Kolkata Durga Puja among 43 elements inscribed on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage lists
PARIS—During their annual meeting, held online from 13 to 18 December, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage inscribed four elements on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding and 39 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Chaired by Punchi Nilame Meegaswatte, Secretary General of the National Commission of Sri Lanka for UNESCO, the Intergovernmental Committee also added four projects to the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices and allotted $172,000 from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund to a safeguarding project presented by Mongolia, $116,400 to a project in Djibouti and a further $266,000 to a project in Timor-Leste.
For the first time this year, the Intergovernmental Committee decided to inscribe elements from Congo, Denmark, Haiti Iceland, Federated Republic of Micronesia, Montenegro, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Seychelles and Timor-Leste to UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage lists which now feature 630 elements from 140 countries.
New inscriptions on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding:
Federated States of Micronesia — Carolinian wayfinding and canoe making
Carolinian wayfinding and canoe making refers to the centuries-old tradition of building and navigating long-distance canoes. Communities in Micronesia continue the indigenous traditions of building the ocean voyaging sailing canoes from local materials and of navigating, or wayfinding, with environmental cues rather than with maps or instruments. The canoes have a unique form and use dynamics quite unlike western craft. The asymmetrical design supports high-speed sailing and allows access to very shallow water. The practice is passed on through traditional apprenticeships lead by master canoe carvers and navigators who are organized into guilds.
Timor-Leste — Tais, traditional textile
Tais is the handwoven traditional textile of Timor-Leste. Used for decoration and to create traditional clothing for ceremonies and festivals, it is also a means of expressing cultural identity and social class, since the colours and motifs vary according to ethnic groups. Tais is made from cotton dyed with natural plants, and the complex process is traditionally reserved for women, who pass on the skills to the next generation in their communities. However, men sometimes participate by gathering plants to dye the cotton and by making the weaving equipment.
Estonia — Building and use of expanded dugout boats in the Soomaa region
The Estonian expanded dugout boat from the Soomaa region is a canoe-like boat, hollowed out from a single tree, with expanded sides and a shallow base. The most distinctive stage of the dugout boat construction is the expansion of the sides. With a combination of heat and moisture, the board of the dugout boat is significantly expanded, thus increasing its volume and maneuverability. Transmitted through apprenticeships and formal studies, dugout boat building and use is a communal activity that is accompanied by storytelling about legendary masters and their boats.
Mali — Cultural practices and expressions linked to the ‘M’Bolon’, a traditional musical percussion instrument
The M’Bbolon is a musical instrument used in southern Mali. It has a large calabash sound box covered with cowhide and a bow-shaped wooden neck with strings. The number of strings of the M’Bbolon determines how it is used. Single-stringed and two-stringed M’Bbolon are used for popular events and for rituals and religious ceremonies, whereas three-stringed and four-stringed M’Bbolon are used to accompany the praising of traditional chiefs, celebrate the heroic deeds of kings and accompany farmers in the fields. The instrument is taught through apprenticeships and by local associations.
The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding features elements of living heritage whose viability is under threat. It mobilizes international cooperation and assistance to strengthen the transmission of these cultural practices, in agreement with the concerned communities. This List now numbers 71 elements.
Elements added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, in order of inscription:
United Arab Emirates, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Spain, Syrian Arab Republic – Falconry, a living human heritage
Falconry is the traditional art and practice of training and flying falcons and other birds of prey. Originally a means of obtaining food, falconry has acquired other values and has been integrated into communities as a recreational practice and a way of connecting with nature. Today, it is practiced by people of all ages in over eighty countries. Modern falconry focuses on safeguarding falcons, quarry and habitats as well as the practice itself. It is transmitted through mentoring, learning within families and formal training in clubs and schools.
Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen – Arabic calligraphy, knowledge, skills and practices
Arabic calligraphy is the artistic practice of handwriting Arabic script in a fluid manner to convey harmony, grace and beauty. Its fluidity offers infinite possibilities, even within a single word, since letters can be stretched and transformed to create different motifs. Arabic calligraphy is widespread in Arab and non-Arab countries and is practised by men and women of all ages. Originally intended to make writing clear and legible, it gradually became an Islamic Arab art for traditional and modern works. Skills are transmitted informally or through formal schools or apprenticeships.
Denmark; Finland; Iceland; Norway; Sweden — Nordic clinker boat traditions
Nordic clinker boats are small, open wooden boats between five and ten metres long. For almost two millenia, the people of the Nordic region have been building clinker boats using the same basic techniques: thin planks are fastened to a backbone of keel and stems, and the overlapping planks are fastened together with metal rivets, treenails or rope. A symbol of common Nordic coastal heritage, today’s clinker boats are primarily used in traditional festivities and sporting events. Traditionally, knowledge was transmitted through apprenticeships, but formal training from public and private specialized boat-building institutions is now available as well.
