Intangible heritage list being overloaded, U.N. says

The United Nations-managed Intangible Heritage List shines a spotlight on the vast range of global traditions – from Korean dance to French gastronomy to Costa Rican ox carts – but risks becoming a victim of its own success, a senior United Nations official warned Tuesday.

“Intangible cultural heritage is our bridge from the past to the future,” said Irina Bokova, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. She was speaking at the opening ceremony of the sixth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage, held in Bali, Indonesia.

“It is the precious possession of communities, groups and individuals. Only they can safeguard it and pass it on to generations to come,” she said, further noting that the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and member states should support all cultural preservation efforts “in every way we can.”

Seventy-nine nominations will be examined during the present session, including saman dance from Indonesia, fado music from Portugal and mariachi music from Mexico. Mali, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire have presented a joint nomination for the balafon, an instrument prominent among their Senufo communities.

“This is an unmanageable workload,” Ms. Bokova said, “and is, inevitably, unsatisfactory for states parties and the communities whose intangible heritage is concerned. They will be disappointed if the convention is unable to meet their expectations.”

“States must now show restraint and everybody must understand that the system has reached, or even gone beyond, its own limits. A maximum of about 60 nominations only could be treated in each session under the present conditions,” she added, arguing that the inscriptions also had to be more geographically diverse for the list to remain credible.

Since its creation in 2008, the Intangible Heritage List includes a swathe of global cultural expressions, ranging from Turkey’s Kirkpinar oil wrestling festival and the Mediterranean diet to the watertight-bulkhead technology of Chinese junks and the Peruvian scissor dance.

Meanwhile, while visiting Indonesia, Ms. Bokova met with the country’s minister of education and culture, Mohammad Nuh, who announced that his government would contribute $10 million to help support the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s activities and cover its recent budget shortfall.

The United States – which contributes 22 per cent of the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization budget – suspended its dues after the agency admitted Palestine as a full member Oct. 31.

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