17.10.2012 - UNESCO Office in Apia

Samoa Talks about Safeguarding Culture

Talking Chief(c)UNESCO/A.Takahashi

Tasked with a mission to protect and uphold our intangible heritage, the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture (MESC), in partnership with UNESCO, hosted the second round of public consultations on the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in Savaii and Upolu this week.

According to the UNESCO Convention, ICH means “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This ICH, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. “


Efforts by several nations and later by UNESCO have been aimed at sustaining and promoting the practice and skills of traditional cultures.


Samoa follows suit with other Pacific Islands as the need to keep up with the ever advancing civilization also presses for each and every cultural community to embrace their identities which are carved in all of their cultural traditions and spaces. This consultation was part of the process followed to enable Samoa to ratify the ICH Convention.


Nearly two hundred participants, consisting of village representatives (sui o nu’u) of both Savaii and Upolu, contributed to the intense discussions pertaining to the relevance and importance of the UNESCO ICH Convention for Samoa. The consultations were the second stage of this process and follow a workshop held earlier this year in Apia on the endorsement of the Convention.


The Honorable Minster of Education Sports and Culture, Magele Mauiliu Magele, spoke of the tidal wave of changes that we are facing as a small nation with a unique but dynamic and living culture. Being alert to the incoming changes and taking charge of our traditional customs, skills and spaces, with an open, patient and wise mind was the gist of the Honorable Minister’s key note address. The Honorable Minister also acknowledged the assistance from UNESCO Apia and commended the all-local members of the ICH working group who facilitated the consultations. He concluded his speech by wishing well thoughts upon the participants in their endeavor displaying Samoa’s proactive involvement in securing our cultural heritage.


A remarkable and unified response from the participants indicated the overall concern of Samoans about their traditional knowledge and crafts. It was unanimously agreed amongst the participants from Savaii and Upolu that protecting and upholding of our cultural heritage are now explicitly required.


Some of the cultural traditions and skills requiring revival, strengthening and sustaining highlighted by the enthusiastic participants included: the art of navigation; the art of building a fale Samoa; that of building canoes; the rekindling of the oral history of Samoa; the art of composing song and rhymes; weaving and carving; social customs and behavior; tattooing; siapo and elei making; etc.


While MESC is the key agency for culture in Samoa, other government agencies such as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE), Samoa Tourism Authority (STA), Ministry of Women, Community & Social Development (MWCSD) and some NGOs, are also tasked to safeguard our ICH.


The Culture Division of MESC is composed of the units - Culture Awareness, Archives, Audio Visual and Museum of Samoa. In a matter of weeks, the team will be showcasing aspects of Samoa’s culture at workshops at the Museum of Samoa, where some of the skills and traditional knowledge mentioned will be the highlighted.


The participants, representing the people of Samoa’s united voice, confirmed the need to ratify the UNESCO ICH Convention. It is now up to MESC to carry forward the challenge of achieving such a vital purpose for Samoa.


By Lumepa Apelu, Museum Officer, MESC

Photo of participants in Savaii consultation

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