UNESCO launches platform on living heritage and COVID-19
Living heritage as a source of resilience and recovery during crisis.
In line with its response to COVID-19, UNESCO is launching a web platform to share and exchange experiences of living heritage in the context of the pandemic, both in terms of its impact and the diverse ways in which communities turn to their living heritage as a source of resilience and recovery.
IMPACT ON LIVING HERITAGE
Experiences shared so far through an online UNESCO survey have shown the scale of disruption across the world, with many significant festive events and rituals cancelled or postponed. Some communities can no longer access the cultural and natural spaces and places of memory necessary for expressing their intangible cultural heritage, while others are restricted from coming together to share and enjoy many aspects of their intangible cultural heritage, which is so vital to the life of their communities.
This has not only caused disruptions in the social and cultural lives of many, but has also resulted in loss of income for many bearers and practitioners of intangible cultural heritage. Those working in the performing arts and traditional crafts, who largely operate in the informal sector, have been particularly hard hit. Although it is still early to assess the economic costs, artisans the world over have responded to the survey noting loss of livelihoods as they face challenges in supplying orders and accessing raw materials.
ADAPTING TO CRISIS
Intangible cultural heritage, however, is dynamic in nature and has the capacity to adapt and evolve. Survey results demonstrate that communities have sought ways to continue practicing their intangible cultural heritage, despite quarantine and confinement measures. Many Holy Week celebrations for example, from Colombia to Venezuela and Croatia to Italy, still went ahead this year, albeit in adapted form.
Online initiatives and platforms have sprung up, providing new ways to disseminate and transmit knowledge about intangible cultural heritage. In Georgia, traditional feasts continue to take place online, with tables of traditional food and drinks arranged in front of computer screens and toasts performed virtually.
Social networks are playing a prominent role in helping people stay connected while being physically apart. For folk singers in Rajasthan, India, who must often travel to perform, live performances are organized through Facebook, providing a sense of solidarity with other artists and inspiration to continue.
More time spent in the home has heightened opportunities for teaching about intangible cultural heritage within the family. From Jamaica to Lebanon, many traditional cultural practices, such as culinary traditions and crafts, are being revisited under lockdown. Parents are cooking traditional meals with young members of the family, using recipes passed down from older generations and sharing the results online.
TOOLS FOR RESILIENCE
While the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the fragility of living heritage in emergencies, such situations can also provide reinvigorating or creative contexts for intangible cultural heritage, prompting the re-emergence or renewal of interest in abandoned elements or even the emergence of new ones.
Many elements of intangible cultural heritage are being transformed in the context of the pandemic to support and reinforce public health measures. Artists in Peru and China, for example, are creating face masks using traditional design and techniques. Amazigh communities in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains share poetic verses related to COVID-19. Traditional string puppet performances in Sri Lanka tell stories of confinement and social distancing, while in Senegal, the mythical figure of Kankurang, traditionally the guarantor of order and justice, parades in the streets from 8pm until dawn, enforcing village curfew.