institute has gathered a team of conservators from among young graduates to collect elements and develop an inventory of intangible cultural heritage. The main bodies responsible for implementing the Convention are the following five entities related to the MFCA: the National Heritage Institute (INP); the Agency for the Enhancement of Heritage and the Promotion of Culture (AMVPPC); the Centre for Arab and Mediterranean Music; the National Commission for Intangible Cultural Heritage; and the General-Directorate for Heritage. A number of other bodies attached to other Ministries are also involved in different aspects of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, as follows: the National Office of Tunisian Handicraft; the National Tunisian Office for Tourism; and the Technical Centre for the Creation, Innovation and Supervision of Carpets and Weaving. In addition, ethnographic museums (of which ten based in different regions of the country) form a network covering the whole country and play a notable role in this safeguarding dynamic.
Certain members of the aforementioned institutions have benefited from four capacity-building workshops organized by UNESCO from 2014 to 2016 (supported by the Norway Funds-in-Trust) after an initial training cycle at INP in 2012 for twenty heritage conservators attached to different regions. A number of governmental bodies are charged with instructing and training personnel in heritage management and several universities have been offering master’s degrees and doctoral courses on aspects of intangible cultural heritage. The AMVPPC and the Centre for Arab and Mediterranean Music also undertake training related to particular aspects of living heritage.
Tunisia’s experience of documentation dates back to the creation of the Centre of Popular Arts and Traditions in the 1960s and field investigations conducted by ethnographers, anthropologists, sociologists and historians that formed the basis for the first archives of oral traditions, traditional dress, craftsmanship and eating habits. Although all the institutions mentioned in the previous section contribute to documentation, the leading bodies are: the Division of Inventories and Research (INP); the Central Library (INP); the National Heritage Institute (INP); the Department for the Inventory and Studies of Ethnographic Items (INP); the Centre for Arab and Mediterranean Music and the National Office of Tunisian Handicraft. Each of these organizations makes its documentary materials available to groups and individuals, and these can be freely consulted. Much documentation is gathered by civil society, with documentation campaigns organized on the initiative of associations. To strengthen capacities in documentation, the INP has held a number of training workshops.
Although no inventory of intangible cultural heritage elements has yet been conducted in Tunisia in the sense of the Convention, a number of ethnographic inventories have been made by the INP and other state institutions, in close collaboration with local communities and NGOs. These include an inventory of endangered crafts and associated know-how conducted by the INP in four regions (Tunis, Nabeul, Sfax and Gabès). Another example is an inventory of traditional professions begun in 2008 and four regions (Béja, Jendouba, Bizerte and Tataouine) have already been inventoried, with community participation. In addition to crafts know-how, inventorying has concentrated on four main domains, namely maraboutism (saint worship), traditional games, women’s traditional knowledge in the North-east of Tunisia and the conservation of alimentary products in the Bizerte region. Furthermore, the field collection of oral expressions (poetry and music) has seen an increased interest since the Centre for Arab and Mediterranean Music was established in 1992. From 2006-2012, several recording activities have been conducted in order to safeguard various forms of musical expressions through systematic audio and video recordings along with interviews with practitioners. An example is the collection of the musical heritage of the Governorship of Kasserine in 2011. In addition, the Centre attempts to record performances during local festivals, such as through the recording of the first session of the Urs al-tabl (marriage of tambourines) in 2008. The INP has also provided scientific and financial support to students to conduct research into intangible cultural heritage.
Among other safeguarding measures, one worth highlighting is the regular financial support and technical assistance being provided to various festivals related to intangible cultural heritage. Of these, thirty-six examples are given of various traditional festivals of different types that take place throughout the country, in urban and rural settings, and that attract a wide public of all ages and social groups. Some practitioners have benefited from the microcredit facilities offered by the National Office of Tunisian Handicraft (ONAT) and some associations allowing certain crafts to be reincorporated into the sustainable development process. In addition, a number of other practical actions are undertaken, such as encouraging cultural tourism based on traditional products, the vernacular diet and traditional performances and the creation of ‘Craft Villages’ by the ONAT.
