One may choose to think that a nation is defined by its natural resources but, in reality, cultural heritage is the essence that defines that nation. If we want to learn about history of the nation, then cultural heritage is a critical piece of the history because it provides the basis for national ideas. Preservation of cultural heritage demonstrates a recognition of the necessity as part of national history.
Culture, in its broadest sense, is a reflection of human identities and a way of life. The following is the definition of culture according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: “Culture may be said to be the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and belief, it is through culture that man expresses himself, becomes aware of himself, recognizes his incompleteness, questions his own achievements, seeks untiringly for new meanings and creates works through which he transcends his limitations.’’
In general, cultural properties and elements are identified as tangible and intangible heritage. Tangible cultural heritage is the heritage that can be physically seen and felt. It includes monuments, sites, buildings, tools, instruments, utensils and all other physical objects and artifacts that are made by human creative capacity. Intangible cultural heritage on the other hand, encompasses the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities, groups, and in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their heritage. It is transmitted from generation to generation and is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment. It is manifested, among other places, in the domains of oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of intangible cultural heritage; performing arts, social practices, rituals and festivals.
Eritrea has rich and diverse intangible cultural heritage. Each of the nine ethno-groups has its own language, folk traditions and living expressions. This has been transmitted from ancestors to descendants for centuries, giving the people a strong sense of identity and continuity.
Efforts have been made both by the government and the people of Eritrea to safeguard the nation’s valuable intangible cultural heritage by holding traditional and national festivals, conducting research on oral traditions through various Eritrean languages, raising the awareness and encouraging the participation of people in safeguarding intangible cultural through media programs and introducing culture and arts into the Eritrean national curriculum.
In relation to pertinent activities Eritrea in 2010 became state party to the 2003 convention of the intangible cultural heritage administered by UNESCO. Based on the Eritrean cultural and natural heritage legislation officially proclaimed on the 30th of September 2015. Eritrea is now committed to implement the 2003 convention in collaboration with UNESCO.
In order to preserve the intangible cultural heritage, drafted the convention of 2003, the government has been expending great effort. Now there is a workshop, which is supported by Kingdom of Norway, aimed at enhancing the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage of Eritrea.
This workshop will provide fundamental principles and practical information on community-based inventorying and using UNESCO’s capacity-building material as a guide. The first 6 days will include ‘classroom’-style training activities aimed at conveying the essential features of inventorying under the 2003 Convention as well as developing inventory framework and technical skills in identification and documentation. The last 4 days will be field-based practicum, carrying out inventorying work in small groups in three or four field locations. Participants will then return to the classroom to focus on organizing the data collected from the field work, exchange experiences and consolidate newly acquired skills.
The workshop has about 45 participants including national cultural officers, district cultural officers and community members who are themselves the bearers of heritage. The diversity of participants promotes the success of the initiative. It also promotes community-based inventorying.
The training workshop is facilitated by Culture Program Specialist UNESCO Regional Office for East Africa, Karalyn Monteil, and International Expert Lovemore Mazibuko supported by national experts with some knowledge of intangible heritage who will have participated in previous training workshops on safeguarding cultural heritage.
“Given that the program is a community-based inventory in which the aim is for participants from the nine ethnic groups of Eritrea to know their culture better, the participants will be responsible of collecting and documenting their own culture and understanding each other” stated Lovemore. “By this method, they can ask people of their respective communities, who also know them, so there will be greater trust and other advantages.”
He also added that, so far, the responses are good and the participants are cooperative. What he finds most interesting about the workshop, he explains, is the diversity in the participants. Some of them are actors and writers. Some of them are lecturers from art and technologies. Some of them are practitioners and researchers. Some are from the sport commission, while others are from Ministry of Information.
The government is investing in awareness-raising. There will soon be efforts towards national curriculum development that works to incorporate some of the cultural teachings into school curriculum. The curriculum will be taught via indigenous community resources rather than those emanating from other countries’ resources.
From these programs, nationals can benefit from knowing their culture indepth. The community-based inventory in safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage program will continue its courses for the coming three months. There will also be another training course in September that carry on for two years in support from the Kingdom Of Norway. These efforts will help to preserve the intangible cultural heritage of Eritrea.