Uighur Gatherings Make U.N. Culture List
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
We're all familiar with these World Heritage sites: the Great Wall of China, the ancient city of Cuzco in Peru, the Statue of Liberty. Well, UNESCO, the U.N. body that hands out the World Heritage designation, also keeps a lesser known list of what it calls Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. Now, if you're asking yourself Intangible Cultural Heritage, well, consider the four items that were added to that list this week: Meshrep, a gathering within Uighur communities featuring dance, music and song.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)
BLOCK: Also on the UNESCO list: the technology for building watertight compartments on wooden Chinese sailing vessels called junks; wooden movable-type printing, also from China; and from Croatia, Ojkanje singing, featuring a voice shaking technique.
Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)
BLOCK: Well, Frank Proschan is program specialist for the Intangible Cultural Heritage Section of UNESCO, which is holding its annual meeting in Nairobi this week.
Frank, welcome to the program.
Mr. FRANK PROSCHAN (Program Specialist, Intangible Cultural Heritage Section of UNESCO): Thank you very much.
BLOCK: And help us understand what the purpose of this list. If you are named an intangible tradition in need of urgent safeguarding, what does that mean?
MR. PROSCHAN: What it means is that the country in which the cultural tradition or the cultural practice is found has decided that it would like to bring the attention of the world community to a particular practice that it has decided is frail, a little bit in need of special attention.
And this is a way that the countries that are members of this international convention can bring their - I won't call them problems - but their sensitive situations to the world community for its attention and for its care.
BLOCK: Now this year, three of the four intangibles come from China. And I'm thinking in particular of the community gathering that we mentioned - the Meshrep from the Uighur people. A lot of people I think would look at that and say, you know, hasn't China been trying to sort of suppress ethnic minorities and in particular Uighur traditions. How can they also be asking to safeguard this tradition?
MR. PROSCHAN: I think that's, in a sense, a kind of a perfect example of the spirit behind the convention, which is to say that states can bring an element, bring a nomination to the committee that governs this convention, and say we know we've had problems, we know that this particular tradition, this celebration of the Meshrep, has been challenged by socioeconomic conditions, by complicated historical situations, but we're willing to in a sense submit it to global scrutiny. Let the world look in over our shoulders as we try to strengthen the tradition, try to get it recognition and support.
BLOCK: Now, UNESCO is also considering nominations for a broader list of intangible cultural heritage. And I've had a great time looking through some of these nominations. They include an oil wrestling festival in Turkey, a hopping procession in Luxembourg and - I was surprised by this one - the gastronomic meal of the French. Is there some concern that the gastronomic meal of the French is in some jeopardy?
Mr. PROSCHAN: No. The second list that you mentioned, the representative list, has the primary purpose of bringing visibility to intangible heritage. We know from the number of - we crashed the Web server this afternoon with all the hits we have of people all around the world following these inscriptions with great excitement.
We heard from the Spanish authorities that there will be people dancing flamenco long into the night tonight celebrating the inscription of flamenco. We had with us this afternoon the masked dancers from Peru and the Mexican cooks and the Mexican musicians and the craftspeople, the artisans themselves. We hope the impacts will be favorable, and we hope the positive benefits will go on for many years afterwards.
BLOCK: Well, Frank Proschan, thanks for talking with us about it.
Mr. PROSCHAN: Thank you very much.
BLOCK: Frank Proschan speaking with me from Nairobi with a soundtrack of crickets. He's program specialist for the Intangible Cultural Heritage Section of UNESCO, which this week added 46 new elements to its representative list and four new elements to its list of cultural traditions in need of urgent safeguarding.
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