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo — Congolese rumba
Congolese rumba is a musical genre and a dance used in formal and informal spaces for celebration and mourning. It is primarily an urban practice danced by a male-female couple. Performed by professional and amateur artists, the practice is passed down to younger generations through neighbourhood clubs, formal training schools and community organisations. The rumba is considered an integral part of Congolese identity and a means of promoting intergenerational cohesion and solidarity.
Plurinational State of Bolivia — Grand Festival of Tarija
Bolivia’s Grand Festival of Tarija takes place every year in August and September, with devotional processions, festivals, competitions and fireworks. Transmitted through families and the church, the festival has its origins in the colonial period, when the inhabitants of Tarija entreated Saint Roch to cure diseases and protect their loved ones. It is characterized by lively music and dancing, regional crafts, traditional dishes and pilgrims dressed in colourful costumes and masks. In addition to its religious significance, the festival marks the beginning of the growing season.
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela – Festive cycle around the devotion and worship towards Saint John the Baptist
The Venezuelan Saint John the Baptist celebrations originated in the eighteenth century in Afro-Venezuelan communities. Viewed as a symbol of cultural resistance and freedom, the festivities are characterized by joyful drumming, dancing, storytelling and singing and by processions with a statue of Saint John the Baptist. On 23 June, the Sanjuaneros visit with friends and go to churches and religious centres. On 24 June, the image of the saint is baptized in the local river, to commemorate the biblical event. The practices and knowledge are transmitted within families and through community groups and schools.
Ecuador – Pasillo, song and poetry
The pasillo is a type of music and dance that emerged in Ecuador in the nineteenth century. It is a fusion of elements of indigenous music, such as the yaraví, with a variety of genres including the waltz, the minuet and the bolero. The music is usually accompanied by guitars and performed in ballroom dances, public events and outdoor concerts. In terms of lyrics, it is essentially a musicalized poem, with lyrics relating to love, the homeland and daily life. To Ecuadorians, the pasillo is an identity marker and a form of collective expression. It is transmitted within families, in formal training centres, and through musical groups.
Panama — Dances and expressions associated with the Corpus Christi Festivity
The Corpus Christi festival is a religious festival in Panama that celebrates the body and blood of Christ. It combines Catholic tradition with popular practices and is characterized by theatrical performances, burlesque dances and colourful costumes and masks. The festival starts with a theatrical performance depicting the battle between good and evil, followed by a procession and gatherings in the streets and in family homes. The related knowledge and skills are passed on through participation in the festival and the involvement of youth in dance groups and mask-making teams, among others.
Peru – Pottery-related values, knowledge, lore and practices of the Awajún people
The Awajún people view pottery as an example of their harmonious relationship with nature. The preparation process comprises five stages: the collection of materials, modelling, firing, decorating and finishing. Each stage has specific meanings and values. The pots are used for cooking, drinking, eating and serving food, as well as for rituals and ceremonies. The thousand-year-old practice has permitted the empowerment of Awajún women, who use it as a means of expressing their personality. The practice is transmitted by the Dukúg wisewomen, female elders who pass on their expertise to other women in their families.
Malaysia — Songket
Songket is a Malaysian fabric handwoven on a traditional, two-pedal floor loom. The decorative weaving technique used to make the fabric entails inserting gold or silver thread in between the base threads so that they seem to float over a colourful woven background. The technique, which dates back to the sixteenth century, is passed on from mother to daughter and through formal training programmes. Men participate by creating the weaving equipment. Songket is used in traditional clothing for ceremonies, festive occasions and formal state functions.
Gamelan refers to the traditional Indonesian percussion orchestra and to the set of musical instruments used. The ensemble typically includes xylophones, gongs, gong-chimes, drums, cymbals, string instruments and bamboo flutes. The music is played by men, women and children of all ages, and is typically used in religious rituals and public events. Gamelan is an integral part of Indonesian identity dating back centuries. Transmission is done in formal contexts in primary through to tertiary education and in informal contexts such as within families and during workshops.
Thailand — Nora, dance drama in southern Thailand
Nora is a centuries-old form of dance theatre and improvisational singing usually based on stories about the Buddha or legendary heroes. Performers wear colourful costumes with headdresses, bird-like wings, ornate scarves, and swan tails that give them a bird-like appearance. Performed in local community centres and at temple fairs and cultural events, nora is a community-based practice with deep cultural and social significance for the people of southern Thailand. Performances use regional dialects, music and literature to reinforce cultural life and social bonds. The practice is passed on by masters in homes, community organizations and educational institutions.
