Encouraging transmission of ICH : Living Human Treasures


In the text of the Convention

  1. Article 2 - Definitions

Other links

Directives to implement LHT:
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Examples of LHT systems:

One of the biggest threats to the viability of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is posed by declining numbers of practitioners of traditional craftsmanship, music, dance or theatre, and of those who are in position to learn from them.

An effective way to safeguard ICH sustainably is to ensure that the bearers of that heritage continue to transmit their knowledge and skills to younger generations. In this regard, Article 2.3 of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage places transmission among the safeguarding measures aiming at ensuring the viability of this heritage. UNESCO also encourages States to establish national systems of “Living Human Treasures”. In this perspective, exemplary bearers of intangible cultural heritage are identified, among whom some are given official recognition and encouraged to continue to develop and transmit their knowledge and skills.

Living Human Treasures are persons who possess to a high degree the knowledge and skills required for performing or re-creating specific elements of the intangible cultural heritage. The Living Human Treasures programme aims at encouraging Member States to grant official recognition to talented tradition bearers and practitioners, thus contributing to the transmission of their knowledge and skills to the younger generations. States select such persons on the basis of their accomplishments and of their willingness to convey their knowledge and skills to others. The selection is also based on the value of the traditions and expressions concerned as a testimony of the human creative genius, their roots in cultural and social traditions, their representative character for a given community, as well as their risk of disappearance.

The "Maître d'art" Pierre Meyer, turner of figures on ivory, with an apprentice
The “Maître d’art” Pierre Meyer, turner of figures on ivory, with an apprentice

The establishment of a national Living Human Treasures system may also involve:

In order to facilitate the creation of new systems, UNESCO endeavours to assist Member States technically and/or financially through its regular budget, Participation Programme and extra-budgetary contributions by Member States. UNESCO offers recommended guidelines to implement Living Human Treasures systems (English|French|Spanish).

3 element(s)

Establishment of a Living Human Treasures system in the Kingdom of Cambodia06-2005/12-2008, Cambodia

Many elements of Cambodia’s rich living heritage are in danger of disappearing mainly due to long-lasting conflicts, the declining number of performers and the clear tendency among the younger generation to cultural influences from outside the country. In this context, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in Cambodia launched, in collaboration with UNESCO, a project for the establishment of a national system of Living Human Treasures.

This project aimed at ensuring and supporting the continuous transmission of traditional knowledge and skills from one generation to another within communities and within education institutions.

A National Working Group, created for this purpose, first developed detailed procedures including the definition of the Living Human Treasures and criteria for their selection. Field research was conducted in various provinces in order to identify masters of prioritised performing arts of Cambodia. A Commission of Experts was created, whose task is to examine the information collected on masters and to provide recommendations to the Minister of Culture and Fine Arts regarding the selection of Living Human Treasures. Once the Living Human Treasures are nominated, an official nomination ceremony takes place, and the Living Human Treasures is involved in transmission activities at the community and national levels, such as holding regular classes for young students in pagodas and organizing workshops at University.

Establishment of a National Living Human Treasures system in Fiji06-2005/10-2008, Fiji

This is a project to establish in Fiji a national Living Human Treasures system so as to provide support to bearers of traditional knowledge and skills in danger of disappearing, and to ensure their effective transmission to young people.

The objectives of the project are to:

  • Establish the Living Human Treasures system in Fiji in a sustainable way and with a culturally sensitive approach;
  • Formulate mechanisms to identify Living Human Treasures using a systematic approach;
  • Formulate and implement a system to ensure the transmission from the Living Human Treasures to younger generations.

The main activities include:

  • Develop detailed procedures for the identification of target domains of intangible cultural heritage, the definition of the Living Human Treasures, and criteria for their selection;
  • Conduct field research in each province in Fiji to collect and examine information on masters;
  • Organize provincial workshops to raise awareness about the system among practitioners and other stakeholders.

Creation of a Living Human Treasures system in Nigeria05-2004/09-2007, Nigeria