UNESCO to list Bangladeshi rickshaw art as ‘intangible heritage’

Rickshaw pullers eat food distributed by the non-profit organization Mehmankhana during nationwide lockdown imposed to curb the spread the Covid-19 coronavirus in Lalmatia area of Dhaka on 7 July, 2021AFP

Dozens of global traditions are candidates for inscription as intangible global heritage by UNESCO this week, ranging from Italian opera singing and Bangladeshi rickshaw art to the Peruvian delicacy of ceviche.

The UN cultural agency’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee is expected to examine and approve 55 nominations in total as it meets in the town of Kasane in Botswana.

These include a bid from Italy to include opera singing, an art “transmitted only orally” between maestro and pupil that attracts many students from abroad.

Bangladesh is hoping to inscribe the art of painting the three-wheeled rickshaws that ply its capital’s streets, contributing to a “roving exhibition of paintings” that is an “emblematic feature of urban life in Dhaka”.

Rickshaw Painting
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Peru has put forth the “preparation and consumption of ceviche”, a traditional dish of raw fish marinated in lemon and seasoned with chilli, pepper and salt, for which the recipe is “inherited from generation to generation”.

Azerbaijan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkey are together pushing for iftar, the meal shared by Muslims at the end of a day of fasting during the month of Ramadan, and its traditions to be recognised.

Other applicants include the “traditional skills of loincloth weaving” in Ivory Coast, as well as bolero -- “identity, emotion and poetry turned into song” -- from Cuba and Mexico.

Rickshaw Painting
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The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and its list were adopted in 2003, then ratified by 30 member states in 2006.

In the beginning, there was initial reluctance from some countries who feared certain states would seek to hog shared traditions for themselves, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture Ernesto Ottone said.

But two decades on, 181 countries are signatories, and many have instead put forward joint petitions for traditions they share.

Sixteen Arabic-speaking countries thus banded together to have “Arabic calligraphy” listed in 2021, while another 24 states ranging from Austria to the United Arab Emirates saw “falconry” added the same year.

Horseback shrimp fishing to pizza

The list’s 676 traditions include some that are world famous such as Neapolitan pizza, Brazilian capoeira and Spanish flamenco.
But the UN agency says it has also helped safeguard disappearing traditions.

After Belgium succeeded in having “shrimp fishing on horseback” recognised, the practice in the North Sea town of Oostduinkerke has gained more followers.

Rickshaw Painting
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While only 17 people caught shrimp in this way in 2013, says Ottone, 200 now ride out into the waves on a horse at the right time of the year, dragging a shrimp net behind them.

Indonesia says that the inscription on the UNESCO list of the noken, a knotted or woven bag made by the Papua people to carry everyday items and even replace a fishing net, provided “powerful incentive” to better preserve the handicraft.

Venezuela says that protection of the identity and worldview of the Mapoyo people has gained momentum since their oral traditions were added to the list in 2014.

Traditions in need of safeguarding this year include traditional Syrian glassblowing, Turkish olive cultivation and Mek Mulung, an all-male performance art from Malaysia.