United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Intangible Cultural Heritage

Intangible Cultural Heritage

Protecting cultural diversity by saving the heritage

The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (“the Convention”) entered into force in 2006 and aims at safeguarding cultural expressions and manifestations such as oral traditions, performing arts, rituals, social practices, festive events, knowledge about nature, and traditional craftsmanship, i.e., what is often referred to as “living heritage.” It also aimed at raising awareness at the local, national and international levels the importance of the intangible cultural heritage, and of ensuring mutual appreciation. Therefore, it requires a participatory approach to safeguard by involving various stakeholders, most important of whom are the communities concerned. As of 27 September 2010 the convention consisted of 131 state parties with an estimation of 27 States Parties from Africa. Among the obligations of States Parties to the Convention, the one that is expressed in strongest language is the duty to elaborate one or more inventories of the intangible heritage present on their territories with the participation of the communities concerned. Moreover, an effective strategy is required to ensure active participation of communities in the implementation of the Convention by allowing them to do inventory for their own Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The General Assembly of the States Parties to the Convention gives strategic orientations for the implementation of the Convention and elects the 24 members of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The core functions of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage are to promote the objectives of the Convention, provide guidance on best practices and make recommendations on measures for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. The Committee will meet at its Fifth Session in Nairobi, Kenya, from 15 to 19 November 2010.

Current activities in the Windhoek Cluster (Angola, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland) as well as in the other countries of SADC are fulfilling the three pronged strategy:

  • Sensitisation and involvement of the local communities as the primary custodians of the Intangible Cultural Heritage
  • Capacity development of national expertise in collection and inventorying of the national Intangible Cultural Heritage
  • Preparation of the nomination files for the Convention’s representative lists.

    Intangible heritage in Africa has always been perceived as an important and visible expression of rich cultural diversity and identity. Regional integration processes in SADC increasingly recognise heritage as an element enriching and enlarging the foundation of heritage resources that can contribute to the economical development. Countries with the developed systems of inventory, safeguarding and promotion of intangible heritage will use such resources in sustainable manner for the benefit of the local communities where the heritage still lives and resides. That is the key objective of UNESCO’s strategy.

    Flanders Government funds

    In June 2009 the UNESCO Windhoek Office received financial contribution from the Flanders Government to organise series of pilot projects in community-based intangible heritage inventorying on a grassroots level in six selected countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with the time frame of nineteen months. The project, comprised of several phases, aims at conducting a series of pilot Intangible Cultural Heritage inventory-making activities on a grassroots level in six Sub-Saharan African countries, namely Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Uganda, Swaziland and Zambia. Six pilot communities (one in each country), selected by the national authorities, are the direct beneficiaries of this exercise. Activities consist of capacity building training workshops which took place already in all of the countries, followed by phase three were the project currently is, involving several months of fieldwork by the communities and cultural officers undertaking actual inventorying of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The final phase will consist of a one to two-day debriefing session for the fieldworkers, by reviewing in depth the experiences of the field activity, challenges the fieldworkers faced, and how they overcame those challenges. Furthermore, it will also discuss ways in which the communities and the national authorities might continue inventorying, documenting, updating, and ultimately transmitting Intangible Cultural Heritage in a sustainable manner.

    Through this project, it is expected that national authorities together with communities would be able to devise cost-effective tools and methodologies to inventory Intangible Cultural Heritage which may serve in the future as models for nation-wide Intangible Cultural Heritage inventorying exercises.

    On the same, Flanders funded model, UNESCO Windhoek in cooperation with the national counterparts implemented inventorying activities in the framework of the MDG – F Joint Programme on Sustainable Cultural Tourism in Namibia. The national workshop which was organised in Khorixas in April 2010 had also a grater aim determining the Intangible Cultural Heritage strategy of Namibia. The second phase is structured as a practical inventorying activity and will be implemented at the selected pilot sites in three regions: Kunene, Omusati and Oshikoto.

    Cyprus Government funds

    In September 2010 the UNESCO Windhoek Office was granted financial contribution by the Cyprus Government to organize training on preparation of nomination files to the lists of the 2003 Convention Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The proposed project will provide practical technical skills in nominations preparation in Namibia and Lesotho with additional participation of Swaziland, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. All of them participated in the November 2009 workshop on the implementation of the 2003 Convention organized in Windhoek; most are also participating at present in a programme of capacity-building for community-based intangible heritage inventorying financed by the Government of Flanders.

    The central event of the project will be the actual training workshop on preparation of he nomination files which is planned to take place on 29 November to 3 December 2010 in Windhoek, Namibia. The participants will learn how to prepare nomination dossiers and to understand how will they be later examined and evaluated. This is going to be done primarily through practical and participatory sessions followed in the months to come as well as by assistance in the elaboration of the actual national nomination files. This project has been developed to maximize its sustainability and multiplier effect by creating a solid foundation in participants to transmit the acquired information/knowledge in their respective countries.







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