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Intangible Cultural Heritage

The term ‘cultural heritage’ has changed content considerably in recent decades, partially owing to the instruments developed by UNESCO. Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditionsperforming arts, social practices, rituals, festive eventsknowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life.

The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself, but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups.

Intangible cultural heritage, promoted and disseminated by IISD are characterised by;

  • Traditional, contemporary and living at the same time: intangible cultural heritage does not only represent inherited traditions from the past, but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part;
  • Inclusive: sharing of expressions of intangible cultural heritage that are similar to those practised by others. Whether they are from the neighbouring village, from a city, or have been adapted by peoples who have migrated and settled in a different regions, they all are intangible cultural heritage: they have been passed from one generation to another, have evolved in response to their environments and they contribute to giving us a sense of identity and continuity, providing a link from the past, through the present, and into the future. Intangible cultural heritage does not give rise to questions of whether or not certain practices are specific to a culture. It contributes to social cohesion, encouraging a sense of identity and responsibility which helps individuals to feel part of one or different communities and to feel part of society at large;
  • Representative: intangible cultural heritage is not merely valued as a cultural good, on a comparative basis, for its exclusivity or its exceptional value. It thrives on its basis in communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs are passed on to the rest of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities;
  • Community-based: intangible cultural heritage can only be heritage when it is recognized as such by the communities, groups or individuals that create, maintain and transmit it-without their recognition, nobody else can decide for them that a given expression or practice is their heritage.

The organisation considers the importance of the intangible cultural heritage as a mainspring of cultural diversity and a guarantee of sustainable development, as underscored in the UNESCO Recommendation on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore of 1989, in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity of 2001, and in the Istanbul Declaration of 2002 adopted by the Third Round Table of Ministers of Culture, considering the deep-seated interdependence between the intangible cultural heritage and the tangible cultural and natural heritage.

It recognises that the processes of globalisation and social transformation, alongside the conditions they create for renewed dialogue among communities, also give rise, as does the phenomenon of intolerance, to grave threats of deterioration, disappearance and destruction of the intangible cultural heritage, in particular owing to a lack of resources for safeguarding such heritage.

It also recognises that communities, in particular indigenous communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals, play an important role in the production, safeguarding, maintenance and re-creation of the intangible cultural heritage, thus helping to enrich cultural diversity and human creativity,

IISD has been emphasising on the need to build greater awareness, especially among the younger generations, of the importance of the intangible cultural heritage and of its safeguarding,

Sectoral Coverage in intangible cultural heritage

The broad areas of activities of the organisation in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage include;

  • oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
  • performing arts;
  • social practices, rituals and festive events;
  • knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; and
  • traditional craftsmanship.

The organisation has been undertaking and supporting measures to ensure the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage; aimed at ensuring the viability of the intangible cultural heritage; including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission, particularly through formal and non-formal education, as well as the revitalization of the various aspects of such heritage.

Education, awareness-raising and capacity-building

One of the focus areas of such safeguarding has been “Education, awareness-raising and capacity-building”; which is aimed at ensuring recognition of, respect for, and enhancement of the intangible cultural heritage in society, in particular through:

  • educational, awareness-raising and information programmes, aimed at the general public, in particular young people;
  • specific educational and training programmes within the communities and groups concerned;
  • capacity-building activities for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage, in particular management and scientific research;
  • non-formal means of transmitting knowledge;
  • keeping the public informed of the dangers threatening such heritage; and
  • promoting education for the protection of natural spaces and places of memory, whose existence is necessary for expressing the intangible cultural heritage.

Participation of communities, groups and individuals

The organisation has been endeavouring to ensure the widest possible participation of communities, groups and, where appropriate, individuals that create, maintain and transmit intangible cultural heritage.

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