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“All cultures are equal. The community is the most important aspect of all. Samoa is rich with culture and is in a position to lead...We make our plans but God directs our actions.”

These are some of the words whichinspired the enriching dialogue amongst participants of the Implementation Workshop hosted by the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture, in collaboration with UNESCO Apia and Japans Fund-in-Trust Project to UNESCO last week.

The Japans-in-Trust Fund was established to support UNESCO in its cultural programs by way of funding. The implementation workshop is a continuation of a series of workshops and public consultations in the preparations by Samoa towards ratifying the UNESCO 2003 Conventionon the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

In his keynote address, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture,Matafeo Falana’ipupu Tanielu Aiafi,congratulated the participants who were senior representatives from various organisations in the private sector, those of University institutions and government ministries. He also commended the facilitators Noriko Aikawa and Anthony Parak, the office of UNESCO and the government of Japan for their dedication towards such an important initiative. The Counsellor of Japan, Hon. Kazumasa Shibuta highlighted the richness of Samoa’s culture and believes that Samoa is in a position to lead in the Pacific in a dynamic movement towards preserving our islands’ cultural heritage.

The ICHconvention is one of seven Unesco Conventions on the subject of culture. The term “intangible cultural heritage” is defined in the convention as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills – as well as instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces, associated therewith – that communities, groups, and in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage” ( Article 2.1). The concepts of continuity, identity and preservation are eminent in the convention.

The Convention’s primary goals are –

  • To safeguard intangible cultural heritage
  • o ensure respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals concerned.
  • To raise awareness and appreciation of the importance of the intangible cultural heritage at local, national, and international levels.
  • To provide for international cooperation and assistance

The domains or fields covered by the ICH Convention include oral expressions and traditions, performing arts, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship.

For the purposes of the workshop held last week, the five domains of the ICH convention were assessed in relation to the art of weaving, one of Samoa’s traditional skills. A field visit to the Women’s Committee in Solosolo was conducted to enable the trainingof inventorying skills required when the Convention is ratified by Samoa.

Welcomed by an ava ceremony, feasting on Samoan delicacies such as vaisalo and fa’ausi, as well as participating in singing and dancing with the proud Solosolo villagers, the local participants were merely reminded of their magnificent Samoan way of life.  

From the community visit, the subject of culture became more about respect for our heritage and the common will to “keep it alive”.

Issues such as sustaining resources for weaving, the use of modern methods versus traditional ways, the transmission of the art of weaving to the next generation, the quality of mats made and reasons that some of the designs and traditions in the use of mats no longer exist were highlighted in the discussions.

The way forward discussions highlighted a much needed embracive culture policy in safeguarding measures as main issue. Improved collaboration amongst stakeholders was also mentioned as a way ahead for the effectiveness of safeguarding measures of ICH.

High officials from various organisations and Government ministries such as, Ministry of Women and Social Development, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Samoa Qualifications Authority, the newly established Samoa Arts Council, the National University of Samoa, the University of South Pacific, the Law Reform Commission, Samoa Tourism Authority and so forth actively participated in the discussions of the workshop.

Empowering communities to take charge of their cultural heritage is the most important aspect of the Convention. The role of governments in the convention is to ensure that the communities are supported in their endeavours to safeguard their cultural heritage. When the Convention is ratified, Samoa will join 145Member States of the Convention.

In the end of the workshops, the participants agreed that as a way forward, there needs to be improved collaboration amongst relevant ministries and private organisations towards the development of culture in Samoa to save time and resources.

Other recommendations for a way forward in the preparations of the ratification of the convention include: capacity building, sourcing a national policy on Culture.

The Minister of Education, Honourable Magele Mauiliu Magele closed the workshop with a fa’amalo to the participants, the village of Solosolo, the facilitators and UNESCO. He reminded the participants of the importance of the ICH Convention to Samoa and encouraged them to keep up the great work.

The next workshop will be called Community Based Inventorying of Intangible Cultural Heritage Workshop and will be held in Savaiilater this year. The Culture Division is tasked with a mission to continue the facilitation of these workshops to ensure awareness amongst all stakeholders surrounding the purposes of the ICH convention.

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