24.09.2013 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

Communities are key to preparing inventories of Africa’s intangible cultural heritage

You need to establish a relationship of trust with communities. Here a weaver at the King Toffa’s royal court in Benin ©UNESCO/David Stehl

The safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is receiving increasing attention in African countries. Today, however, the rich diversity of the living heritage is yet to be identified and inventoried, an endeavour that can only be achieved with the full participation of the communities.

"The experience of preparing an inventory of intangible cultural heritage in Burundi has shown a great mobilization of practitioners and community members for their heritage. It strengthens ties and sharing among the various communities in the country," explains Domitien Nizigiyimana from Burundi who is part of UNESCO’s network of trainers for the intangible cultural heritage in Africa.

The elaboration of community-based inventories is hence at the heart of the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Training is needed

“Our challenge is that preparing these inventories requires specific skills, which are not always sufficiently mastered in countries that have ratified the Convention, including in Africa, a priority region for UNESCO,” says David Stehl, programme specialist for culture at UNESCO’s Regional Office in Dakar.

It is therefore urgent that the members of UNESCO’s network of trainers for intangible heritage in Africa have the pedagogical and methodological tools necessary to facilitate training in this area. The network was set up since 2011 to support the implementation of the Convention.

The French-speaking members of the network were invited to participate in a workshop organized by UNESCO and the School of African Heritage (EPA) from 16-23 September 2013 in Porto-Novo (Benin).

The aim of this training-of-trainers workshop was to update their competencies on community-based inventory-making and acquaint themselves with the training modules developed by UNESCO for this purpose.

King Toffa’s royal court

“We expect that each participant is able to facilitate training on community-based inventories of intangible cultural heritage in the spirit of the Convention at the end of this workshop,” says David Stehl.

The 25 participants came from 13 countries and included EPA technical staff, French-speaking Africain members of UNESCO’s network of facilitators, as well as some professionals from the International Centre for Research and Documentation on African Traditions and Languages (CERDOTOLA).

In addition to the theoretical aspects of the training module, the participants were received by the His Majesty King Toffa IX, Reign of the Hogbonou Kingdom in Porto-Novo, and his community for a practical field exercise.

"During an inventory of intangible heritage, once you have established a relationship of trust with communities, they open their doors," explains Victoire Adegbidi, Coordinator of Landscapes and Heritage at EPA. She was shown the traditional weaving technique by Gbédissin Ahoyo, weaver of traditional mats at the court of King Toffa IX.

The workshop was co-facilitated by two experts, Claudine Augée Angoué (Gabon) and Sidi Traoré (Burkina Faso) in collaboration with the Director of the EPA, Baba Keita (Mali) and the Culture unit of the UNESCO Dakar Office. It was funded through support of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund.




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