Writer : Roslyn Russell, PhD
Year : 2023

This volume of the International Journal of Intangible Heritage contains twelve articles that explore four themes that relate to a range of issues in intangible cultural heritage. The first theme concerns broad aspects of intangible cultural heritage, including the intersection of the 2003 Convention criteria with human rights concerns; intangible cultural heritage and memory; and the potential for intangible cultural heritage to play a role in reconciling societal divisions in a post-conflict region. The second theme concerns performance, its place in reinforcing identity, but also in challenging gender roles, and its capacity to assist in sustainable development. Craft and craftsmanship constitute the third thematic area, which includes case studies of the ways in which digital technology can promote and sustain craft practice. The last thematic grouping deals with language, both spoken and written, and explores a range of linguistic expressions that sustain community life in different settings.

UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and the ‘Goodness criteria’ is examined in this article. The interpretation of article 2 of the Convention and its practical implementation has proven to be challenging. Specifically, the question as to how to deal human rights considerations within the framework of the Convention is an unresolved issue. A traditional practice may, for many people, appear to be discriminatory. This raises contentions when these practices fall within a ‘grey area’: the issue of discrimination tends to be easier to avoid than to address. The notion of heritage as inherently ‘good’ is another dimension of this problem. In contrast to the World Heritage Convention, the 2003 Convention does not recognise so called negative, contested or difficult heritage. The inclusion of the ‘goodness criteria’ in the Convention can be construed as ensuring that due attention is given to human rights considerations and that discriminatory practices are not to be included. Nevertheless, the ‘goodness criteria’ have not been strictly applied, for example in dealing with gender relations in an intangible cultural heritage setting. The article discusses problems related to the current approach to the ‘goodness criteria’, and posits four alternative scenarios.

Heritage, the Illusion of Inheritance, and the Volatility of Memory: A Reflection on the Procession of Our Lord the Good Jesus, Macau, delves into collective memory and the mutability of a religious practice. This article examines the notions of ‘collective memory’ and ‘inheritance’ behind heritage. Based on archival studies of the Procession of the Passion of Our Lord the Good Jesus (Procissão de Nosso Senhor Bom Jesus dos Passos) in Macau, the author postulates that such an event, for its capacity to accommodate different significations, its distinct relationships with multiple groups of people and its continued survival into the present, can shed new light on our understanding of heritage. The article proposes that any ‘heritagised’ item exists as a medium that can be related to, and imprinted with distinctive meanings by, diverse groups. This, in turn, renders the idea of ‘passing down’ heritage as a viable possibility.

Intangible Cultural Heritage as a resource: Fieldwork among politically active civil society stakeholders in the province of Vojvodina, Serbia seeks to demonstrate the effectiveness of stakeholder inclusion in preserving cultural values and identity, as embodied in intangible cultural heritage, without reigniting inter-ethnic rivalries that contributed to war and social disaster in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Anthropological fieldwork in the province of Vojvodina, Serbia – a region with 32 recognised nationalities, ethnic and religious communities – has yielded promising results for intangible cultural heritage specialists who had been concerned that safeguarding intangible cultural heritage could exacerbate social conflicts. A possibly unintended consequence of the implementation of safeguarding protocols was observed in the course of the fieldwork. Cultural entrepreneurship has been identified through the mechanism of ‘self-stakeholderisation’ – a phenomenon of bottom up agency by various actors who pursue developmental opportunities despite standard heritagisation practices dominated by cultural policies designed for the inclusion of stakeholders coming from dominant ethnic and religious populations. This research can provide a starting point for the development of an applicable model of intangible cultural heritage stakeholder involvement in post-conflict societies.

Between Representation and Performance: Celebrating Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Longji Ancient Zhuang Village, Longji Terraces, China investigates the representation and performance of intangible cultural heritage within and beyond official heritage discourse, by drawing on the Longji Ancient Zhuang Village as a case study. It argues that intangible cultural heritage making that community members participate in or control is not only for cultural representation and tourism consumption, but also a means for self-expression and for engaging a sense of place. Intangible cultural heritage serves as a powerful tool for representing cultural diversity and fostering local development in China. The state-led administrative system of intangible cultural heritage conveys the shift from immaterial cultural manifestations to an essential resource for cultural production and national identity construction in ethnic minority areas. However, for ethnic minority communities, intangible cultural heritage is part of their everyday lives, even though it might not be recognised, staged and celebrated using this term. Contextualised within the dimension of performance, intangible cultural heritage is also related to emotion and experience.

