Safeguarding Cultural Heritage

About Eritrea - History & Culture

Heritage continues to be deeply tied to perceptions about nationhood and deep roots that were developed during the 19th century.

It is considered as a legacy that is defined by the spiritual and documentary importance of the objects. It is related to identities and collective memories. Today, cultural heritage, whether it is classified as tangible or intangible, has become a major cultural resource that must be protected. This is done not only by protecting monuments in danger, renovating buildings, gentrifying ancient urban districts, but also by supporting various bodies of local knowledge, occupational skills, crafts and traditions. Museums play a big role in collecting, recording, safeguarding and exhibiting these heritages in their different forms.

UNESCO has classified heritage in to three distinct groups: tangible cultural heritage, natural heritage and intangible cultural heritage (ICH). Initiatives to protect ICH are continuously introduced to ward off the disappearance of living traditions and protect them from the threats of globalization, migration and the homogenization of cultures. The actual implementations of these measures have not always been successful. According to article two of the 2003 convention, Intangible Cultural Heritage refers to the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts, and cultural spaces associated that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. These elements of intangible cultural heritage are transmitted from generation to generation, and they are constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provide them with a sense of identity and continuity, promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.

There are three main groups of stakeholders:

Specific communities 1. considered to form networks of people whose sense of identity or connectedness is tied to a shared history based on the practice and transmission of or engagement with their ICH.
Groups of people within 2. or across communities who share characteristics such as skills, experience and special knowledge, and play important roles in the present and future practice, re-creation and or transmission of their intangible cultural heritage.

Individuals within or 3. across communities with specific skills, knowledge, experience or other attributes.

In addition to these three groups, “society”, referring to the whole population of a country, and “multinational” or “scattered communities/groups” that are attached to a single heritage that is not bound to a single geographical area or country are included.

People are the focal point in ICH, as it is mostly based on intergenerational transmission and skilled knowledge that is knowledge acquired by practice and experience. Hence, ICH encompasses cultural and social practices, ceremonies, various forms of arts and crafts, as well as occupational skills. The notion of safeguarding is central to intangible cultural heritage. It conveys the idea of protecting and preserving, while at the same time transmitting far and wide. In our country the Commission of Culture and Sports, through the National ICH Committee and Cultural Affairs Bureau of the commission, is conducting research and establishing documentation systems to preserve and valorize the untouched and rich Intangible Cultural Heritage elements. To date, 18 elements, two from each ethno-linguistic group, have been properly studied and documented. The study is aiming at ensuring the viability and sustainability of the intangible cultural heritage, including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement (if necessary), transmission, particularly through formal and informal education, as well as revitalization of the various aspects of such a heritage. Today, the viability and sustainability of the heritage, especially intangible cultural heritage, depends largely on the availability of adequate financial resources. It implies, among other things, reaching wider audiences and ensuring that the transmission of the ICH is open to communities and groups beyond closed ethnic, religious or cultural circles and networks.

The commitment to sustainability is not without inconsistencies, and there is an increased awareness that tangible and intangible forms of cultural heritage are tightly interwoven. One has to keep in mind that there is a strong link between the tangible and intangible and the intangibility of cultural heritage is articulated through the materiality of culture. This is because the tangible can be easily understood and interpreted through the intangible.

Culture never stands still; it is continuously in the making. The intangible heritage is attuned to changes in society, the entanglement of multiple identities and to the effects of globalization.

Museums and those directly or indirectly involved in promoting and valorizing culture need to play a role in collecting, documenting, safeguarding and promoting cultural heritage.

Recognition and respect of cultural diversity are fundamental steps in understanding and preserving cultural heritage, and they are fundamental dimensions of ICH. The notion of cultural diversity encompasses a great number of complex issues pertaining to ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, education and economy. Changes, especially those caused by globalization, particularly affect the intangible cultural heritage such as rituals and related cycles of life, dietary and culinary arts, celebrations, dressing, games, etc.

What measures should be taken to safeguard our heritage? The natural and tangible cultural heritage can be easily preserved through sustainable awareness-raising programs by the national media, conducting seminars and introducing promotion mechanism in collaboration with stakeholders. Conservation measures through scientific ways can also help to protect damages made by pollution, rainfall and other natural and man-made hazards.
The safeguarding of intangible heritage can be performed by organizing different activities and events in the form of lectures, workshops for adults and children, concerts, dance performances, festivals and publications of proverbs, tales and sayings. They can also be done by donating objects to museums, introducing traditional games in to modern mobile or computer games, creating new softwares like puzzles or question and answer about different ethnic groups’ intangible cultural practices.

In order to help safeguard our cultural heritage a mechanism that promotes the participation of every member of the community and institutions that are interested in culture, its development and preservation institutions must be ensured. The community must be the center of any Cultural Heritage safeguarding program. In today’s world, the need to preserve our heritages and transfer them to the next generation is critically essential. A little effort on our side can make a big difference in preserving our heritages.