A Living Human Treasure system

Strengthening transmission is one of the most important means to safeguard ICH. UNESCO encourages States to create national systems of “Living Human Treasures” that honour exemplary tradition-bearers and encourage them to transmit their skills and knowledge.


Art work by Bruce Onobrakpeya, Living Human Tresure of Nigeria

On the basis of UNESCO guidelines encouraging countries to establish national systems of Living Human Treasures, a project proposal was submitted to UNESCO Headquarters and assistance provided by the Norwegian government.

The process of establishing the system in Nigeria commenced in 2004. It was officially established in Nigeria in March 2007 following the public proclamation and award ceremony of the first living human treasures in Nigeria (ten masters selected in four domains of the intangible cultural heritage), which also witnessed the presentation of plaques, certificates of merit and cash grants to them.

The purpose of the Nigerian system is to institutionalise the safeguarding and perpetuation of the intangible cultural heritage through a mechanism that will formally recognise, support, identify persons and preserve know-how, skills and techniques by custodians and practitioners to the younger generation.

It will ensure the continuous transmission of traditional knowledge and know-how from generation to generation. Persons that possess such skills and techniques will be recognised and brought to national and international awareness.

Legal measures

Nigeria is a State Party to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

In this regard, the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism has set up a National Committee on the Intangible Cultural Heritage charged with the responsibility of advising the Nigerian government on ways and means of implementing the 2003 Convention at the national level.

This committee is also vested with the administration of the living human treasures in Nigeria.

Who Are The National Living Treasures?

National Living Treasures are Nigerians above 50 years of age who possess to a large degree, skills and techniques linked to specific forms of the intangible cultural heritage. They are Nigerians who are crucial to the perpetuation of these skills and willing to pass them down to the next generations.

Domains of the intangible cultural heritage

Bruce Onobrakpeya, “Living Human Treasure” craftman of Nigeria

The domains to be focused on are:

  • Oral traditions and expressions including language as a vehicle for the transmission, e.g. poets, writers, folklore, bards, custodians of historical events, traditional historic poets, praise singers.
  • Performing arts, e.g. jesters, musicians, actors, comedians, traditional historic poets, praise singers, drama, ritualists, masqueraders.
  • Social practices, rituals and festive events, e.g. custodians of deity worship, performers of initiations, cleansing rituals, the technique of masquerading or divination.
  • Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, e.g. traditional medicine practitioners, shrines and ritual custodians.
  • Traditional craftsmanship, e.g. weaving (raffia, looms, reeds, etc.), carving/sculpture (using terracotta, stone, wood, ivory, metal and sticks), pottery (for domestic, ritual and musical uses), dyeing and printing (on paper, walls or fabric).

Responsible body in charge of the system

The system is overseen by the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the official government organ responsible for all cultural matters in Nigeria. The ministry has set up a National Committee on the Intangible Cultural Heritage which is vested with the administration of the living human treasures in Nigeria. It is comprised of culture administrators, cultural experts, stakeholders in the culture sector as well as the academia.

This Committee has also set up an Advisory Committee which is in charge of drawing up the logistics for the day-to-day implementation of the programme. The National Committee on the Intangible Cultural Heritage will, in the long run, initiate the promulgation of a legislative act for the continuity and sustainability of the system.

The Advisory Committee is headed by a Chairperson and composed of eleven persons selected from the National Committee to:

  1. aggregate and articulate a representative data from where a national registry of Living Human Treasures can be established;
  2. recommend for validation, based on certain objective criteria, a specific number of Living Human Treasures representative of the different domains;
  3. draw up a well formulated explanatory document to be translated into a brochure.

The Advisory Committee reports to the National Committee on all matters regarding the establishment of the Living Human Treasures system.

Selection process

Nominees from the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory are sent in to the Advisory Committee. Individuals can also make nominations. The nominees are tabulated and members of the Advisory Committee visit various parts of the country to validate and authenticate the nominees. The validated list is then sent to the National Committee for final approval and selection.

Additional nominations may come from the Advisory Committee and cultural experts. The names of the awardees approved by the National Committee are then sent to the Minister for onward transmission to the President for proclamation.

Selection Criteria

The selection of awardees is based on a variety of cultural expressions, and the following factors concerning the nominees will be taken into consideration. They must :

  • be excellent in their field, possessing a wealth of knowledge and mastery in the application of their arts;
  • be persons dedicated to professionalism and have over the years produced/performed and adhered to set standards and work ethics;
  • be persons who are committed to the arts and traditional practices and have been consistent in their work;
  • be persons or a group with the ability and the willingness to further develop their knowledge and skills, be ready to apply new ideas and try out new skills;
  • possess the ability to pass on their knowledge and skills through formal and informal training programmes/apprenticeship;
  • possess sacrificial attributes i.e. they are willing and ready to confront and withstand challenges and hazards in their domain if the need arises;
  • be over 50 years of age, possessing skills in danger of disappearing.

Rights and Obligations of the National Living Treasures

The Living Human Treasures are accorded national and international recognition :

  • An official award/proclamation ceremony is organized.
  • Grants are given to the awardees as a form of incentive and encouragement.
  • Exhibition of works/performances are organised for the masters from time to time.
  • A formal school and other venues where masters can gather or transmit their skills and knowledge to the apprentices and interested persons is in the offing.
  • Training workshops and seminars are organised for nominees/awardees on a regular basis by the national committee.

Information on existing National Living Treasures

A website ( has been created for the project where information on nominees and awardees is posted. The website is being upgraded to accommodate current information and recent developments.
2007 selection:

For further information contact:

  • The Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism
    Federal Secretariat Phase 2
    Bulet Building
    Shehu Shagari Way
    Abuja – Nigeria
  • The Secretariat
    National Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage
    c/o External Culture Relations Department
    Federal Secretariat Phase 2
    Bulet Building
    Shehu Shagari Way
    Abuja – Nigeria
  • The Culture Sector
    UNESCO United Nations Building
    Plot 617/618 Diplomatic Drive
    Abuja – Nigeria