UNESCO, Intangible and Oral Heritage of Humanity


The UNESCO enlists archaeological, natural, touristic and cultural sites on the world heritage list. These sites are unique tangible sites in human history. Since the beginning of the third millennium, UNESO has started to focus as well on the inscription of the intangible heritage.

In 2011 and for the first time, UNESCO highlighted haute and artistic works in the oral and intangible heritage. These includes: the oldest Chinese opera, the Japanese theater Nogaku, the Sicilian puppet theatre, the Oruro carnival in the Andes, the Georgian songs, the Philippian Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao, the cultural space of Jemaa el-Fna Square, Morocco (NHK), and the oral and musical heritage of many African communities. These are examples of the 19 cultural spaces or other cultural forms that the UNESCO, in 2001, enlisted it under “haute artistic works in the oral and intangible heritage of humanity”.
The first declaration of artistic works in oral and intangible heritage took place three days after the meeting of the 18-member international jury headed by the Spanish writer Juan Guetisolo. Thirty-two nominations were presented to this Committee.

Four of the winning works were from the Americas, and these included: the language, the dances and the music of Garifuna (the Belize, supported by Honduras and Nicaragua), Oruro carnival (Bolivia), the cultural space of the Holy Spirit Brothers of Congo’s Villa Mila (Dominican Republic), the oral heritage and cultural events of the people of Zaparo (Ecuador and Peru).

In addition, three African cultural spaces and forms gained the tittle of haute artistic work: the oral tradition of Gilde tribes and area (in Benin, supported by Nigeria and Togo) and instruments and Gouvah songs from Afonkha, which involved the music of the cultural space of Tabghana community (Ivory Coast), and the cultural space of the Susu Pala (Guinea).

In Asia, six haute artistic works were honored by UNESCO: Opera Congo (china), the Sanskrit Kutiyattam theater (India), the Japanese theater Nogaku (Japan), the royal ancestry ritual and the ritual music of Yongimo temple (Korea), the Hudhud chants of the Ifugao tribes (Philippine), the cultural space of the province of Boisson (Uzbekistan).
The European oral and intangible heritage have won five prizes: the Elch Mystery (Spain), the Georgian Multiracial Singing (Georgia), the Sicilian puppet theatre “Opera dei Pupi” (Italy), the emergence and symbolization of the crosses in Lithuania (Lithuania supported by Lithuania), and the cultural space and oral culture of the Semeiskie (Russian Federation).

In Arab countries, the cultural space of Jemaa el-Fna Square, Morocco (NHK), was selected by the committee for its uniqueness.

The UNESCO’s World Heritage List is defined as a collection of the most important and unique cultural or natural sites on earth. The aim of declaring the 19 global art works by UNESCO was to highlight the importance of preserving the intangible heritage, which is an essential element of cultural diversity. While announcing the results, the director-general of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, noted that the declaration represents the first step in this process especially as a decision was made to take a second complementary and parallel step in the long run: a standard tool project that would complement the 1972 World Heritage Convention for tangible heritage.

“The list we are developing requires a certain number of specific and very strict commitments,” said Matsuura. “On one hand, it is necessary to submit a request for nomination from a state or a group of States including an inventory of their intangible heritage. There is no doubt that this state or these states are aware of the importance of preserving all aspects and manifestations of this intangible heritage, and protecting it, as well as the local people who revive it. On the other hand, candidates should not only highlight the cultural value of the proposed theme, but also propose detailed protection plans. […] Finally, the inscription on World Heritage List of any theme by UNESCO requires placing all its resources to assist the country or group of countries in funding the conservation and protection plan of the nominated artistic work.”

It is worth noting that the chairman of the jury said that none of the other nominations were rejected permanently, whishing for them to be submitted again “with better preparation, particularly with regard to action plans.” He also stressed the necessity for other countries to submit their nomination as well.

The term “oral and intangible heritage” by UNESCO is defin0ed as:

“The total creations of a community or a cultural group which are founded on tradition, expressed by a group of individuals and defined as meeting the expectations of a society as an expression of its cultural and social identity, where standards and values are transmitted verbally by tradition or other ways. These forms include, among others, language, literature, music, dance, games, mythology, rituals, customs, craftsmanship, architecture and many other arts. In addition to these examples, traditional forms of communication and information are also taken into account. “

The deadline for submitting the applications of nomination of unique art works for inscription on the oral and intangible world heritage list is announced by UNESCO. The country may submit one nomination, while there are no limits on the numbers of nominations submitted by the participant countries. Prior to submitting nominations to the jury, candidatures are presented to specialized non-governmental organizations, such as the Supreme Council of Traditional Music, the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, and the Permanent International Association of Linguistics.


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