Viet Nam — Art of Xòe dance of the Tai people in Viet Nam
Xòe is a form of Vietnamese dancing that is performed at rituals, weddings, village festivals and community events. There are several types of xòe dances, but the most popular form is circle xòe, wherein dancers form a circle and perform basic movements that symbolize wishes for community health and harmony. An important identity marker for the Tai people in northwestern Viet Nam, the xòe dance is accompanied by various instruments, including gourd lutes, drums, cymbals and reed flutes. It is transmitted within families, dance troupes and schools.
India — Durga Puja in Kolkata
Durga Puja is an annual festival celebrated in the fall in India and Bangladesh. It marks the ten-day worship of the Hindu mother-goddess Durga. Characterized by Bengali drumming, large-scale installations and clay sculptures made from unfired clay from the Ganga River, the festival has come to signify ‘home-coming’ or a seasonal return to one’s roots. During the event, the divides of class, religion and ethnicities collapse as crowds of spectators walk around to admire the installations. Durga Puja is transmitted by families, art centres and traditional media, among others.
Sri Lanka — Traditional craftsmanship of making Dumbara Ratā Kalāla
Dumbara mats are traditional hand-made mats used as wall hangings, tapestries or cushion covers. Of great cultural significance for Sri Lankans, the mats are made by a community called kinnara that traditionally supplied ornamental mats to the royal palace between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. Today, artisans weave the mats for local buyers and tourists. Dumbara mats are made with the fibres of the hana plant and decorated with symbolic motifs and designs. The weaving techniques are transmitted from parents to children through observation and practice.
Turkmenistan – Dutar making craftsmanship and traditional music performing art combined with singing
Dutar is a traditional instrument and musical genre from Turkmenistan. The dutar instrument is a long-necked, two-stringed lute with a pear-shaped body covered by a thin wooden sounding board. The instrument is used in all of the main genres of Turkmen music and singing. As for dutar music, it can either be played alone or accompanied by singing or poetry and prose. Dutar music is an essential part of Turkmen ceremonies, national celebrations, festivals and social gatherings. Artisanry and related skills are traditionally passed on from father to son, and performance skills are transmitted orally and through demonstration.
Seychelles – Moutya
Moutya was brought to Seychelles by the enslaved Africans who arrived with the French settlers in the early eighteenth century. A sensual dance with simple choreography, it is traditionally performed around a bonfire to the beating of drums. Historically, moutya was a psychological comfort against hardship and a means of resisting social injustice. It is usually performed spontaneously within the community, as well as at gatherings and cultural events. Moutya is transmitted informally through performance, observation and imitation and formally through research, documentation and dissemination.
Madagascar – Malagasy Kabary, the Malagasy oratorical art
Malagasy kabary is a poeticized dialogue performed in front of an audience. It is highly structured and consists of proverbs, maxims, rhetorical figures and wordplay. Originally used by leaders to communicate with the community, it has become inseparable from social life in Madagascar, used for festivities, funerals, ceremonies and popular events. The practice, which is transmitted formally and informally through observation, usually involves two orators in front of a gathering. It can last several hours, depending on the type of event.
Senegal — Ceebu Jën, a culinary art of Senegal
Ceebu jën is an emblematic Senegalese dish. Although recipes vary from one region to the next, it is typically made with fish steak, broken rice, dried fish, mollusc and seasonal vegetables, such as onions, parsley, carrots, eggplant, white cabbage, cassava, sweet potato, okra and bay leaf. The recipe and techniques are traditionally passed down from mother to daughter. In most families, ceebu jën is eaten with the hands, although spoons or forks are usually used in restaurants. Viewed as an affirmation of Senegalese identity, the dish has become the national dish of Senegal.
Bahrain — Fjiri
Fjiri is a musical performance that commemorates the history of pearl diving in Bahrain. Viewed as a means of expressing the connection between the Bahraini people and the sea, the practice dates back to the late nineteenth century, it is usually performed and transmitted in cultural spaces called durs by descendants of pearl divers and pearling crews and by other individuals interested in preserving the tradition. During the performance, an all-male group of musicians sits in a circle, singing and playing percussion instruments. The centre of the circle is occupied by dancers and the lead singer.
Iraq—Traditional craft skills and arts of Al-Naoor
Al-naoor is a wooden wheel made of twenty-four columns and with clay jugs attached to its outer circumference. The wheel is used on the streams of the Euphrates River in Iraq, where water levels are lower than the adjacent fields. It is installed vertically on the streams of the river. As the current rotates the wheel, the jugs collect water, carry it to the top of the wheel, and pour it into the waterways leading to the fields. A source of livelihood for many, including local artisans, al-naoor knowledge and skills are transmitted through family, literature and formal education.