Portraying Feminist Beliefs and Transcending Cultural Norms: Korean Women Artists’ Reinterpretation of Traditional Male Songs explores how contemporary women artists in the field of traditional Korean music have recently expressed their feminist beliefs on stage. At a concert titled ‘The Songs Once Used for Men’, two South Korean women artists completely transformed Korean court music called Jongmyo jeryeak (Royal Ancestral Shrine Music). This has rarely been adapted by contemporary performers because of the desire to preserve the original form of cultural heritage. The artists sang, played musical instruments and danced, all practices originally performed by male performers according to Confucian traditions. Beyond the artists’ androgynous looks, their low-pitched voices, the use of electronic music and newly manufactured musical instruments indicated their resistance to traditional gender roles in the Korean music scene and, more generally, contemporary Korean society. The unconventional performance formats and styles exemplify today’s women artists in the field of fusion gugak, a contemporary form of traditional Korean music, which portrays ideas on gender issues through stage performances. The findings expand our understanding of feminist music criticism, which argues that music does not solely reflect passive societal views but serves as a public forum within which various modes of gender organisation are asserted, adopted, contested and negotiated.

Heritage Preservation versus Adaptation to Achieve Sustainability: A case study of the Fishermen’s Dances, Rizhao City, Shandong Province, China asserts that the importance of heritage preservation for economic development is now recognised, although this is subject to debate. For cultural assets that have survived threats and perils, the key may lie in adaptation to changed circumstances as much as in the preservation of traditions. The question then arises as to whether such adaptation compromises the goal of sustainability of intangible cultural heritage. In this case study of Fishermen’s Dances in Rizhao City, adaptation has resulted in the loss of some long-held traditions, but it has gained a measure of sustainability. Given the strong role of the Chinese state, its vision for and capacity to transform its cultural assets for income-generating activities will be decisive for intangible cultural heritage in the future. From the perspective of the Fishermen’s Dances, the enhanced role of the government as a major stakeholder offers both costs and benefits.

An Experiment to Functionalise Living Human Treasures Systems and Revive Craftsmanship: Flemish Experience draws on the way in which the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage places individuals, groups and communities at the heart of safeguarding. Living Human Treasures, although discontinued as a UNESCO programme in 2006, was an earlier model of this approach and is still prevalent in various national and regional contexts, albeit often used to grant honours and draw public attention to the excellence of masters, performers and other artists. Nevertheless, it is important to revisit practices that have put emphasis on human agency in the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage. The subsidy regulation for apprenticeship to craftsmanship in Flanders (Belgium), where there is no official Living Human Treasures system, provides a relevant case that serves to align the human-centred approach of the system with the 2003 Convention. An experimental practice commenced by the Flemish Ministry of Culture in 2018 in Belgium, it is a remarkable initiative that addresses crafts communities in Flanders. This article argues that this experience devoted to a contemporary interpretation of crafts and craftsmanship can inspire others to mobilise and accommodate Living Human Treasure systems into national and regional contexts with connections not only to culture but also to education, design, entrepreneurship and the economy.

Supporting Ethnic Craftswomen in Chiang Mai through Digital Media: Acknowledging the Possibilities and Challenges has as its focus the Women E-nspire Culture project, a pilot initiative launched by UNESCO Bangkok, with the support of Samsung Electronics, aimed at safeguarding traditional crafts by providing digital entrepreneurial skills for ethnic craftswomen, including Hmong, Akha and Karen ethnic groups. Since becoming a member of the Creative Cities Network in 2017, Chiang Mai has implemented a range of projects aimed at protecting and promoting the city’s craft heritage. The Social Research Institute at Chiang Mai University became a partner in the second phase of the project in July 2020, when a community-based workshop was organised in collaboration with UNESCO Bangkok to further develop and strengthen the digital skills of Hmong craftswomen and youth in Doi Pui village. This article discusses the sociocultural background to the project, as well as key lessons learned and the challenges of using digital technologies to support craftswomen in Chiang Mai’s ethnic communities.

