Irrigators’ tribunals of the Spanish Mediterranean coast: the Council of Wise Men of the plain of Murcia and the Water Tribunal of the plain of Valencia
Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
- Irrigators’ tribunals of the Spanish Mediterranean coast: the Council of Wise Men of the plain of Murcia and the Water Tribunal of the plain of Valencia
The irrigators’ tribunals of the Spanish Mediterranean coast are traditional law courts for water management that date back to the al-Andalus period (ninth to thirteenth centuries). The two main tribunals – the Council of Wise Men of the Plain of Murcia and the Water Tribunal of the Plain of Valencia – are recognized under Spanish law. Inspiring authority and respect, these two courts, whose members are elected democratically, settle disputes orally in a swift, transparent and impartial manner. The Council of Wise Men has seven geographically representative members, and has jurisdiction over a landowners’ assembly of 23,313 members. The Water Tribunal comprises eight elected administrators representing a total of 11,691 members from nine communities. In addition to their legal role the irrigators’ tribunals play a key part in the communities of which they are a visible symbol, as apparent from the rites performed when judgments are handed down and the fact that the tribunals often feature in local iconography. They provide cohesion among traditional communities and synergy between occupations (wardens, inspectors, pruners, etc.), contribute to the oral transmission of knowledge derived from centuries-old cultural exchanges, and have their own specialist vocabulary peppered with Arabic borrowings. In short, the courts are long-standing repositories of local and regional identity and are of special significance to local inhabitants.
Decision 4.COM 13.70
The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as follows:
- R.1: The element is recognized by the residents of Murcia and Valencia as their intangible cultural heritage, sustaining their being and ensuring them continuity, hence they pass it on from generation to generation;
- R.2: Inscription of the element on the Representative List would promote traditional governance and amicable conflict resolution, while enhancing the visibility of intangible cultural heritage, promoting dialogue among cultures and testifying to human creativity;
- R.3: The nomination describes practical safeguarding measures that have sustained this cultural practice for many years and proposes additional measures that would ensure maintenance of the element at the local, national and international levels, supported by the commitments of both the State and the communities concerned;
- R.4: The members of the communities concerned participated actively in the elaboration of the nomination, expressing their free, prior and informed consent, and the two tribunals accorded their formal approval;
- R.5: The Council of Wise Men is inscribed in the General Registry for Cultural Heritage of Murcia Region and in a transnational inventory maintained by MEDINS (Mediterranean Intangible Space); the Water Tribunal is similarly inscribed in the General Inventory of Cultural Heritage of Valencia and, nationally, in the Registry of Cultural Interest Goods of the Ministry for Culture.
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