Palestine — The art of embroidery in Palestine, practices, skills, knowledge and rituals
In Palestine, women’s village clothing usually consists of a long dress, trousers, a jacket, a headdress and a veil. Each garment is embroidered with a variety of symbols including birds, trees and flowers. The embroidery is sewn with silk thread on wool, linen or cotton, and the choice of colours and designs indicates the woman’s regional identity and marital and economic status. Embroidery is a social and intergenerational practice around which women gather and collaborate to supplement their family’s income. The practice is transmitted from mother to daughter and through formal training courses.
Syrian Arab Republic — Al-Qudoud al-Halabiya
Al-Qudoud al-Halabiya is a form of traditional music from Aleppo with a fixed melody. Sung for religious and entertainment purposes with the accompaniment of a musical ensemble, the lyrics vary according to the type of event. Although it has been influenced by social changes, the qudoud has retained its traditional elements and continues to be performed throughout the city. It is a vital part of Aleppan culture and is viewed as a source of resilience, particularly in times of war. The practice is transmitted informally between mentors and youth and formally through school curricula, media broadcasts and programmes.
Morocco — Tbourida
Tbourida is a Moroccan equestrian performance dating back to the sixteenth century. It simulates a succession of military parades, reconstructed according to ancestral Arab-Amazigh conventions. During a tbourida, a troupe of riders perform a parade composed of an acrobatic arms drill and the simulation of a war departure. The riders wear period costumes and accessories representing their tribe or region, and the horses are bridled and saddled with traditional materials. Transmission takes place from generation to generation within families, through oral traditions and by observation.
Turkey — Hüsn-i Hat, traditional calligraphy in Islamic art in Turkey
The hüsn-i hat is the centuries-old art of calligraphy in Turkey. Traditional tools include a glazed paper, a reed pen, pen knives and soot ink. Many calligraphers, or hattats, make their own tools and play an important role in the transmission of the hüsn-i hat tradition, passing on their knowledge, craftsmanship skills and values through apprenticeships. The hüsn-i hat can be written on paper, leather, stone, marble, glass and wood, among others. It is traditionally used for religious and literary texts.
Finland — Kaustinen fiddle playing and related practices and expressions
Kaustinen folk music is a Finnish tradition of which the fiddle is the leading instrument. Based on playing by ear, it is characterized by syncopated and accented rhythms that are easy for people to dance to. Most inhabitants of Kaustinen and neighbouring communities consider it an essential aspect of their identity and a symbol of equality. Its distinctive style and technique have been transmitted formally and informally for over 250 years, and the music is performed in public and private contexts, including at the annual Folk Music Festival.
Denmark — Inuit drum dancing and singing
Drum dancing and drum singing are traditional forms of Inuit artistic expression in Greenland. Frequently featured in celebrations and social events, they can be performed by an individual or group. During a drum dance, the drum, or qilaat, is moved in different directions and its frame is struck to produce a sharp, echoing beat. The drum song is a lyrical narration of daily life. For Greenlandic Inuit, drum dancing and singing represents a shared identity and a sense of community. The practice is passed on through cultural associations, clubs, dance studios and institutions.
Malta — L-Għana, a Maltese folksong tradition
Għana is used to describe three related types of rhymed folksong in Malta. The most popular form is the ‘quick-wit’ għana, an improvised duel between one or two pairs of singers, focusing on rhymes, convincing argumentation and witty repartee. Għana sessions are held year-round in public and private venues and are viewed as a platform for informal social and political debate and reflection on shared history. An integral part of Maltese culture, the practice is transmitted through families and is considered vital to the preservation of the unique Semitic Maltese language.
Portugal — Community festivities in Campo Maior
The Community Festivities of Campo Maior is a popular event during which the streets of Campo Maior in Portugal are decorated with millions of colourful paper flowers. The community’s street commissions decide the date and colour themes, and neighbours work on the decorations for months. There is a sense of friendly competition between streets to see which one will have the best design. The decorations are thus kept secret until the eve of the festivities, when the town is transformed overnight. The practice strengthens creativity and community belonging, and is transmitted within families and schools.
Tajikistan — Falak
Falak, meaning ‘heaven’, ‘fortune’ and ‘universe’, is the traditional folklore music of the mountain people of Tajikistan. The expressive and philosophical musical genre may be performed by a male or female soloist, a cappella, with a single instrumental accompaniment or with an ensemble and dancers. Characterized by their high range, falak songs most often relate to love
UNESCO Press Release