ABU DHABI // A Unesco committee meeting in the capital yesterday put 12 vanishing cultural activities under its protection - among them a Chinese New Year festival, a form of Corsican singing, and the collective fishing rites of Mali. The award list, drawn up by the Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage, chaired by Awadh al Musabi, was published ahead of the closing ceremony last night at the Emirates Palace hotel.
Koichiro Matsuura, the director general of Unesco, said the meeting had been "intense and important", and he offered his "warmest congratulations to all those states' parties whose living expressions now appear on the lists". There were three winning entries from China and Mongolia, and one each from Belarus, France, Kenya, Latvia, Mali and Vietnam. The programme to protect cultural heritage was launched in 2003 to help "enrich cultural diversity and human creativity" by recognising the practices of communities and in particular indigenous groups.
The Qiang New Year Festival in China, for example, has suffered a decline in participation in recent years because of migration and a lack of interest in Qiang heritage among the young. An earthquake in 2008 destroyed many of the Qiang villages, further putting the festival at risk. Also on the list from China is the traditional design and building of wooden arch bridges that is threatened by urbanisation and a lack of available timber and construction space. So, too, is an outdated textile technique that is an indispensable part of the cultural heritage of the Li ethnic group.
France will receive protection for the male Corsican singing tradition of paghjella, often performed on festive and religious occasions. Kenya will receive help in preserving the oral traditions of the Bantu speaking tribe in the Kaya forests of the coastal regions. The annual collective fishing ceremony in the Segou region of Mali, which is declining because of lack of knowledge from younger generations and degradation of the fishing waters from a lack of rainfall, is also on the list. So is a traditional folk dance and a form of vocal music from Mongolia.
From Belarus, an annual ritual involving 500 men who play out a historical drama by torchlight in a Minsk village will be safeguarded to ensure continued knowledge of how to produce the costumes, instruments and culinary dishes associated with the event. These countries may be eligible to receive financial assistance from a fund set up to help safeguard cultural traditions. The UAE announced last night that it had offered US$2 million (Dh7.3m) to Unesco and African countries to assist the project.
Mr Matsuura plans to step down as director general of Unesco after his visit to Abu Dhabi. As part of his concluding speech, he thanked the UAE for its "steadfast support". "Not only are the authorities powerfully committed to safeguarding diverse forms of heritage," he said, "they have made tremendous efforts in the domain of living cultural expressions." Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, awarded the first degree Independence Order to Mr Matsuura to mark the end of his tenure. This was presented by Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, Chief of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince's Court, who held an earlier banquet in honour of Mr Matsuura at his palace in Al Ain.
The UAE did not submit an application to be considered for the list this year but was among 12 nations to put forward the sport of falconry for consideration in next year's list. It also plans to hand in applications for two types of traditional dancing. firstname.lastname@example.org