On March 7, 2017, the Maltese Parliament unanimously approved to ratify the 2003 Convention of UNESCO for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, thus becoming the 173rd country to endorse this convention.

This Convention has established a new, holistic approach to cultural heritage, as well as a new set of administrative and legal instruments and strategies for identifying, safeguarding, managing and promoting intangible cultural heritage.

While articulating the idea of the growing importance of intangible cultural heritage, the Ministry for Justice Culture and Local Government delegates the Culture Directorate to be the official body:

  • to conceptualise the elements of intangible heritage in the national cultural policy framework;

  • administer a strategy for identifying, preserving, managing and promoting intangible cultural heritage;

  • encourage communities and individuals to nominate elements to be included on the national inventory;

  • support administratively the National Board which decides those elements strongly rooted in our culture and merit the prestige distinction worthy of protection and promotion on a national and on global scale;  

  • following the recommendation of the National Board, the Directorate oversee, facilitate and support the application of those elements which deserve to be listed on the world heritage list of UNESCO for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage; 

  • if and when an element is recognised as a national and international heritage, the Culture Directorate shall be the institution to cooperate and monitor the administrative and legal aspects at both international and national level.  This shall be done in close collaboration with the relevant Educational Institutions, NGOs, Local Councils, Regional Committees, Communities and Experts who shall be the partners in the safeguarding process; and

  • through instruments of bilateral cultural agreements with different countries and international organisations, it shall seek assistance for the safeguarding of national intangible cultural heritage, especially for those traditions, activities and practices which are declared to be in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

 

 

Identifying Intangible Cultural Heritage

In accordance with the resolutions of the Convention, “intangible cultural heritage” is defined as all practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. (Article 2 of the Convention).

 

The “intangible cultural heritage” is manifested in the following five domains:

  1. oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;

  2. performing arts;

  3. social practices, rituals and festive events

  4. knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;

  5. traditional craftsmanship.

Within this context, Malta encourages, researchers, NGOs, communities and individuals to come forward and identify the various elements of our national intangible cultural heritage.  In this regard, a National Inventory is set up to embrace traditions, activities and practices recognised as intangible cultural heritage of national importance.

The Minister responsible for Culture shall nominate a National Board to evaluate and decide on any expression of interest submitted in this regard.  It shall be the responsibility of this National Board to authorise the Culture Directorate to include any tradition, activity and practice to be included on the National Inventory.

The traditions, activities and practices to be recognised for inclusion on the National Inventory shall be those which identify with us as a nation state.  Although Malta has a long history, which dates back to thousands of years, geographically situated between three continents and colonised by different potentates for many years, our people still managed to develop distinctive elements of intangible cultural heritage which have been passed from one generation to the next.

The National Inventory shall honour these distinctive elements for safeguarding.

 

 

Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage

By “safeguarding” one means measures aimed at ensuring the viability of the intangible cultural heritage, including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission, particularly through formal and non-formal education, as well as the revitalisation of the various aspects of such heritage.

 

The Government, through the Culture Directorate, shall ensure that each tradition, activity and practice on the National Inventory, is safeguarded by integrating the safeguarding process of such heritage into:

  1. any planning programme;

  2. the school curriculum, whereby students encounter examples of intangible cultural heritage on the National Inventory and are taught the need to safeguard those practices which help the transmission from one generation to the next;

  3. scientific, technical and artistic studies, and research methodologies, with a view to effective safeguarding, in particular the intangible cultural heritage in danger of extinction;

  4. legislation, technical and administrative measures aimed at:

  5. fostering the creation or strengthening of institutions for training in the management of the intangible cultural heritage and the transmission of such heritage through forums and spaces intended for the performance or expression thereof;

  6. ensuring access to the intangible cultural heritage while respecting customary practices governing access to specific aspects of such heritage;

  7. establishing documentation institutions for the intangible cultural heritage and facilitating access to them.

  8. capacity building exercises to support this policy of safeguarding.

Managing Intangible Cultural Heritage

 

Intangible Cultural Heritage is an important part of our legacy from the past, what we live with today and what we should pass on to future generations.  It is an irreplaceable point of reference of our identity.

Managing intangible cultural heritage is not easy if the communities do not embrace the value of such heritage.  To succeed, it is the communities that have  to take ‘charge’ of these matters and fully comprehend the responsibility to preserve the knowledge gained from past generations and transmit them to future ones.  This can only be achieved by active citizenship.  Local Councils and Regional Committees should be on the vanguard to empower their communities to take pride of the traditions, activities and practices which characterise their locality and way of life.

The role of the Culture Directorate shall be to support the communities by ethnographic research, fiscal incentives to propagate the traditions, activities and practices and raising the profile of the element to national and where possible to international awareness.

 

Promoting Intangible Cultural Heritage

Through collaboration with local councils and NGOs, the Culture Directorate shall embark on a vast lifelong learning programme in the communities of Malta and Gozo to

  • involve them actively in the management of the elements,

  • encourage non-formal means of transmitting knowledge through all forms of media,

  • be active in raising awareness of any dangers threatening the elements as early as possible, and

  • help such communities to develop skills and competences to safeguard.

 

Furthermore, the state can give official recognition to the importance of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage with a museum that record interactively with the public, all the elements recognised on the National Inventory.  At the same, the museum preserves any literature that documents the origin, preservation and transmission methodology of the traditions, activities and practices.

This institution shall then be the prime source for future research on the epistemology on these elements.

Similar to the noble practice in tangible cultural heritage, the business community should take pride and contribute to the funding of the safeguarding and promotion of intangible cultural heritage as part of their social responsibility.

Conclusion

Safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage does not equate to the fixed preservation of a tradition at a particular point in time or style.  On the other hand, one is conscious of the fact that with globalisation and several other forms of modernisation, several elements of our intangible cultural heritage are in a state of decline or change, or under increasing pressure of natural demise.   One can take as an example, several traditional trades and crafts; oral expressions and sayings; children’s play; agricultural and fishing techniques; traditional culinary and much more.

Recognition of these elements on the National Inventory shall bring prestige and prestige brings attention from the media, the general public as well from the members of the community.  The prestige, honour, recognition and attention shall make cultural practitioners proud of what they do.  They will be energising their own efforts to continue, transmit and even extend their traditions; hence the preservation of elements that make us Maltese and proud of our culture will be safeguarded.

THE POLICY