Ceviche, lyrical opera or tanga: traditions that will soon be UNESCO intangible heritage

The Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage has been meeting since Monday in Kasane, in northern Botswana. From Tuesday to Friday, the registration of 55 new elements must be validated, presented from the perspective of community traditions, explains within the scope of the UN organization.

Among the best known worldwide is ceviche, a dish of raw fish marinated in lemon whose “practices and meanings associated with preparation and consumption” constitute “an expression of traditional cuisine” in Peru, according to UNESCO.

There is also “the practice of lyrical singing” in Italy which, “transmitted orally between a conductor and a student”, “promotes collective cohesion and sociocultural memory”.

Ivory Coast, for its part, seeks recognition for its “traditional knowledge linked to the weaving of loincloths” and Bangladesh for “painting on rickshaws”, these small three-wheeled vehicles whose decoration in its capital Dacca is presented as “a form dynamics of urban popular art”, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Azerbaijan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkey want their “traditions” of iftar – the meal to break the Muslim fast – to be included in intangible cultural heritage, while Cuba and Mexico see it as “intangible cultural heritage”. in songs” conveyed by the bolero “an essential element of the sentimental song of Latin America”, from the same source.

Among the 55 new elements presented this year, more than two thirds come from countries in the South, which is anything but a coincidence, according to UNESCO, as the convention on intangible cultural heritage projects “a homogeneous geographical representation” of the different continents , according to its subset. -section general director of Culture Ernesto Ottone.

Adopted in 2003, which came into force in 2006 after ratification by thirty Member States, this text was originally “not supported by the large countries of the North”, which feared that certain States would seek to monopolize cultural traditions shared by others, he explains.

– 676 ​​registered traditions –

But “the opposite happened” and 180 countries are now signatories, he welcomes. In 2021, sixteen Muslim-cultural states supported the inscription of “Arabic calligraphy”; Twenty-four, from the North and South, also supported the recognition of falconry as “living human heritage”.

Of the 676 elements already registered as intangible cultural heritage, only 38% come from Northern countries, compared to 47% of world heritage sites, these assets or ecosystems of exceptional value whose recognition by UNESCO is made at the end of a longer journey and arduous, observes Mr. Ottone.

Some are very well known, such as Neapolitan pizza (2017), Brazilian capoeira (2014) or Spanish flamenco (2010). But the former Chilean Minister of Culture refutes any idea of ​​“branding” – the promotion of a brand – because it is the traditions that surround them and not these elements themselves that are registered, he insists.

UNESCO prefers to highlight cultural assets saved by the convention. In particular the “noken”, a traditional bag made by the Papuans of Indonesia from woven plants or leaves whose registration as endangered cultural heritage in 2012 “greatly improved” the “viability”, notably allowing the number of its manufacturers to increase, he says the UN organization.

The same goes for “mapoyo”, the name of a Venezuelan ethnic group that transmits its history orally, from the oldest to the youngest. Extinct in 2014, when it was registered, the tradition has been “strengthened” since then, says the UN organization based in Paris.

A 500-year-old Belgian practice has also gained a second life thanks to UNESCO: shrimp fishing on horseback, in which 200 people are now involved in Oostduinkerkse, a small town on the shores of the North Sea, says Ernesto Ottone. His followers were just 17 years old in 2013.

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