Sub-regional Capacity-Building Workshop on the Implementation of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage
The viability of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) should be understood as its potential to remain significant to the community or group concerned. The community, group and individuals concerned have the primary responsibility to ensure the viability of their ICH. This viability depends especially on their capacity and commitment to practice and transmit their heritage into the future, even as circumstances change. The conception of viability in the Convention thus converges with the broader international concerns with sustainability, especially with regard to sustainable development. Sustainability is often defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The great importance that the Convention attaches to transmission as the primary safeguarding measure for ICH reflects this commitment to providing future generations the knowledge, skills and practices inherited from past generations. Safeguarding is aimed at allowing ICH practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills and associated tangible manifestations to be sustainably maintained by the communities, groups or individuals concerned.
As the fundamental objective of safeguarding in the 2003 Convention, viability is incompatible with the notion of authenticity, which nowhere figures into the Convention. Because intangible heritage is constantly recreated, the criterion of authenticity cannot be applied. “Although an important attribute of tangible cultural heritage, authenticity is not relevant when identifying and safeguarding intangible cultural heritage” (Yamato Declaration).
Group 1: Practice, Creation, Maintaining, Transmission (cont’d)
The viability of the intangible heritage – its practice and its sustained transmission – is sometimes endangered by a number of threats. The Convention concentrates particularly on the grave threats of degradation, disappearance and destruction. Threats may arise either from phenomena external to the dynamic of communities or groups, such as armed conflicts or natural disasters, or from slower processes whose effects will only become visible over the long term, such as poverty, migration, hasty and disorderly urbanization, environmental deterioration, globalization, intolerance or oppression. On the other hand, even changes that are accepted or viewed as positive by communities, such as access to mass media, opening up to tourism, or action by the public authorities and/or non-governmental organizations to promote development, can jeopardize the community’s ownership and enhancement of its intangible cultural heritage (ICH). When faced with equivocal or pejorative views of its ICH, the community, unless it is aware of the importance and value of its heritage, may share those views. An element of the ICH may be considered to be endangered when a continuous reduction may be observed in the number of persons directly involved in producing it; when the inter-generational transmission chain is weakened; or when the custodians of such ICH encounter difficulties of various kinds – economic, social or symbolic – in ensuring its viable continuity. An element of the ICH may be considered to be extremely endangered when there is major evidence of its imminent disappearance – for example, when no more than an insignificant number of its custodians remain; when the transmission chain is broken and new generations do not or no longer identify with that heritage; or when no record of it exists on physical media to preserve at least the memory of it.
Group 2: Revitalization
Revitalization of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) means reactivating, restoring and strengthening ICH practices and expressions that are vulnerable, threatened and in need of safeguarding. To recognize and revitalize such heritage, it should demonstrate at least some degree of vitality or it has ceased to be heritage. Given the definition of ICH as constantly created and re-created, transmitted from generation to generation, an element that has become extinct and does not remain in the lived memory of community members associated with it cannot be revitalized. The resurrection of an extinct tradition, practice or expression through books, documents or historical records is not revitalization as described in the Convention, because it is not living heritage anymore. In such a case it is an act of invention or reinvention, which is a conscious reproduction or reconstruction to serve particular ends and interests (political, ideological, economic, etc.). Such reconstructed elements may have components of cultural expressions that had existed independently from one another (or may even have belonged to another community). Such reinvention may be an attempt by a country or community to resuscitate ICH elements for the purpose of forging a new collective identity or common ancestry. Over time, such reinvented forms may become intangible heritage if they are constantly created, re-created and transmitted through generations, but they cannot be deemed as heritage at the moment of their recreation. In some languages and some disciplines such as linguistics, a distinction is made between revitalization of something weak but living and revival of something that is dead or extinct, but in many other languages these terms are exactly synonymous. Within the Convention, restoring and strengthening heritage that is weak and endangered—that is, revitalization—are welcomed as a fundamental safeguarding measure; the resurrection of extinct elements falls outside the scope of the Convention.
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