Concerning information and awareness raising, intangible cultural heritage is disseminated countrywide through specialized reviews, works on traditional culture and popularizing and awareness-raising brochures. Several awareness-raising activities are carried out by TV channels covering various elements of intangible cultural heritage such as popular poetry, traditional music, culinary traditions and traditional dress, with the participation of specialists and professionals in the field. The establishment by the Centre for Arab and Mediterranean Music of databases of nearly 30,000 audio and audio-visual recordings is a further means of disseminating and documenting intangible cultural heritage. Information on intangible cultural heritage is also provided to persons, communities and institutions interested in using it in cultural or social projects (documentaries, festivals, workshops for practitioners and the general public). The Ministry for Cultural Affairs also organizes the Heritage Month in April-May every year with the central aim of raising public awareness, especially of young people, on the values of heritage. Several of these have been dedicated entirely to intangible cultural heritage or to a particular category thereof, such as rites, beliefs and craft skills. The creation of a National Day of craftsmanship and traditional dress has added to this impact. These Days provide young people with an opportunity to rediscover their heritage through conferences, exhibitions, artistic presentations as well as hands-on workshops and other activities.
Although intangible cultural heritage is not integrated explicitly into formal educational materials, it is taught within some subjects such as music and art and is used in extra-curricular cultural activity clubs operating in many colleges and high schools. Professional training centres offer young people numerous opportunities for apprenticeships in traditional craft skills such as jewellery-making, embroidery and wood-working. On National Days (see above), the INP, NGOs and Houses of Culture related to the Ministry for Cultural Affairs offer workshops for youth aimed at introducing them to the 2003 Convention and stimulating their interest in intangible cultural heritage as an identity marker and vector of sustainable development. Youth Houses, under the Ministry of Youth, have also harnessed intangible cultural heritage through exhibitions, workshops presenting traditional crafts know-how and activity sessions built around elements of intangible cultural heritage, particularly popular music. Capacity building for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage covers various activities, including those undertaken by the ONAT through a network of facilitators with considerable experience in the profession to promote Tunisian craftsmanship, recruit new artisans and strengthen their know-how in certain domains. Some university students who have acted as mediators between experts and the local community have also benefited from training in the management of intangible cultural heritage. Natural spaces and places of memory important for intangible cultural heritage are increasingly taken into account in heritage policy and the INP, AMVPPC and various associations for safeguarding medina (old towns) such as Tunis have conserved zaouia (spaces sacred to saints) and craft workshops.
In terms of bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation, the AMVPPC has developed a project within a Tunisian-Italian cooperation framework aimed at regional sustainable development based on cultural tourism, developing cultural itineraries around the cultural specificities of the areas involved, in particular intangible cultural heritage and crafts. Within this cooperation framework, the ONAT also dedicated funding in 2009 to a project to develop craft enterprises and strengthen the private sector. Exchanges of experts have been developed through some international seminars, such as two held in 2006 and 2008, respectively, on tourism and manual professions in Islamic countries and the employment of craftspersons in architecture with a body related to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Seminars have also been organized with Libyan experts in 2007 and 2010, with Algerian experts in 2008 and with French experts in 2011 also on craft-related topics. The ‘Intercultural Dialogue through The Art of Carpets’ initiative was launched in 2012 by the Technical Centre for the Creation, Innovation and Supervision of Carpets and Weaving and in the framework of EUROPAID-2012, financed by the Delegation of European Union in Tunis. It was aimed at strengthening intercultural dialogue between Europe and countries from the Southern Mediterranean region. This project was established in Sicily with the Italian-Arab Centre and the Municipality of Ulassai and allowed for the exchange of knowledge, techniques, weaving methods and craft skills. The INP concluded an agreement in 2011 with ISESCO, the Eurethno network of the European Federation of Scientific and Technical Cooperation Networks and the Sardinian-based Olympiad of Traditional Games to develop an international thesaurus of heritage games, organize an annual multiregional Olympiad and raise awareness of cultural and scientific organizations. NGOs have also proved active in regional cooperation, such as the Association for the Safeguarding of the Medina of Kef, which conducted a training session in 2011 supported by the Spanish Foundation for Innovation and Craft Industries.
As yet, Tunisia has no elements inscribed on the Representative List.