Unesco, the lists of intangible heritage are growing

The annual session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage which was held in the town of Kasane, in Botswana from December 5 to 8, revealed its usual share of more or less known practices. This meeting marks twenty years of the Convention at the origin of this program for promoting the world’s living heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 2003.

For this eighteenth session of the Committee, the twenty-four Member States have selected no less than 55 new cultural elements: 45 joining the Representative List of the Cultural Heritage of Humanity, 6 the Urgent Safeguarding List and 4 the Register of Good safeguarding practices. With these recent inscriptions, UNESCO’s intangible heritage currently includes 730 cultural properties, distributed in 145 countries.

Like every year, the new integrations cover varied fields, ranging from traditional crafts to the performing arts, from oral expressions to cultural practices and knowledge. France, which already had twenty-six of its traditions included on the lists, added two new ones. The Committee has in fact decided to integrate artisanal glass production, a know-how mastered in France but also in Germany, Spain, Finland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. More unusual, UNESCO lists now include the ancestral tradition of transhumance, the seasonal movement of herds, also practiced in several countries including France. In the same vein, the alpine season in Switzerland also joins the lists.

The living heritage of African countries is highlighted a little more than in previous years, with the inscription of twelve new cultural elements. This is the case of the tradition of sona, drawings and geometric figures traced in the sand in Angola. Among the other registrants for 2023, we can cite Italian lyrical singing, traditional irrigation techniques and even midwives’ knowledge of midwifery. The culinary art is also in the spotlight, notably with the inclusion of Peruvian ceviche.

Traditional irrigation technique.

© Ali Aboulahcen

With these registrations, UNESCO allows beneficiary States to have a legal framework and even more an incentive to safeguard and promote their intangible heritage, on the same principle as that of built heritage. Audrey Azoulay, Director General of Unesco, recalls that “Thanks to this Convention, the very definition of cultural heritage has been extended. It is no longer just a matter of monuments, sites or stones. It recognizes that heritage is also alive, that it can be sung, written, listened to, touched”. It is for this reason that these cultural elements must be protected and transmitted by local communities, through a process of public awareness and the implementation of educational and ecological programs. In 2022, the inclusion of the baguette in these lists has led the French government to take steps to create new training courses and promote this artisanal know-how to the general public and schoolchildren.

The protection of living heritage is therefore directly the responsibility of the States concerned, under the supervision of UNESCO. Traditions inscribed on the Urgent Safeguarding List are subject to even more regular monitoring processes, with an obligation to deliver a detailed report on the evolution of the situation every four years.

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