Intangible Cultural Heritage

© UNESCO
Traditional cultural festival in Brazil

The Intangible Cultural Heritage comprises the living expressions and traditions that communities, groups and individuals around the world receive from their ancestors and pass on their knowledge to their descendants.

Despite trying to maintain a sense of identity and continuity, this kind of heritage is particularly vulnerable since it is in constant mutation and multiplication. For this reason, the international community adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003.
It is widely recognized the importance of promoting and protecting the cultural memory and cultural manifestations around the world, by monuments, historic sites and cultural landscapes. But not only physical aspects constitute a people culture. There is much more in the traditions, folklore, in knowledge, languages, parties and various other aspects and manifestations, transmitted orally or gesturally, collectively rebuilt and modified over time. We call it intangible cultural heritage.

For many people, especially ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, the intangible heritage is a source of identity and history. Philosophy, values and ways of thinking, reflected in the languages, oral traditions and diverse cultural events, are the foundation of community life. In a world of increasing global interactions, the revitalization of traditional and popular cultures ensures the survival of cultural diversity within each community, contributing to the achievement of a plural world.

Aware of the importance of this kind of heritage and of the complexity involved in defining its boundaries and protection, UNESCO has over the past twenty years striving hard to create and consolidate tools and mechanisms that lead to recognition and defense. In 1989, the Organization established the Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore and has since been encouraging its application around the world. This legal tool provides elements for the identification, preservation and continuation of this kind of heritage, as well as its dissemination.

In order to stimulate governments, NGOs and local communities to recognize, value, identify and preserve the intangible heritage, UNESCO has created an international title, awarded to renowned spaces (places where people regularly produce cultural manifestations) and to traditional and popular culture manifestations. Thus, in 2003 and 2005, the Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity selected through an international jury spaces and expressions of outstanding importance, among applications coming from several countries.

Besides the records and files, UNESCO considers that one of the most effective ways to preserve the intangible heritage is to ensure that the bearers of this kind of heritage can continue producing and broadcasting it. Thus, the Organization stimulates countries to establish a permanent system of people identification (artists, craftsmen etc.) who embody, in high degree, the necessary skills and techniques for the manifestation of certain aspects of cultural life and the maintenance of their material cultural heritage.

Finally, in 2003, after a series of technical studies and discussions with international experts, lawyers and members of governments, UNESCO adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. This convention regulates the intangible cultural heritage and complements the 1972 World Heritage Convention, which takes care of the tangible properties in order to cover the entire cultural heritage of humanity.

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