It’s hard to preserve those things that are not places or objects, but rather traditions, festivals, ceremonies, or specialized art. For that there is the UNESCO’s Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which includes things as disparate as falconry, oral stories, puppetry, and tightrope walking.
This October is the 10th anniversary of the General Conference of UNESCO adopting the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, although the list itself was started in 2008, and between 2009 and 2012, 167 elements were added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as well as 31 on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, which are those things more in danger of disappearing. The most recent additions include Ecuador’s Panama Hat, Buddhist chanting of Ladakh in India, Romanian Horezu ceramics, Bedouin poetry chanted by men traveling on camelback, and the Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi in Venezuela.
A huge goal is in raising awareness that can hopefully emphasize the importance of what is gradually disappearing with the homogenization of culture, as well as giving those communities involved huge leverage in gaining financial and visual support. As UNESCO states:
Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as 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.
While traditional ceramics and oral stories are the expected for this heritage, there are some more offbeat cultural elements that are on the UNESCO lists. Here are eight of the more unexpected examples of this “intangible heritage,” the protection of which guards not just cultural diversity, but the personality of the linked world:
The Jultagi tightrope walking in Korea is unique in involving a whole production with a play and music alongside the practiced acrobatics, as well as an element of clowning where the walker will often pretend to fall down, even though experts in the skill can leap along the rope while maintaining balance.
Sure, horseback riding is in no danger of disappearing as long as children still beg for ponies and there are parts of the world where horses are a main mode of transportation, but Equitation in the French tradition is something way more intense. The school of riding is all about the human-horse relationship in a goal to reach “lightness,” where with a lack of constraint on the horse and non-violence, the horse and its rider are able to move as one in often gravity-defying harmony.
Certain parts of naval traditions have also made the list, including the pretty awesome watertight-bulkhead technology of Chinese junks, which is one on the list in need of urgent safeguarding. The construction of a series of watertight compartment means that if it suffers damage, it will still stay afloat. However, there are currently only three masters of the technique alive, and with them might fade its complex constructions.
It might seem a little ridiculous (or at least, with the photograph above), but gingerbread cookies are also on the list. Northern Croatia gingerbread craft that involves a high level of both skill and speed makes elaborate treats with rich colors (and, we assume, tastes), detailed pictures, and even mirrors. While once the sole craft of men, there are now also women gingerbread crafters carrying on the delectable heritage.
People standing on top of people as high as they can is a serious business in Spain. The Human towers, or castells, are popular in Catalonian festivals, and there’s even a human tower competition called the Concurs de Castells (shown at the top of this post). As UNESCO notes, while anyone is welcome to join the “pinya” of supporting arms at the base, “the knowledge required for raising castells is traditionally passed down from generation to generation within a group, and can only be learned by practice.”
The Indonesian Kris is a uniquely asymmetrical dagger dating back to the 10th century that is used as both weapon and a sacred object. But history aside, you might wonder what is happening this photograph. One tradition attached to the dagger is a story interpreted through dance, where soldiers put into a trance by a villain so that they would stab themselves are saved by a magician who makes their skin resist the blade, so here they jab at themselves without being harmed.
Carried on by the small communities that line the coast of Venezuela, the Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi is an event of elaborate costumes (check out the trippy ones above), that marks the presence of Christ. In it, masked devils dance backwards as a member of the Catholic Church carries forth the sacrament, a symbolic and celebratory performance of good against evil.
Yes, even the joys of wasting time over a cup of coffee are worthy of the list, at least when done to the perfection of the Viennese. These places “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill,” as UNESCO so eloquently states, date back to the 17th century, with their culture of newspapers and marble tables, and the ignoring of the clock in favor of caffeine, is definitely something we wouldn’t want to lose.
Click here to view the complete list of UNESCO’s Intangible Culture.