The Maldives will participate in the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, a UNESCO programme established in 2008. It is already a participant in the World Heritage Convention and the Cultural Diversity Convention.
The proposal to join the convention was made by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, and was approved at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.
“We have had no effort to safeguard either tangible or intangible cultural heritage in the Maldives,” said Minister of State for Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Naseer. “It is very easy to see things like poetry, music, language, and dance disappear if they are not practiced. We need to have a law enacted to outline these practices.”
A draft of the new legislation is before Parliament, and Naseer hopes it will be passed before the end of the year.
UNESCO defines ‘intangible cultural heritage’ as “practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage.” The convention states that cultural elements must be protected by local and international communities.
Some aspects of intangible cultural heritage in the Maldives have been overshadowed by religious scholars, “or individuals who claim to be religious scholars,” said Naseer. “For example, some performing arts, especially on local islands, have come to a stop because of religion. It’s a problem of interpretation,” he said.
Naseer noted that the Maldives seeks to gain expertise and guidance from UNESCO, but that “the aspect of money is not the priority.” He said training Maldivians in cultural preservation was one priority.
Deputy Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mamduh Waheed, said protecting cultural heritage would improve tourism in the Maldives. “We have a market for the natural aspect of the Maldives, and now we will be able to add cultural attractions and destinations. I think it will draw tourists interested in cultural conservation,” said Waheed.
Waheed noted that this is the third UNESCO cultural convention that the Maldives has been involved in.
Other non-government organizations (NGOs) have shown interest in the convention, claimed Naseer. International NGOs are expected to be involved in the research and design process. The involvement of local NGOs is less clear.
“Local NGOs have been coming into the forefront lately, but not many NGOs cover this material,” said Naseer. “I feel there’s a huge gap when it comes to safeguarding heritage in the NGO sector. It will take some time.”
Over 130 countries are signed participants in the convention. The convention’s stated purposes are to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage; to ensure respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals concerned; to raise awareness at the local, national and international levels of importance of the intangible cultural heritage, and of ensuring mutual appreciation thereof; and to provide for international cooperation and assistance.