Constructive dialogue on equal terms Who safeguards the intangible cultural heritage?

Gnaoua World Music Festival in Essaouira, Morocco, on June 13, 2014: Gnawa has been added to the UNESCO list of intangible heritage in 2019. It is a musical tradition of the Gnaoua Sufi Brotherhood from the times of the slave trade, composed of various secular-religious elements: musical events, performances, Sufi brotherhood practices and healing rituals.
Gnaoua World Music Festival in Essaouira, Morocco, on June 13, 2014: Gnawa has been added to the UNESCO list of intangible heritage in 2019. It is a musical tradition of the Gnaoua Sufi Brotherhood from the times of the slave trade, composed of various secular-religious elements: musical events, performances, Sufi brotherhood practices and healing rituals. | Photo (detail): Jalal Morchidi © picture alliance / Anadolu Agency

Professor Tiago de Oliveira Pinto, ethnomusicologist and director of the Department of Musicology Weimar-Jena, is one of the most renowned researchers in the field of transcultural musicology. In an interview with “Latitude”, he talks about the necessity of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage and the possibilities of preserving orally transmitted knowledge for larger populations in times of global human migration and extreme climatic upheaval.

Parallel to the current discourses on safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, traditional cultural expressions and practices ought to be kept alive with clear objectives, according to Pinto. They should not only be safeguarded and preserved, but also subjected to new interpretations in line with the dynamics of an increasingly globalized world. He asserts that intangible cultural heritage can only be sustainably safeguarded if it is actively practised, be it traditional music, dances or rituals. He believes that the main custodians of intangible cultural heritage are the people themselves - those who maintain and pass on the traditions. In this context, a constructive dialogue of equals between cultural heritage experts and the societies that practice the traditions is absolutely necessary.
  • Tapestries with crosses and the Armenian alphabet. The Armenian art of writing and its cultural expressions were inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage in 2019. The Armenian art of writing is based on the Armenian alphabet, which was developed more than 1,600 years ago. Richly decorated letters can be found in elaborate scripts as well as on carpets, wooden sculptures and other handicraft products. The art of writing plays an important role in the preservation of the Armenian language and culture. Yvan Travert © picture alliance / akg-images
    Tapestries with crosses and the Armenian alphabet. The Armenian art of writing and its cultural expressions were inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage in 2019. The Armenian art of writing is based on the Armenian alphabet, which was developed more than 1,600 years ago. Richly decorated letters can be found in elaborate scripts as well as on carpets, wooden sculptures and other handicraft products. The art of writing plays an important role in the preservation of the Armenian language and culture.
  • Silat, the traditional martial art from Malaysia, was added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage in 2019. Originally a pure art of self-defence, silat today also includes traditional clothing, musical instruments and customs and has developed into a performing art and sports movement practice. Luca Tettoni © picture alliance / robertharding
    Silat, the traditional martial art from Malaysia, was added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage in 2019. Originally a pure art of self-defence, silat today also includes traditional clothing, musical instruments and customs and has developed into a performing art and sports movement practice.
  • Musician on the island of Fogo, Cape Verde. Morna, the traditional music style of the Cape Verde Islands, was inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage in 2019. The reason for this is that "the tradition includes music, singing, poetry and dance. The lyrics are about love, farewell and separation, but also about home and the ocean. Typical instruments for the musical style are guitar and violin." Matthias Graben © picture alliance / imageBROKER
    Musician on the island of Fogo, Cape Verde. Morna, the traditional music style of the Cape Verde Islands, was inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage in 2019. The reason for this is that "the tradition includes music, singing, poetry and dance. The lyrics are about love, farewell and separation, but also about home and the ocean. Typical instruments for the musical style are guitar and violin."
  • The culture of the Bumba-meu-boi was inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage in 2019. It is a ritualized practice from Brazil with music and dances, which is performed at popular festivals. BeJo Schmitz © picture alliance/chromorange
    The culture of the Bumba-meu-boi was inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage in 2019. It is a ritualized practice from Brazil with music and dances, which is performed at popular festivals.
  • The ceramics craft in Puebla and Tlaxcala (Mexico) as well as in Talavera de la Reina and El Puente del Arzobispo (Spain) has been included in the intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO since 2019. The explanatory statement states: “The artisan production process of ceramic products in the four municipalities has remained largely unchanged since the 16th century. The knowledge and skills include the production of the clay and pottery, as well as decoration and other demanding finishing steps. Each workshop cultivates its own identity, which is expressed in details of the shapes, decorations, colours and glazes of the products. The production of ceramics is also a fundamental identity symbol in both countries.” Bildagentur-online/Mahaux-AGF © picture alliance
    The ceramics craft in Puebla and Tlaxcala (Mexico) as well as in Talavera de la Reina and El Puente del Arzobispo (Spain) has been included in the intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO since 2019. The explanatory statement states: “The artisan production process of ceramic products in the four municipalities has remained largely unchanged since the 16th century. The knowledge and skills include the production of the clay and pottery, as well as decoration and other demanding finishing steps. Each workshop cultivates its own identity, which is expressed in details of the shapes, decorations, colours and glazes of the products. The production of ceramics is also a fundamental identity symbol in both countries.”

Tiago de Oliveira Pinto is convinced that globalization does not pose a threat, but rather offers many opportunities for the various actors to achieve synergies that are essential for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage. After all, cultural practices, activities and indigenous knowledge have always existed in constant interaction with the environment: “Traditions are alive and dynamic - they respond to their environment and adapt to the changes therein”.
 
For more about the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, you can watch the full interview with Tiago de Oliveira Pinto:
 

The interview was conducted by Eliphas Nyamogo, online editorial consultant at the Goethe-Institut Munich.