Craftsmanship in Virtual Reality: Digital Development and Evaluation of Traditional South African Brewing presents a case study in the application of digital technology to maintain and sustain craft traditions, an increasingly difficult task due to the effects of globalisation, combined with the fleeting nature of intangible cultural heritage. The continuation of intangible cultural heritage relies on the awareness and interest of young people, as it is passed from generation to generation. This study aims to protect knowledge and skills – specifically traditional craftsmanship, in the case of South African beer (umqombothi) brewing – by exploring how to digitally represent and disseminate intangible cultural heritage using virtual reality. The study has shown that short-term use of the virtual reality prototype enables novice participants to learn essential aspects of community intangible cultural heritage and beer-brewing practice. The article emphasises the importance of evaluating the dissemination potential of safeguarding solutions by assessing their transfer back to everyday life.

Safeguarding Language as Intangible Cultural Heritage claims that the United Kingdom currently lacks a national framework for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage. The article makes the case that language, including dialects, accents and lexicons of United Kingdom communities, must be included within approaches which aim to safeguard intangible cultural heritage. As a ‘repository’ of community practices, language is central to individual and shared identities and feelings of ‘belonging’. The article challenges perceptions that the United Kingdom has no intangible cultural heritage through a case study of ‘pit talk’ in the East Midlands, and draws on approaches being taken at local or regional levels to preserve and revitalise language heritage. It also explores the potential benefits, disadvantages and limitations of the United Kingdom ratifying UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage 2003. Although this would be a positive step towards protecting intangible cultural heritage in the United Kingdom, the article suggests that a nationwide framework that places community needs at its heart is key to safeguarding language heritage for future generations.

Safeguarding Intangible Heritage through ‘Living Manuscript’: Mocoan Tradition of an Osing Family in Banyuwangi, Indonesia explains how the manuscript reading tradition in Indonesia can be maintained and preserved as a living heritage. The manuscript-reading tradition in Indonesia has received little scholarly attention, while in fact it is still practised by communities in various rituals which may be described as ‘living manuscripts’. This study focuses on a manuscript-reading session related to a ritual – namely, the mocoan lontar Hadis Dagang – supported by only one Osing family in Banyuwangi, East Java, Indonesia. The findings of the study indicate that the living manuscript – a tradition of manuscript reading maintained and preserved by a ritual – can be a living heritage and play a role in safeguarding another intangible cultural heritage contained in these traditions.

Intangible Cultural Heritage Values in the Sunda Wiwitan Ritual and Ancient Sundanese Manuscripts as Basic Concepts of Traditional Building Architecture, Sundanese Peoples, Indonesia aims to reveal the values contained in the Sunda Wiwitan ritual and the old Sundanese manuscript as the basic concepts informing the architecture of traditional buildings. The focus of the research is on traditional houses located in Baduy Tangtu village, Leuwidamar district, Lebak regency, Banten Province, Indonesia. The research outcomes articulate three main values as basic principles: (1) The conception of cosmology in the form of three world classification values, namely ‘buana tilu’ namely ‘buana nyungcung’, ‘buana panca tengah’, ‘buna larang’. The principles of ‘rohangan tilu’ namely ‘tepas imah’, ‘tengah imah’, ‘pawon’ and the principles of ‘ngadegkeun wangunan’ namely ‘memehna’, ‘salila, ‘sanggeusna; (2) Conception of the basic form of the building, namely ‘tangtungan jelema’: ‘hulu’, ‘awak’, ‘suku’; (3) The concept of site selection for building, namely ‘warugan lemah’ so that the occupants are safe and avoid disaster. The values contained in the three findings can be used as guidelines by the Sundanese people in establishing their homes.

The Editor-in-Chief wishes to express her appreciation to the Editorial Board, the Editorial Committee and the Secretariat of the International Journal of Intangible Heritage for the consistent support and encouragement they have provided in the course of the production of this volume. She would also like to thank the peer reviewers of the papers submitted to the Journal, copy editor Danielle Carter, and all those who have submitted their scholarly work for review and publication.

Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Intangible Heritage
Roslyn Russell