Celebrating the Unseen


Espagne / Danse locale
Ch. Chusseau-Flaviens, George Eastman House Collection

What makes a culture special? How can we protect those things? Mike Procter and Bruce Gulland look at UNESCO's 'intangible heritage' list.

Transcript


Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I'm Mike Procter.

Voice 2

And I'm Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Here is a question: what do the following places have in common? What links them?

Voice 1

Hoi An city in Vietnam, Persepolis in Iran. Old Quito in Ecuador, and the Tower of London in England.

Voice 2

The answer is that all four are special places! They have been chosen by the United Nations. The UN's cultural organisation, UNESCO, says that all these places are world heritage sites - places that are important in the history and culture of their countries and of humans in general. In fact there are over 900 such sites around the world. There is probably one - or more - in your country. UNESCO's idea is to protect these places for people to enjoy - now and in the future.

Voice 1

However, some things that define our culture and history are not physical things, not places or buildings. Some are things that you cannot touch, cannot visit, cannot see, and cannot smell. These are 'intangible' things, yet they are still important. Language is a good example. UNESCO has a separate list of such things. Today's Spotlight is on "UNESCO's Intangible Heritage List".

Voice 2

Spain is a country rich in heritage and culture. It has many World Heritage Sites. But it also has Flamenco!

Flamenco brings together dance, music and song to create a rich art form. The dances, clothes, songs and instruments are different from area to area, but Flamenco is a tradition that is completely Spanish. It is used to express emotion and tell stories. Rhythm is an important part of Flamenco: the sound of hands clapping together; the clicking of wooden castanets; the tap of shoes on a hard floor; these are all part of the unique music. The music is normally played on a guitar. The guitar player moves his fingers across the strings of his instrument fast and with great skill.

Flamenco passes to each new generation through groups in local communities. Each community has its own dances, music and clothes. But as people move around, communities change, and their Flamenco traditions could easily be lost. UNESCO aims to protect these traditions.

Voice 1

There is a reason for UNESCO's desire to protect traditions like Flamenco. The United Nations aims to achieve world peace - and UNESCO is part of the United Nations. It works towards peace by helping people understand what makes us different from each other. Such things raise our value as human beings.

Human beings are unique. No two people are exactly the same, even if they look the same. This is also true for groups of people. A group, small or large, will develop its own culture - what it believes, its social rules, its way of life, its music, stories, clothes, food and art.

Voice 2

A group of people called the Zápara live in the Amazon rain forest in Ecuador and Peru. They have very wide understanding of the animals and plants around them - including their uses for medicine. All the Záparas' knowledge is passed on by word of mouth. They have no writing. Their language is the last of its kind. Other, similar languages have died out since the discovery of the New World.

Voice 1

UNESCO has added the Zápara language to its Intangible Heritage list. The aim is to record and protect the Zápara language, and with it all the riches of the people's knowledge.

Language is important - but traditional ways of doing things are also part of Intangible Cultural Heritage. One example is methods of building. Much of the modern world uses machines and computers to design and build buildings. Some old skills for building have already been lost.

Voice 2

In parts of China there are bridges called Wooden Arch Bridges. They were built using traditional, ancient methods. The bridges are made of wood and have a roof covering them. They are beautiful to look at, and have always been an important part of the community. They are the meeting places for the villages and towns. They are places where ideas, news and problems have been discussed for centuries.

Building these bridges requires special knowledge and skills. There are no books to describe them. The skills have been passed down from generation to generation, but the fear is that they may be lost in the modern world. Part of UNESCO's work in this project is to encourage young people to learn the art of bridge building. It also encourages local financial support to keep the skills in the community and to pass the knowledge on.

Voice 1

It is easy to see that language, music and dance are part of culture, but what about the food we eat? What about diet? One of the things UNESCO added to the Intangible Heritage list recently is 'the Mediterranean diet'. The people of Southern Europe and North Africa live close to the Mediterranean Sea. UNESCO says that the people's diet is similar across several of these countries. It normally contains olive oil, cereals such as wheat, fruit, vegetables, and a moderate amount of fish, meat, cheese or yogurt. Their drink may be wine or different kinds of tea - always respecting the beliefs of each community.

Voice 2

It may seem strange to include diet in a cultural heritage list. For some people, it raises questions about what UNESCO includes on its list. Miguel Anxo Murado is a Spanish writer. He writes for the Guardian newspaper. He criticised UNESCO's choosing of both Flamenco and the Mediterranean diet. Flamenco, he says, is not an ancient tradition - but a modern art-form that is still changing. And he claims that the Mediterranean diet is not real. He says it was invented by an American diet expert just after World War Two. He says the only people who really keep to such a diet are those whose doctors have told them to - for medical reasons.

Voice 1

Choosing what to include in a list of intangible things must be difficult. After all, these are things you cannot see. It is very probable that not everyone will agree with all the things on the list - and there are over 180 of them. Miguel Anxo Murado's criticism of particular items on the UNESCO list does not mean that he thinks the whole list is bad. He says:

Voice 3

"I think the list is a good idea. Our urge to protect and celebrate is strongly linked to our urge to destroy and forget. Both come from that deep human drive: the desire for knowledge."

Voice 1

The UNESCO Intangible Heritage List tries to celebrate and protect the things that make us different. That helps us to know the rich mixture of things that makes us the same. We can celebrate our differences and our similarities - our diversity and our common humanity.

Voice 2

The writers of today's programme were Rebecca Strivens and Mike Procter. The producer was Nick Mangeolles. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted and read by Spotlight.

This programme and many more are on our website – http://www.radio.english.net. This programme is called 'Celebrating the Unseen'.

Thank you for listening to Spotlight today. Goodbye.

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
ngaht288
said on March 06, 2012

Intangible cultural heritage values are not touched, not visible ... but can reach the hearts and minds of our human. That is the beauty that we and our children need to pass on and preserve for eternity. This cultural diversity of the country has enriches our spiritual life . As I am Vietnamese, I cherish the cultural heritage, the cosmetic habits and customs of my country, and I am very proud of our cultural heritage as Tru, Hue music, Quan Ho songs ... that are the on the list of UNESCO ... I also love other cultures and want to explore other countries’ culture. Thanks God for offering us the profound value and also thanks Spotlight for reminding us of the origin and making the world better!

Avatar Spotlight
kenhieuloilam
said on March 08, 2012

We love good things. We build for good things. We make much effort for good things. We learn and train. We wish good things. We learn about the past. We learn about the present. We learn about the future. We learn about good things. We live our lives for good things. We live our lives for peace. Good things are stable. Good things exist and bring everyone good things. We aim to good things.