Living heritage guardians meet in UAE

Delegates from more than 100 countries gather in Abu Dhabi to decide which cultural traditions need saving most urgently.

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ABU DHABI // Representatives of 114 countries will meet in Abu Dhabi tomorrow to decide which of the world's cultural traditions are facing an imminent risk of being wiped out. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) committee for safeguarding intangible heritage will convene at the capital's Intercontinental Hotel from September 28 to October 2 to compile a list of practices that require immediate protective measures. Intangible, or living heritage as it is also known, includes traditions such as dance, storytelling, poetry, games, craftsmanship and rituals that have been passed down from generation to generation and define communities. The committee will consider 12 applications, from eight nations, for inclusion on the "urgent safeguarding list". Urbanisation, globalisation and mass media are compounding the risk of losing the know-how, rituals and traditions passed down for millennia. There are also 111 nominations to be included on a secondary "representative list", for those practices that are culturally significant, but at less risk of dying out. The UAE has not submitted any files for consideration at this year's meeting, but has put together a bid for the traditional sport of falconry to be added to the secondary list in 2010. It also plans to nominate the traditional dances of "Al Ayala" and "Al Ahaala" for recognition, Mohammed Khalaf al Mazrouei, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), said yesterday. The meeting "highlights the importance of the intangible heritage, its safeguarding, and the transfer of such an important element in culture to future generations," Mr al Mazrouei said, adding that initiatives such as this will help to preserve Emirati identity in the younger generation. The Emirates was one of 12 countries that signed a proposal to have falconry recognised by Unesco. The UAE has about 5,000 falconers, more than any other country in the world. The "Al Ayala", still regularly performed at national ceremonies and weddings, represents the courage of war and is performed to the beat of large drums. It is similar to traditional dances in other countries known as the "Aarda", and there are several different variations to the dance, which is often accompanied by gunfire. The "Al Ahaala", which is also being entered for consideration on the list, is unique to the UAE and performed without musical accompaniment. Singers stand in opposite rows and throw challenges at each other. It is traditionally performed by teams representing two different areas or tribes. Though "tangible" heritage sites have been protected internationally for decades, other elements of cultural heritage have received less recognition, and the first binding international agreement to protect the world's intangible heritage was only signed in 2003. A total of 114 countries, including the Emirates, ratified the agreement. "The UAE gives great concern to heritage and culture therefore it was very keen on signing such an important international agreement," said Bilal al Bodoor, the executive director for culture and arts at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development. "We realise how important it is to maintain and preserve human cultural heritage since it represents a cornerstone of any country's sustainable development."