Four cultural elements from China and Croatia in need of urgent safeguarding, UNESCO Committee decides
The UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, meeting in Nairobi from 15 to 19 November, today inscribed four new elements on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. Three of these are practiced in China (Meshrep, the watertight-bulkhead technology of Chinese junks, printing with wooden movable type) and the fourth in Croatia (Ojkanje singing).
The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding is a list of cultural elements whose viability is at risk despite the efforts of the communities and groups that practice them. In order to be inscribed on this list, States must pledge to implement special protection plans, established with the full participation of concerned communities. They may also benefit from financial assistance from a Fund managed by UNESCO.
Furthermore, States will have to submit reports on the state of these elements four years at the latest following the inscription. The reports will describe notably the social and cultural functions of the element, its viability and the impact of the safeguarding plan and efforts. The process must involve as extensively as possible the communities, groups and individuals who are the custodians of the cultural elements declared in need of urgent safeguarding.
With these new elements, the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding now comprises 16 elements. Beginning on 16 November, the 24-member Committee, chaired by Jacob Ole Miaron (Kenya), will examine 47 nominations for the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The Committee, which is holding its annual meeting in Sub-Saharan Africa for the first time, is one of the governing bodies of the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Adopted in 2003 and ratified by 132 States, the Convention promotes the safeguarding of elements such as oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe and traditional craftsmanship.
Elements inscribed today on the urgent List are:
China – Meshrep - Found among the Uygur people concentrated largely in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Meshrep constitutes the most important cultural carrier of Uygur traditions. A complete Meshrep event includes a rich collection of traditions and performance arts, such as music, dance, drama, folk arts, acrobatics, oral literature, foodways and games. Uygur muqam is the most comprehensive art form included in the event, integrating song, dance and entertainment. Meshrep functions both as a ‘court’, where the host mediates conflicts and ensures the preservation of moral standards, and as a ‘classroom’, where people can learn about their traditional customs. Meshrep is mainly transmitted and inherited by hosts who understand its customs and cultural connotations, by the virtuoso performers who participate, and by all the Uygur people who attend. However, there are numerous factors endangering its viability, such as social changes resulting from urbanization and industrialization, the influence of national and foreign cultures, and the migration of young Uygur to cities for work. Frequency of occurrence and the number of participants are progressively diminishing, while the number of transmitters who understand the traditional rules and rich content of the event has sharply decreased from hundreds to tens.
China - The watertight-bulkhead technology of Chinese junks
Developed in South China’s Fujian Province, the watertight-bulkhead technology of Chinese junks permits the construction of ocean-going vessels with watertight compartments. If one or two cabins are accidentally damaged in the course of navigation, seawater will not flood the other cabins and the vessel will remain afloat. The junks are made mainly of camphor, pine and fir timber, and assembled through use of traditional carpenters’ tools. They are built by applying the key technologies of rabbet-jointing planks together and caulking the seams between the planks with ramie, lime and tung oil. The construction is directed by a master craftsman who oversees a large number of craftsmen, working in close coordination. Local communities participate by holding solemn ceremonies to pray for peace and safety during construction and before the launch of the completed vessel. The experience and working methods of watertight-bulkhead technology are transmitted orally from master to apprentices. However, the need for Chinese junks has decreased sharply as wooden vessels are replaced by steel-hulled ships, and today only three masters can claim full command of this technology. Associated building costs have also increased owing to a shortage in raw materials. As a result, transmission of this heritage is decreasing and transmitters are forced to seek alternative employment.
China - Wooden movable-type printing of China - One of the world’s oldest printing techniques, wooden movable-type printing is maintained in Rui’an County, Zhejiang Province, where it is used in compiling and printing clan genealogies. Men are trained to draw and engrave Chinese characters, which are then set into a type-page and printed. This requires abundant historical knowledge and mastery of ancient Chinese grammar. Women then undertake the work of paper cutting and binding, until the printed genealogies are finished. The movable characters can be used time and again after the type-page is dismantled. Throughout the year, craftspeople carry sets of wooden characters and printing equipment to ancestral halls in local communities. There, they compile and print the clan genealogy by hand. A ceremony marks the completion of the genealogy, and the printers place it into a locked box to be preserved. The techniques of wooden movable-type printing are transmitted through families by rote and word of mouth. However, the intensive training required, the low income generated, popularization of computer printing technology and diminishing enthusiasm for compiling genealogies have all contributed to a rapid decrease in the number of craftspeople. At present, only eleven people over 50 years of age remain who have mastered the whole set of techniques. If not safeguarded, this traditional practice will soon disappear.
Croatia - Ojkanje singing - Ojkanje two-part singing, found in the Croatian regions of the Dalmatian hinterland, is performed by two or more singers (male or female) using a distinctive voice-shaking technique created by the throat. Each song lasts as long as the lead singer can hold his or her breath. Melodies are based on limited, mostly chromatic, tonal scales, and the lyrics cover diverse themes ranging from love to current social issues and politics. Ojkanje owes its survival to organized groups of local tradition bearers who continue to transmit the skills and knowledge, representing their villages at festivals in Croatia and around the world. Although Ojkanje is traditionally passed on orally, audio and video media and organized training within local folklore groups now play an increasing part in its transmission. However, the survival of individual voice-shaking techniques and numerous two-part forms depends greatly on talented, skilful singers and their capacity to perform and to pass on their knowledge to new generations. Recent conflicts and rural to urban migration that reduced the population of the region and changes in ways of life have caused a sharp decrease in the number of performers, resulting in the loss of many archaic styles and genres of solo singing.
Press contacts, UNESCO Division of Public Information:
Lucía Iglesias Kuntz
+ 33(0)6 07 84 26 76 / l.iglesias(at)unesco.org;
Isabelle Le Fournis
+ 33(0)6 12 19 74 01 / i.le-fournis(at)unesco.org