Hezhen Yimakan storytelling
Inscribed in 2011 (6.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding
- Hezhen Yimakan storytelling, first element inscribed in 2011 on the Urgent Safeguarding List
Yimakan storytelling is essential to the worldview and historical memory of the Hezhen ethnic minority of north-east China. Narrated in the Hezhen language, and taking both verse and prose forms, Yimakan storytelling consists of many independent episodes depicting tribal alliances and battles, including the defeat of monsters and invaders by Hezhen heroes. This oral heritage highlights the defence of ethnic identity and territorial integrity, but also preserves traditional knowledge of shamanic rituals, fishing and hunting. Yimakan performers improvise stories without instrumental accompaniment, alternating between singing and speaking, and make use of different melodies to represent different characters and plots. They usually train in a master-apprentice relationship within their own clans and families, although today outsiders are increasingly accepted for apprenticeship. As the Hezhen have no writing system, Yimakan plays a key role in preserving their mother tongue, religion, beliefs, folklore and customs. However, with the acceleration of modernization and the standardization of school education, the Hezhen mother tongue is now endangered. At present, only the elders can speak their native language. This loss has become a major obstacle to the promotion and sustainability of the Yimakan tradition. Only five master storytellers are currently capable of performing the episodes – a situation aggravated by the deaths of a number of veteran storytellers, and the departure of younger generations to cities in search of employment.
Decision 6.COM 8.6
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 Yimakan contributes to the identity and cohesion of the Hezhen people, constituting a vector of their history and values and providing them a sense of continuity; it serves as collective memory, and functions both for education and for entertainment during major seasonal tasks and festive events;
- U2: Despite the best efforts of the Hezhen, both at the individual and association levels, the viability of Yimakan storytelling is at risk, particularly the traditional system of oral transmission and apprenticeship, due to limited numbers of elder storytellers and lack of interest among younger generations;
- U3: A four-year action plan is elaborated to safeguard and promote this element, with clear objectives and budget, and with the consent of all actors concerned; the safeguarding measures seek to strengthen the viability of the Yimakan storytelling and bolster its transmission, and are backed up with the needed financial support;
- U4: The participation of local communities and practitioners in the nomination process is evident, particularly from the careful attention paid to codes of conduct and the ethic of respect for customary practices, and their free, prior and informed consent is provided;
- U5: Within China’s multi-tiered inventorying system, Yimakan storytelling is included in inventories at the county, prefecture, province and State levels that are updated every two years; the State-level inventory is under the responsibility of the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture.
Inscribes Hezhen Yimakan storytelling on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding;
Commends the community concerned and the State Party on a clear and well prepared safeguarding plan;
Invites the State Party to simplify the procedures for accepting apprentices in order to develop a more inclusive safeguarding plan for Yimakan storytelling in schools at both the formal and informal level;
Encourages the State Party to strengthen the implementation of strategies to ensure the long-term sustainability of storytelling, to increase its attractiveness as a livelihood and to strengthen its transmission;
Recalls the importance of respecting customary practices governing the circumstances in which stories can be told as well as the relevant cultural, environmental and spiritual protocols.
© 2010 by Center for Safeguarding ICH of Heilongjiang Province, China
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