UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage: Unveiling Treasures

January 30, 2024
UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage: Unveiling Treasures

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) plays a crucial role in preserving the intangible cultural heritage of communities worldwide. This includes traditions, rituals, and practices that form the essence of different cultures.

Today, we will explore UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list and learn more about the valuable cultural practices that need to be continued to enrich future generations.

Guiding Principles and Purpose

At the heart of UNESCO's mission is a commitment to preserving the diverse tapestry of human cultures, with a special emphasis on intangible cultural heritage. This focus stems from the understanding that cultural heritage extends beyond monuments and collections of objects to include living expressions and traditions passed down through generations.

UNESCO's broad definition of cultural heritage encompasses both tangible and intangible aspects. Tangible cultural heritage refers to physical artifacts and structures created by human hands, such as buildings, monuments, and artifacts, often seen as symbols of historical significance.

In contrast, intangible cultural heritage includes non-physical elements that embody a community's cultural and social values, such as folklore, customs, languages, music, dance, rituals, and traditional craftsmanship. This heritage is constantly evolving, developed by communities, and passed down through generations, reflecting their cultural diversity and human creativity.

The role of communities in defining and preserving this heritage is paramount. It is these communities who breathe life into these practices, ensuring their continuity and relevance. UNESCO recognizes that the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is not just about preserving these practices for posterity but also about respecting the communities who are the bearers of this heritage.

They play an active role in its identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, and transmission, particularly through formal and non-formal education, as well as the revitalization of the various aspects of such heritage.

UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List: Recognizing Significance

The UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List serves as an esteemed acknowledgment of the world’s diverse and unique cultural practices. It is a catalog of traditions and living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants.

This list is not just a record. It’s a global initiative to safeguard the intangible heritage that forms an integral part of cultural identities.

Which country has the most UNESCO intangible cultural heritage?

As of my last update, China boasts the most entries on this prestigious list. The reason for China's rich intangible cultural heritage is deeply rooted in its vast and varied history, encompassing millennia of dynastic rule, philosophical developments, and artistic achievements.

China's sheer size and regional diversity contribute to a vast array of cultural practices, from ancient rituals and traditional music to unique culinary arts and crafts. These diverse cultural elements reflect the intricate tapestry of China's social and historical fabric, demonstrating the significance of preserving such intangible heritages as invaluable assets of humanity.

List of Countries with the Most Intangible Cultural Heritage in UNESCO

You can visit UNESCO’s website under UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage to learn more about each intangible culture from the countries below. 

Country Number of Intangible Cultural Heritage
China 43
Turkey 30
France 28
Spain 25
Iran 24
Azerbaijan 23
Croatia, Japan, South Korea 22
Italy 19
Belgium 18
India, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan 15
Colombia, Morocco, Oman, Peru 14
Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia 13
Mexico 12
Algeria, Austria 11
Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland 10
Bolivia, Brazil, Hungary, Mali, Slovakia, Venezuela 9
Armenia, Bulgaria, Egypt 8
Cyprus, Malaysia, Nigeria, Slovenia, Tunisia 7
Cambodia, Cuba, Malawi, Mauritania, Palestine, Philippines, Poland, Syria, Uganda 6
Bangladesh, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Kenya, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Ukraine, Zambia 5
Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Finland, Guatemala, Ireland, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, Lithuania, Mauritius, Moldova, North Korea, Qatar, Thailand, Yemen 4
Albania, Andorra, Bahrain, Botswana, Latvia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Pakistan, Sweden 3


Top 10 Rarest Intangible Cultural Heritage under UNESCO

While some intangible cultural heritages are thriving despite the threat of globalization and modernization, many of them are at risk of fading away. Losing these cultural heritages will result in losing a bit of cultural identity and history in our human experience. So, we listed below some of the rarest intangible cultural heritages, where it is located, and a brief description of them:

  1. Meshrep (China): A traditional Uyghur gathering involving music, dance, drama, and storytelling.

  2. Nawrouz ( Afghanistan, Azerbaijan,  India,  Iran, Iraq, and other countries): Celebrated by many countries, Nawrouz marks the Persian New Year and the beginning of spring, but faces challenges due to modernization and cultural changes.

  3. Cantu in paghjella (France, Corsica): A traditional Corsican male singing style that is threatened by the changing social environment and cultural practices.

  4. Rituals and practices associated with Kit Mikayi Shrine (Kenya): Spiritual and cultural practices related to the Kit Mikayi Shrine, face threats from modernization and erosion of traditional beliefs.

  5. Watertight-bulkhead technology of Chinese junks (China): This ancient shipbuilding technique is at risk due to the decline in traditional shipbuilding skills.

  6. Traditional Mexican cuisine (Mexico): An ancient culinary practice, particularly in Michoacán, facing threats from globalization and changes in agricultural practices.

  7. Oxherding and oxcart traditions in Costa Rica (Costa Rica): Cultural practices associated with oxherding and oxcarts are diminishing due to modern transportation methods.

  8. Hudhud chants of the Ifugao (Philippines): Epic chants of the Ifugao people who are at risk due to changing cultural practices and the diminishing number of practitioners.

  9. Al-Sirah Al-Hilaliyyah Epic (Egypt): A traditional oral epic narrative that is facing a decline in practitioners and audiences.

  10. Maroon heritage of Moore Town (Jamaica): The heritage of the Maroons of Moore Town, includes language, music, and customs, which are threatened by external cultural influences.

Conclusion: Embracing Diversity, Preserving Legacy

UNESCO's commitment to preserving intangible cultural heritage highlights the immense value of cultural diversity and legacy worldwide. This mission extends beyond simple preservation, actively celebrating the diverse ways societies express their histories, beliefs, and identities.

The role of UNESCO in protecting these cultural practices promotes understanding and respect for the world's varied cultural tapestries. Individuals and communities play a vital role in maintaining these living traditions, contributing to a more diverse global culture.

Participation can range from learning about different practices and engaging in local traditions to educating others about one's culture. So we encourage our readers to explore UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage and think about how they can help preserve cultural diversity in their communities, such as supporting local artisans, participating in cultural events, or sharing knowledge about various practices.

If you want to learn more about the different cultures and languages across the globe, you can check out our blog, Translator Hub.

By Clarriza Heruela

Clarriza Mae Heruela graduated from the University of the Philippines Mindanao with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, majoring in Creative Writing. Her experience from growing up in a multilingually diverse household has influenced her career and writing style. She is still exploring her writing path and is always on the lookout for interesting topics that pique her interest.



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