Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Kurok embroidery is easily available in Tajikistan (Photo by Faroghat Azizi)

ICH Inventory-Making Efforts in Tajikistan

Intangible cultural heritage is one of the most unprotected forms of artistic heritage. Nowadays, in the globalization environment where different cultures exist and interact, intangible cultural heritage requires our special attention. For Tajikistan, the first victory of efforts put forth toward safeguarding ICH was the acknowledgement of Shashmaqom as a masterpiece of human intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

On 23 February 2010, at the 64th session of the UN General Assembly, by unanimous decision, it was confirmed that 21 March be declared International Day of Navruz. The word navruz is a compound Tajik (Persian) word, fusing nav (new) and ruz (day), meaning new day of the new year. In any case, these days Navruz is a festival celebrated by many countries in Central Asia and one of the best displays of multinational intangible cultural heritage.

Now, our country is currently ratifying the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of ICH. We are currently in the beginning stages of renewing our countries present inventory system for intangible cultural heritage. Until recently, the process of preparation for the inventorying of ICH was fragmentary and spontaneous.

Safeguarding measures that previously existed were not complete and were inconsistent. They were related to different levels and stages, specific fields, separate regions and archives, as well as heritage elements being manifested into different domains of the UNESCO classification system. Safeguarding efforts were undertaken by governmental organizations, structural entities and units of the Ministry of Culture, Research Institutes of the Academy of Sciences, and scientific production associations at the end of the 1990’s and beginning of the 21st century. These inventory-making procedures were financially supported by the government of Tajikistan in addition to international funds which were provided from organizations such as the Christensen Fund, Japanese Fund, Aga Khan Fund, and SDC. Tajikistan’s Ministry of Culture onsite administration and departments of culture are responsible for designing renewed inventory systems in the country. All existing inventories are digitized by developers from the involved organizations under the Ministry of Culture. They are available for public use if consent from the developer is expressed and the materials are located at those specific organizations. All five domains of ICH presented in the 2003 Convention are covered in our inventory.

The following criterion was used for the inscription of elements of ICH inventory in Tajikistan:

  • Significance of the element in a historical sense for the people, its level of integrity for the duration of the historical period
  • Level of popularity among the population
  • Availability of the element itself and/or its own traditions
  • Respectfulness to this element

Due to the results from the first stage of the inventorying process, we now have the first version of the list of genres and forms of oral music, poetry, folklore, dances, plays, folk theatre, folk circus, folk competitions, etc.

During the summer of 2010 we had two missions, one to Khatlon and the other to Badakshon, with the goal of executing tasks for developing a national inventory-making system. I should note that the local population was very active in the national inventory-making process. We received significant support from the local population; every one showed support towards safeguarding intangible cultural heritage by trying to find elements of ICH that were threatened or have disappeared. These efforts display how the local population is ready to help collect and provide for the protection of ICH.

Main issues that exist in the inventory-making process of Tajikistan are lack of an institutional basis, shortage of financial means, insufficient involvement of local communities, and the need for qualified experts in the field of ICH safeguarding and inventory-making.

Several decrees and programs were adopted by the government of Tajikistan to safeguard ICH and provide viable measures to carry out certain activities, for example, after establishing several public holidays—Day of Shashmaqom and Day of Falak—through presidential decree, the next area of on the front burner is education, with emphasis on the educational institution ustod-shogird, a traditional system of education. The ustod-shogird educational institution historically belongs to the Aryan civilization, which was accepted by Islamic culture after several centuries; this intellectual artistic phenomenon is an element of intangible cultural heritage. Ustod-shogird is where all forms of traditional artistic creativity of the Tajik people are based and its revival ensures the viability of this element of intangible cultural heritage.

Last year, the government adopted special programs such as the ‘State Programme for the Development of Culture for 2008-2015‘ (№ 853 March 2007) and the ‘State Programme on the Development of Artistic Craftsmanship for 2009- 2015‘ (№ 513 31 October 2008). No doubt, thanks to these government programs the inventory-making process will become more active.