Safeguarding—that is, “measures aimed at ensuring the viability of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)”—is the main goal of the 2003 Convention. Among the range of safeguarding measures, two terms in wide use—preservation and protection—deserve careful consideration. In the context of the Convention,preservation of intangible heritage means the efforts of communities and culture bearers to maintain continuity in the practice of that heritage over time. Within different communities and diverse forms of heritage, some are more or less attached to the faithful recreation of preceding expressions, and some are more or less open to innovation and new creation. Protection refers to deliberate measures—often taken by official bodies—to defend intangible heritage or particular elements from threat or harm, perceived or actual. Protective measures may be legal in nature, such as laws permitting certain ICH practices, ensuring a community’s access to needed resources, preventing misappropriation, or prohibiting actions that would interfere with the viability of heritage. They may also include customary measures such as ensuring that a tradition is transmitted in an appropriate way and that knowledge about it is not misused. Under the Convention, neither preservation nor protection should be understood as freezing heritage in some lifeless, unchanging form; because intangible heritage is always being created and recreated, freezing its form is undesirable and means it may no longer be considered intangible heritage.
Transmission of (ICH) occurs when practitioners and other cultural bearers within a community pass on practices, skills, knowledge and ideas to coming generations, in formal or non formal ways. ICH transmission also entails communicating the significance, history and associated values, and even the appreciation of the cultural expression concerned. Transmission may take place, for example, within the family, from parent to child, from master to disciple as part of an initiation rite, or from teacher to pupil in a formal or non-formal education setting. Intergenerational transmission is a distinctive feature of ICH and the best guarantee of its viability. In the case of a living ICH element, transmission is intrinsically linked to its practice and to its proper place in the community.
The traditional processes of transmission established by and within the community are most often circumstantial and contextual. They are intimately linked to the content that is transmitted and are a function of context, time and space. They include informal, unstructured means of transmission through which, for example, young people acquire knowledge and skills by observation, imitation and practice or by participation in community activities.
The non-formal means of transmission are the body and the word. Direct contact between master and disciple is part of the process, integrating the desire to emulate or surpass. There are also formal means of transmission such as long processes of initiation and apprenticeship with a master for several years. When traditional forms of transmission are broken or weakened, the very viability of the ICH element is often threatened. Under such circumstances, formal or non-formal education may be an alternative and contribute to the safeguarding and transmission of ICH.
Ratification of the 2003 Convention
Ratification status as at 19 March 2008 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Paris, 17 October 2003.1
1In accordance with its Article 34, this Convention entered into force on 20 April 2006 for those States that have deposited their respective instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession on or before 20 January 2006. It shall enter into force with respect to any other State three months after the deposit by that State of its instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.