"How can intangible cultural heritage contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the nations of the world? "
This was one of the questions raised by Ms. Beatrice Kaidun, Head and Representative of UNESCO Dhaka, to participants at the 2016 Asia-Pacific ICH NGO Conference held at Jeonju, Republic of Korea, 3 – 5 November.
The question is relevant to the conference theme of “Achieving SDGs through Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage.” Ms. Kaidun concluded her presentation with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.” Galumalemana Steven Percival, representing the Tiapapata Art Centre Inc.,
attende the three-day conference and is one of only two representing NGOs from the Pacific Islands. Larry Raigetal from Micronesia represented Waa’gey, a community-based non-profit organization established in 2010.
For his organisation, work in intangible cultural heritage does not end with learning esoteric knowledge. “We don’t want to learn how to build voyaging canoes for tourists. We are more interested in applying the ICH knowledge so we may make ocean voyages as our ancestors once did.”
The idea behind applying ICH knowledge resonated with Galumalemana. In 2013, the Tiapapata Art Centre Inc. worked with communities in Samoa to produce a documentary film and museum exhibit on the making and use of coconut sennit, a craft that is considered to be in decline with traditional architecture seeming to use the versatile cord only for decorative purposes.
“Not only are there fewer traditional Samoan houses being built, but those that are, no longer use the cord to hold the building together structurally,” he explained.
Traditional Samoan architecture is replete with intangible cultural heritage
because it is a complex structure held together only by the lashing although some
component parts such as the round roof rafters (fau) are also locked with a dovetail type connection.
Losing ICH also impacts on language and biodiversity. When communities no longer
practice a traditional craft, words associated with that craft and the natural resources used no longer have a meaningful context and are apt to be forgotten or misused over time.
As an example of biodiversity loss, the niu’afa, a coconut variety with what may be the longest husk in the world, is no longer protected and conserved when there are no sennit makers.
The true to seed niu’afa variety is now rare in Samoa partly because of losses in ICH knowledge and practice. The ‘afa project implemented in 2013 was supported under the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation and is one of the projects to be presented by the Tiapapata Art Centre at the ICH conference in Korea.