Cultural Heritage is a crucial factor in the process of authenticity and identity-forming, it is the self-identification of people. A bridge between the generations, it is not a thing or a monument, in fact, it is a living tradition and contemporary at the same time. Pan-African activist, journalist, and entrepreneur, Marcus Garvey, wrote: “a people without knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots”.
The term “Cultural Heritage ” has a broad meaning, including everything old and inherited from the ancestors and passed on to our descendants, through speech and folk proverbs to monuments and buildings. There are always two sides to any artwork, tangible and intangible. There are always two sides to any work of art, tangible and intangible. Cultural heritage makes no difference, as it was divided by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in 1972, into the Tangible Cultural Heritage (TCH) and the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). The ICH identifies through the practices, expressions, knowledge, and skills in communities, groups, and sometimes individuals recognized as part of their cultural heritage.
The Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)
UNESCO, as the only specialized agency within the United Nations with a specific mandate in the field of culture, recognized its importance as a vital factor in all cultures and launched the Living Human Treasures Programme for safeguarding in 1993 as part of the universal heritage of humanity safeguard for the tradition bearers and talented practitioners, in passing on their knowledge and skills to younger generations. In 2003, UNESCO triggered a legal process that culminated with the adoption of the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage.
This Convention has been signed by 178 countries and inscribed close to 500 ICH elements on the lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices. As of 2018, the lists include traditional elements like male rites of passage of the Maasai community in Kenya, knowledge, and skills of water bailiffs in Algeria and Tahteeb, and stick game in Egypt.
The Five Broad “Domains” in which Intangible Cultural Heritage is manifested
UNESCO establishes a framework for the formation of the intangible cultural heritage for its safeguarding. The aim of the list provided is intended to be inclusive rather than exclusive; it isn’t necessarily meant to be complete, but it should be relevant to the community. Therefore, UNESCO sets up 5 domains to categorize intangible cultural heritage:
- Oral traditions and expressions
Encompasses a variety of spoken forms including proverbs, riddles, tales, nursery rhymes, myths, epic songs and poems, charms, prayers, chants, songs, dramatic performances, and more. Orals play a crucial part in keeping cultures alive as a way of passing on knowledge, cultural and social values, and collective memory. The death of a language will be an inevitable end to the permanent loss of oral traditions and expressions. However, it is these oral expressions themselves and their performance in public that best help to safeguard a language rather than dictionaries and grammar.
- Performing arts
Includes a wide range from vocal and instrumental music, dance, and theatre to pantomime, sung verse, and beyond. The performance reflects human creativity and is also found, to some extent, in many other intangible cultural heritage domains. Whether it is rituals, festive events, or oral traditions, music and dance are often an integral part of these performances. Can be found in the most diverse situations: sacred or profane, classical or popular, closely connected to work or entertainment.
- Social practices, rituals, and festive events
These activities are habitual and structure the lives of communities and groups, and are shared by and relevant to many of their members. They are significant as a way of emphasizing the identity of those who practice them, whether performed in public or private, and are closely linked to an important event. Some of these activities mark the passing of the seasons, events in the agricultural calendar, or the stages of a person’s life. Each occasion in some societies is an opportunity to celebrate and practice traditional rituals such as weddings and worship rites.
- Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
These knowledge and practices relating to nature and the universe include knowledge, skills, practices, and representations that societies have developed through interaction with the natural environment. This domain includes numerous areas such as traditional ecological wisdom, indigenous knowledge, knowledge about local fauna and flora, cosmologies, shamanism, possession rites, social organizations, and visual arts.
- Traditional craftsmanship
This domain is perhaps the most tangible manifestation of intangible cultural heritage. It concerns mainly the skills and knowledge involved in craftsmanship rather than the craft products themselves. Rather than focusing on preserving craft objects, safeguarding attempts should instead concentrate on encouraging artisans to continue producing craft and passing their skills and knowledge onto others, particularly within their own communities. The value of these handmade products is not only in the final form, but in the manufacturing process itself, which involves experiences that have passed through generations with simple tools, and developments over years to produce an unparalleled masterpiece.
Risk of (ICH) disappearing
There is a risk that particular elements of intangible cultural heritage could die out or disappear without help. As a result of, negative attitudes, demographic issues, contextualization, environmental degradation, or weakened practice and transmission. Safeguarding doesn’t mean fixing or freezing intangible cultural heritage in some pure or rudimentary form. With the fragility of the intangible cultural heritage and its ease of distortion, its safeguarding is about transferring knowledge, skills, and meaning from generation to generation.
For countries that have ratified the 2003 Convention, each government documents ICH elements of communities and provides information on their element. The inventory scheme of the elements of the intangible cultural heritage listed by UNESCO utilizes identification, Characteristics, Persons, and institutions involved with the element, state of the element viability, data gathering and inventorying, and references to literature, discography, audiovisual materials, and archives. Subsequently, UNESCO included this element on the international Lists and Register. In some cases, Public intervention is a must to safeguard the heritage community since it may distort the value such heritage has for its community.
Cultural diversity and the identities of societies and groups should be fully respected, as they represent the” self-identification ” of people. From the complex movement to the simplest in any traditional ritual, whether it is a wedding, worship, or a seasonal celebration, lies the culture and authenticity of people. Formed by the natural interaction with the surrounding environments that imprinted on our skin shaped our color, features, customs, and traditions. Cultural heritage is the heritage of humanity, and it is the duty of all of us to strive to present it in the best way and protect it, since if one does not have an identity, what is left for him?
- Lenzerini, F (Feb.2011). Intangible Cultural Heritage: The Living Culture of Peoples. European Journal of International Law. Volume 22, Issue 1, pp. 101-120 [online] (01.Feb.2011) available at:https://academic.oup.com/ejil/article/22/1/101/436591?login=false [Accessed 28.Jul.2022].
- Intangible Cultural Heritage (2022). the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization website[online]. (Last updated 2022) available at: https://ich.unesco.org/en/home [Accessed 29.Jul.2022].