Eritrea has rich and diversified intangible cultural heritage. Each of the nine ethno linguistic groups has its own language, folk traditions and living expressions. This has been handed down from ancestors to descendants for thousands of years and contributed to the existence of Eritrea as a nation by giving its people a strong sense of identity and continuity.
This month, from 19th to 28th, Asmara is hosting a training workshop for capacity building in preparing nomination files and making requests for international assistance for intangible cultural heritage (ICH) of Eritrea.
In 2010, The State of Eritrea ratified the 2003 convention for the safeguarding of the ICHs, since then, a number of programs and projects have been conducted as part of Eritrea’s implementation of the convention. In 2011, the State of Eritrea participated in a regional workshop for directors of culture, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya. Following the workshop, it was felt, that there was a need to enhance national capacities in the field of ICH in Eritrea. It is against this background that in 2014 the State of Eritrea, with support of the Royal Norwegian Government through UNESCO, started implementing a project on “strengthening national capacities for implementing the 2003 convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage”. The project’s aim is to build an elevated level of experience and knowledge, both in governmental institutions and in selected communities, so that the country is equipped with an appropriate sustainable framework for safeguarding ICH and implementing the Convention on a long term basis.
In May 2015, a stakeholders’ workshop on Eritrean Cultural and Natural Heritage Legislation was held in Asmara. The workshop was organized by the Cultural Affairs Bureau and the Asmara Heritage Project in conjunction with UNESCO Nairobi office. The meeting developed the draft of Eritrean Cultural and Natural heritage policy, which was later approved by the Cabinet of Eritrea’s ministers. This historical step in the country’s legislature has helped Eritrea in its effort to safeguard ICH.
In April 2017, a training workshop on “Community- based Inventorying of Intangible Cultural Heritage” was held in Asmara. The aim of the workshop was to provide fundamental principles and practical information on community-based inventorying which was followed by the field exercise where a number of intangible cultural heritage elements (culinary traditions, traditional games, social practices/ rituals, performing arts, traditional dance and traditional crafts) were inventoried. Within the framework of the 2003 convention, there is a provision that member states can nominate ICH elements for inscription on UNESCO’s Representative List and Urgent Safeguarding List as well as a Register of Best Practices.
Other institutions, governmental and non-governmental bodies including the Research and Documentation Centre (RDC), the National Museum and other individual researchers, have also been active in the collection, documentation and archiving of cultural elements to safeguard the country’s nine cultural groups’ ICH.
The participants were community members across the country from the nine cultural groups and regional authorities on culture from the six administrative regions. The workshop enabled the participants to achieve the approaches and methods for inventorying ICH. After the workshop, the participants were assigned the responsibility to train community members in the regions they represent.
Following the workshop, a work plan for fieldwork on inventorying ICH in the nine cultural groups was drafted by the Cultural Affairs Bureau. It was appropriate to begin inventorying fieldwork with few selected elements from each cultural group rather than focusing only on one cultural group in order to allow all participants to be part of the community based inventory techniques they had learned during the workshop.
Therefore, from 15 September to 31 October 2017, two elements of ICH from each of the nine cultural groups were selected with the assistance of community members, and regional authorities for culture in each of the six regions administrative offices. The teams consisted of the Head of the Cultural Bureau Office, the coordinator of the project, the national expert (who is the interviewer) and a local language speaker, a note taker, a sound recorder and an audiovisual expert.
The approach used in the inventorying fieldwork included making the cultural offices and the communities in each region aware of the community-based inventorying work scheduled to take place. To accomplish this, a team from the Cultural Affairs Bureau, led by the Head of the office, visited the administrative offices responsible for culture in each of the six administrative regions to communicate with authorities on the need to collaborate and work together.
Planning the inventorying work continued through communication with the authorities in the administration offices of the six regions. The team selected two ICH elements from the nine cultural groups of the country, preparing the criteria for selection, preparing the questions in each of the local languages that were used to collect necessary information on each of the selected elements in the cultural groups, choosing the practitioners and the specific village where the inventorying was done.
Each region was in contact with the team leader for the specific culture group at the Cultural Affairs Bureau, who was in charge of preparing all the necessary tools for the inventorying work to begin. The research team leader was from the Cultural Affairs Bureau, and was a local language speaker responsible for coordinating the inventorying of the particular two ICH elements, transcribing, translating, and preparing the forms, while two audiovisual experts in the Cultural Affairs Bureau were responsible to prepare the digital records of the ICH elements.
Transportation and daily allowance for the team was made available for each trip when a team travelled to a village or community according to the fieldwork plan. The equipment for documenting the work were prepared and the readiness and enthusiasm of the team was at a peak.
All in all, the inventorying fieldwork was successful. For the teams who did the inventorying work in the different cultural groups, it was a great opportunity to acquire valuable experience that will help them work with fluency in future inventorying fieldworks. And future inventorying will be not only community-based but community-led inventorying of ICH in the country.
As a continuation of the inventorying fieldworks, this February’s workshop has been organized to introduce participants to the process of nominating elements on UNESCO’s lists and the elaboration of requests for international assistance from the UNESCO 2003 Convention Fund. There will be participants from the commission of Culture and Sports, cultural experts, researchers, members of academia and civil society organizations. It will be facilitated by UNESCO-accredited ICH expert, Mr.Lovemore Mazibuko from Malawi, Dr.Senait Bahta, a National ICH Expert, and Ms.Karalyn Monteil, UNESCO program Specialist for culture.
The objective of this workshop is to prepare, in close collaboration with UNESCO, national experts and authorities, a nine-day training workshop for 20-30 participants on the elaboration of requests for international assistance to the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund and on preparation of nomination dossier for the inscription under the 2003 convention and how these may contribute to the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) present in the Eritea’s territory.