UNESCO warns Sri Lanka of losing prized cultural heritage practices

UNESCO warns Sri Lanka of losing prized cultural heritage practices

Oct 03, 2019

Colombo (Sri Lanka) Oct 03: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has expressed its interest to help secure Sri Lanka's Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), while issuing a warning that Sri Lanka is fast losing the prized practices as they 'are fading away rapidly.'
Éric Falt, Director and UNESCO Representative to Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka meeting with Sri Lanka's Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen last week in Colombo said there is extraordinary value to Sri Lanka's Intangible Cultural Heritage.
"With all your unique rites and traditions, performing arts, weaving practices and much more, you are sitting on a gold mine and possibilities are endless," the visiting UNESCO official said.
Explaining UNESCO's previous successful efforts in securing ICH, Falt discussed their widely reported work in West Bengal, where cultural heritage practices sheltered in remote villages were transformed by UNESCO. His message was to call Sri Lanka to adopt the processes to secure local ICH practices.
"Aside from the world heritage sites, the ICH practices here are not fully known and promoted. Sri Lanka itself has hundreds of years of traditions," noted Director Falt.
"Many of these traditions are fading and sadly, we don't even know all of them," he added.
According to the UNESCO Director, a major mapping exercise of Sri Lankan ICH practices is needed, followed by field mapping of all intangible practice locations and traditions in Sri Lanka. Thereafter, ICH practices have to be inventoried, eco systems have to be identified and promoted and economic livelihoods of the communities to be transformed.
Falt said the window for securing ICH practices in Sri Lanka is very short and UNESCO can help to identify the Sri Lankan ICH.
As an example, the official said the UNESCO has promoted the ancient art of Patachitra and its techniques in Bengali Patachitra scroll paintings and the income of Patachitra artists have multiplied eight-fold after UNESCO's efforts. UNESCO's work in West Bengal was so successful that it is now franchising the model to Rajasthan.
"In the same way, UNESCO would be glad to partner in securing Sri Lankan ICH. We will help you provide value for money. We need to ensure that tourists visit these heritage locations since tourism is an economic force in Sri Lanka-and at the same time give better recognition for these rural artists so that the livelihood of these people are transformed. There's an enormous area to be covered in Sri Lanka-from folk-arts to stilt-fishing. But there is no time to lose. The high speed of modernization can erase this opportunity which appears to be fading away very fast."
Minister Bathiudeen welcoming Director Falt's suggestions said UNESCO's assistance is encouraging and added that Sri Lanka has 250 villages registered as 'craft villages' and 30,000 craftsmen are also registered under his Ministry.
"We need to perform a National Crafts Mapping but we do not have the expertise. Each Province has its own arts and craft traditions but due to the lack of brand identity for them, our traditional craftsmen in Provinces do not have sufficient income. In this background, I welcome UNESCO's assistance which is encouraging. Many well-known local arts and craft traditions such as the Kandy Pageant do not have a way to safeguard them. The TVET mechanism under my Ministry is trying to develop a program to sustain these practices. We are aiming to identify specific areas such as drumming, regional dance styles etc. so that an inventory could be set up," the Minister said.
Sri Lanka ratified the 2003 'UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage' Convention on 21 April 2008.
Himali Jinadasa, UNESCO Focal Point - Sri Lanka, R.D.S.Kumararatne the Director General of Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission, Nilmini Diyabedanage the Director General of the University of Vocational Technology and Heshani Bogollagama, Chairman of the National Craft Council also joined the meeting with the UNESCO Director.
Source: The Colombo Page