What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?

What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?

Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. 

These traditions or living expressions are inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, have evolved in response to their environments and contribute to giving us a sense of identity and continuity.  These cultural expressions are known as intangible cultural heritage.  Intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization.

Intangible cultural heritage is:

Traditional, contemporary and living at the same time: intangible cultural heritage does not only represent inherited traditions from the past but also contemporary rural and urban practices;

Inclusive: intangible cultural heritage contributes to social cohesion, encouraging a sense of identity and responsibility which helps individuals to feel part of one or different communities and to feel part of society at large;

Representative: intangible cultural heritage is not merely valued as a cultural good, on a comparative basis, for its exclusivity or its exceptional value;

Community-based: communities themselves must take part in identifying and defining intangible cultural heritage: they are the ones deciding which practices are part of their cultural heritage.

There is a risk that certain elements of intangible cultural heritage could die out or disappear without help. But how can we safeguard and manage a heritage that is constantly changing and part of ‘living culture’ without freezing or trivializing it?  Safeguarding means making sure that intangible cultural heritage is kept alive.  Intangible cultural heritage must remain relevant to a culture and should be regularly practiced and learned within communities and between generations.  

To promote international cooperation in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in 2003. It is the first international treaty providing a legal, administrative and financial framework for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage.

Learn more on How to Safeguard ICH without Freezing It

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