Representation of ICH

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage on 17 October 2003. The Convention’s General Provisions acknowledges “the importance of intangible cultural heritage as a mainspring of cultural diversity and a guarantee of sustainable development” and yet observes that globalization and other detrimental forces are a grave threat to the future of this unique kind of heritage.

The Convention thus seeks to:

  1. Safeguard intangible cultural heritage;
  2. Ensure respect for the communities, groups, and individuals who produce intangible cultural heritage;
  3. Raise awareness at the local, national, and international levels of the importance of intangible cultural heritage; and
  4. Provide for international cooperation and assistance (Article 1). The Convention recommends that one of the key actions at the national level is the production of an inventory of intangible cultural heritage, which can be the foundation of management and safeguarding strategies (Article 12).

The Republic of Mauritius ratified the Convention on 4th June 2006. To honour this commitment and endeavour the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, the country has started taking measures and new research to inventory and document its intangible heritage. The National Heritage Fund under the Ministry of Arts and Culture is now the National Repository for Intangible Cultural Heritage in Mauritius.

Intangible cultural heritage encompasses living expressions and the traditions that countless groups and communities worldwide have inherited from their ancestors and transmit to their descendants, in most cases orally. The inventory for the Republic of Mauritius uses the definition of intangible cultural heritage as defined in the Convention (Article 2.1), with minor modification:

“The ‘intangible cultural heritage’ means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills—as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith—that communities, groups, and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible heritage, transmitted from generation to generation—and often between cultural groups—is constantly recreated by communities in response to their environment, their interaction with nature, and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.”

Additionally, the following eight points serve as guiding principles for the inclusion of elements in the Republic of Mauritius’ inventory. All Intangible Cultural Heritage elements in the inventory will thus:

  1. Be a tradition inherited from ancestors and passed on through time;
  2. Be a living form of heritage, which is continuously re-created and thus evolves;
  3. Be community-based since groups are the ones who create, carry, and transmit ICH;
  4. Provide a sense of identity and thus belonging to culture;
  5. Recognize that ICH is often multicultural, shared among diverse groups and all citizens;
  6. Promote understanding of others and respectful intercultural dialogue;
  7. Honour human rights and be non-derogatory towards persons or groups; and
  8. Inspire commitments of safeguarding to ensure its future.

Further, the Convention proposes five broad domains for intangible cultural heritage, which are used to organise the Republic of Mauritius’ inventory. As stated by the Convention’s supporting documents:

1. Oral Traditions and Expressions
The oral traditions and expressions domain encompasses an enormous variety of spoken forms including proverbs, riddles, tales, nursery rhymes, legends, myths, epic songs and poems, songs, and more. Based on the recommendations of UNESCO, languages taken as a whole will not be listed in the inventory, although specific language practices can be included. Oral traditions and expressions are used to pass on knowledge, cultural, and social values and collective memory. They play a crucial part in keeping cultures alive.

2. Performing Arts
The performing arts range from vocal and instrumental music, dance, sung verse and beyond. They include numerous cultural expressions that reflect human creativity and that are also found, to some extent, in many other intangible cultural heritage domains.

3. Social Practices, Rituals and Festive Events
Social practices, rituals and festive events are habitual activities that structure the lives of communities and groups and that are shared by and relevant to many of their members. They are significant because they reaffirm the identity of those who practice them as a group or a society and, whether performed in public or private, are closely linked to important events. Social, ritual and festive practices may help to mark the passing of the seasons, events in the agricultural calendar or the stages of a person’s life. They are closely linked to a community’s worldview and perception of its own history and memory. They vary from small gatherings to large-scale social celebrations and commemorations. Each of these sub-domains is vast but there is also a great deal of overlap between them. Based on the recommendations of UNESCO, religions taken as a whole will not be listed in the inventory, although specific religious practices can be included.

4. Knowledge and Practices Concerning Nature and the Universe
Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe include knowledge, knowhow, skills, practices and representations of the known world. They are created by communities interacting with the natural environment. These ways of thinking about the universe are expressed through language, oral traditions, and feelings of attachment towards a place, memories, spirituality, and worldview. They also strongly influence values and beliefs and underlie many social practices and cultural traditions. They, in turn, are shaped by the environment and the community’s wider natural world.

5. Traditional Craftsmanship
Traditional craftsmanship is perhaps the most tangible manifestation of intangible cultural heritage. However, the Convention is mainly concerned with the skills and knowledge involved in craftsmanship rather than the craft products themselves. Rather than focusing on preserving craft objects, safeguarding attempts should instead concentrate on encouraging artisans to continue to produce craft and to pass their skills and knowledge onto others, particularly within their own communities. Like other forms of intangible cultural heritage, globalization poses significant challenges to the survival of traditional forms of craftsmanship. Mass production, whether on the level of large multi-national corporations or local cottage industries, can often supply goods needed for daily life at a lower cost, both in terms of currency and time, than hand production. Many craftspeople struggle to adapt to this competition. Environmental and climatic pressures impact on traditional craftsmanship too, with deforestation and land clearing reducing the availability of key natural resources. Even in cases where traditional craftsmanship develops into a cottage industry, the increased scale of production may result in damage to the environment.

In 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019, four of the elements of our Intangible Cultural Heritage namely the “Sega Tipik”, “Geet-Gawai”, “Sega Tambour Rodrig” are inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and “Sega Tambour Chagos” is inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage In Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

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