Thursday, 29 July 2010

Heard but not Seen: Saving Intangible Heritage

As UNESCO says - “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.”

In their Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, 2003 - UNESCO explicitly recognizes that "communities, in particular indigenous communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals, play an important role in the production, safeguarding, maintenance and re-creation of the intangible cultural heritage, thus helping to enrich cultural diversity and human creativity." The convention also considers the "invaluable role of the intangible cultural heritage as a factor in bringing human beings closer together and ensuring exchange and understanding among them."

One part of intangible heritage is language. Taiwan is trying to save its indigenous languages since it is one of the few sources left of Austronesian culture and languages (a group that includes the Maoris of New Zealand). Now in Taiwan, only 35% of the 500,000 Austronesian indigenous people can speak their own tribal language because of previous government policies. When the Japanese occupied the island (1895-1945), they forced the Taiwanese people to speak in Japanese and when the Kuomintang party came to power in 1945, they, in turn, promoted Mandarin as the official and national language, harshly suppressing all native Taiwanese languages and dialects. Read more about Taiwan's efforts to save their languages in the original article here.

Author: Shahana Dastidar

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