Moorish epic T’heydinn
Inscribed in 2011 (6.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding
- Moorish epic T’heydinn
The T’heydinn epic encompasses dozens of poems lauding the glorious feats of Moorish emirs and sultans. It propounds ancestral values underpinning the way of life of the Moorish community in Mauritania, and constitutes a literary and artistic manifestation of the Hassaniya language. Griots perform the epic accompanied by traditional stringed instruments such as the lute and harp, and the kettledrum. Griots preserve the collective memory of society through the poems, passing down knowledge and skills from father to son, with young griots first learning the instrumental skills before being initiated into the poetic tradition. The T’heydinn constitutes a permanent bond between the griots and their tribe, with a particular repertoire distinguishing each griot family. The epic is performed at social events including weddings, reconciliation ceremonies and invitations. Performances are occasions for regional tribal and family reunions, strengthening social ties and promoting a culture of social peace and mutual assistance. Performance of the T’heydinn epic is, however, in decline. Griots with full knowledge of the epic are few in number and most are elderly. Moreover, demand for performance has decreased and young griots tend to perform the epic in abridged form or know only certain episodes, which threatens the viability of the T’heydinn epic.
Decision 6.COM 8.13
The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:
- U1: The T’heydinn epic serves an important function in Mauritanian society as a repository of cultural memory, transmitted from generation to generation among the griots who are its masters;
- U2: Changing socio-economic contexts, particularly the disruption of the system of artistic patronage by royal families, affect the modes of transmission and the social spaces where performances occur, placing the element at risk because it is performed only occasionally and in much-shortened forms;
- U3: A number of safeguarding measures are elaborated, aiming specifically at research and documentation of the T’heydinn epic, and at formalizing transmission within the communities of tradition bearers;
- U4: Griot associations and masters participated actively in the elaboration of the nomination, and it includes the free, prior and informed consent of two practitioner organizations that bring together griots, poets and composers;
- U5: The T’heydinn epic is included in the national inventory of cultural heritage maintained by the Department of Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport.
Inscribes the Moorish epic T’heydinn on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding;
Encourages the State Party to formulate safeguarding measures aimed at the younger generations, beyond the griot families themselves, including public education programmes, so that enlarged public interest can sustain the epic tradition in the future by creating increased demand for performances, thereby contributing to the griots’ livelihood and encouraging them to continue performing;
Further encourages the State Party to take particular care that the safeguarding measures, particularly those concerned with documentation and research, do not aim at standardizing or codifying the epic in a fixed form and instead reflect the importance of variation and improvisation.
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