The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is probably best known for protecting historically and culturally significant sites, like the Great Wall of China or the Old City of Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Culture is more than just buildings, monuments and natural wonders, however. It can also be, as UNESCO explains, “oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe.”
To that end, UNESCO has the Intangible Cultural Heritage list that monitors and works to help safeguard the more ephemeral aspects of culture.
Here are a few videos spotlighting intangible cultural traditions that have been recognized by UNESCO, including the top three items, which were added in 2018.
Few things are quintessentially Jamaican quite like reggae music. The unique sound and style is a combination of earlier Jamaican forms ,as well as Caribbean, North American and Latin strains, Neo-African styles, soul and rhythm and blues from North America. The music came to represent the marginalized and address issues of social injustice.
Hurling and camogie
Hurling is a field sport played in Ireland that dates back 2,000 years. Players use a hurley (wooden stick with a flat end) to throw a sliotar (ball) back and forth while attempting to make a goal. Camogie is the female version of the sport.
Al-Aragoz, Egyptian traditional hand puppetry
Hand puppetry performances are popular throughout Egypt and involve a puppeteer hiding inside a portable stage while an assistant interacts with the audience. Al-Aragoz is the name of the main puppet, which has a unique voice that’s disguised with a voice modifier. Traditionally, the puppeteers were traveling performers. Now, they are found in more urban settings such as Cairo. A common theme in many plays is the struggle against corruption.
Castells, Catalonian human towers
These human towers were added to the Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2010. Anyone can help support the base of these towers, but only those with the knowledge passed down through generations and the practice may climb and form the tower.
Jultagi, Korean tightrope-walking
We’re all familiar with tightrope-walking, but this Korean tradition — added to the list in 2011 — involves a comedic routine, acrobatic feats and lively music. The Jultagi Safeguarding Association provides training for the tradition.
Romanian lad’s dances
Boys and men aged 5 to 70 strap on their dancing shoes for these festive performances. Put on the list in 2015, lad’s dances provide an opportunity for cultural diversity as each community has different variations.
Horseback shrimp fishing, Belgium
Twelve families of horseback shrimpers collect shrimp twice a week in Oostduinkerke, Belgium, as well as during special occasions like festivals. This method of shrimping requires trust of one’s self and one’s horse, to say nothing of the knowledge required to read the sand. It joined other cultural traditions recognized by UNESCO in 2013.
Peruvian scissors dance
This competitive form of dancing involves two men striking scissor-shaped iron rods in rhythm with music while also performing demanding steps and acrobatics. These dances, which can last for 10 hours, were safeguarded in 2010.
Hopping procession of Echternach, Luxembourg
Documented since 1100, this procession of singers and dancers ends with a religious service on the Tuesday of Pentecost. It joined other cultural traditions on the list in 2010.
Mongolian knuckle bone shooting
Not all cultural heritages are about dancing and performing. Some, like this tradition from Mongolia that was added to the list in 2014, are games. Teams of six to eight players attempt to land 30 marbles made of bone into a target zone. Each player uses individualized tools to achieve this. Different teams have different rituals and skill sets, and games create an opportunity to exchange ideas.
Recognized by UNESCO in 2009, this tradition features two to 30 bell ringers — clothed in sheepskin throws and hats with sprigs of evergreen — carrying a small tree through various villages. They ring their bells to request food and rest from villagers before continuing to the next village. Each ringer returns to his or her respective village and burns any trash outside homes, including all members of the community in the ceremony.
Editor’s note: All videos were originally selected and published in a a post by MNN blogger Matt Hickman. The story has been edited and republished here.
11 cultural traditions protected by UNESCO
UNESCO protects more than landmarks and culturally-significant sites. There are intangible parts of culture that are important, too.