UN heritage list: India's Durga Puja, Arabic calligraphy and others added to the list in 2021

In recent decades, the concept of cultural heritage has evolved considerably. It is no longer restricted to monuments and collections of objects. 

As per UNESCO, it also includes "traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts."

Let's take a look at some of the intangible cultural heritages which have been added to the UN heritage list this year. Please note this is not a complete list.

Ceebu Jën, Senegal

Ceebu jën is a dish that originated in the fishing communities on the Island of Saint-Louis in Senegal. Although recipes vary from one region to the next, the dish is typically made with fish steak, broken rice, dried fish, mollusc and seasonal vegetables such as onions, parsley, garlic, chilli pepper, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, white cabbage, cassava, sweet potato, okra and bay leaf.

In most families, ceebu jën is eaten with the hands, although spoons or forks are usually used in restaurants. The ceebu jën dish and associated practices are viewed as an affirmation of Senegalese identity.

(Picture: UNESCO website)

(Photograph:Others)

Arabic calligraphy: knowledge, skills and practices

Arabic calligraphy is the artistic practice of handwriting Arabic script in a fluid manner to convey harmony, grace and beauty. The practice, which can be passed down through formal and informal education, uses the twenty-eight letters of the Arabic alphabet, written in cursive, from right to left.

Originally intended to make writing clear and legible, it gradually became an Islamic Arab art for traditional and modern works. The fluidity of Arabic script offers infinite possibilities, even within a single word, as letters can be stretched and transformed in numerous ways to create different motifs.

This entry represents multiple nations, namely:

Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

(Picture: UNESCO website)

(Photograph:Others)

Durga Puja, India

Durga Puja is an annual festival celebrated in September or October, most notably in Kolkata, in West Bengal of India, but also in other parts of India and amongst the Bengali diaspora. It marks the ten-day worship of the Hindu mother-goddess Durga. Durga Puja is seen as the best instance of the public performance of religion and art, and as a thriving ground for collaborative artists and designers. The festival is characterized by large-scale installations and pavilions in urban areas, as well as by traditional Bengali drumming and veneration of the goddess.

(Picture: UNESCO website)

(Photograph:Others)

Fjiri, Bahrain

Fjiri is a musical performance that commemorates the history of pearl diving in Bahrain. Dating back to the late nineteenth century, it was traditionally performed by pearl divers and pearling crews to express the hardships faced at sea. The performers sit in a circle, singing and playing different types of drums, finger chimes and a jahl, a clay pot used as an instrument. 

(Picture: UNESCO website)

(Photograph:Others)

Nora, southern Thailand

Nora is a lively and acrobatic form of dance theatre and improvisational singing from southern Thailand. Performances normally include a long oral invocation, followed by a presentation by a lead character who dances with vigorous and elaborate movements of the legs, arms and fingers. The performances are usually based on stories about the former lives of Buddha or about legendary heroes. 

(Picture: UNESCO website)

(Photograph:Others)

Moutya, Seychelles

Moutya was brought to Seychelles by the enslaved Africans who arrived with the French settlers in the early eighteenth century. They used to practise this dance at night in the forest, at a distance from the plantation house where their masters lived.

Historically, Moutya was a psychological comfort against hardship and poverty and a means of resisting servitude and social injustice. A sensual dance with simple choreography, it is traditionally performed around a bonfire. The musical instrument used is a large drum with a narrow rim made of goat hide which is played mostly by men. 

(Picture: UNESCO website)

(Photograph:Others)

Tbourida, Morocco

Tbourida is a Moroccan equestrian performance dating back to the sixteenth century. It simulates a succession of military parades, reconstructed according to ancestral Arab-Amazigh conventions and rituals. Each tbourida is performed by a troupe made up of an odd number of riders and horses (between 15 and 25). The riders line up side by side, with the leader of the troupe in the middle. They often give spiritual significance to the event, performing ablutions and praying collectively beforehand.

(Picture: UNESCO website)

(Photograph:Others)

The art of embroidery in Palestine, practices, skills, knowledge and rituals

The art of traditional embroidery is widespread in Palestine. Originally made and worn in rural areas, the practice is now common in all of Palestine and among members of the diaspora. Women’s village clothing usually consists of a long dress, trousers, a jacket, a headdress and a veil. Each of these garments is embroidered with a variety of symbols including birds, trees and flowers. The choice of colours and designs indicates the woman’s regional identity and marital and economic status. 

The embroidery is sewn with silk thread on wool, linen or cotton. Embroidery is a social and intergenerational practice, as women gather in each other’s homes to practise embroidery and sewing, often with their daughters.

(Picture: UNESCO website)

(Photograph:Others)

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