Cécile Duvelle, former chief of UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage Section, once told us words to the effect that intangible culture is best safeguarded if people continue practicing it. Having worked with people whose intangible culture is disappearing because fewer and fewer people are practicing it, these words ring true today more than ever. But how can communities, groups, and individuals act and avert the disappearance of their culture? Determined to present and discuss challenges and best practices to safeguarding intangible culture, I, Island Ark member Ingmar, traveled to Vietnam to represent our work at the 2018 ICHCAP Asia-Pacific ICH NGO Conference in the country’s former imperial capital, Hue.
A total of 44 representatives from NGOs across the Asia-Pacific, of our hosts, ICHCAP and HMCC (Hue Monuments Conservation Centre), and the head of the UNESCO office in Hanoi, Michael Croft, attended the conference, as well as a number of journalists. Over the course of three days NGO practitioners gave presentations about their efforts to safeguard intangible heritage. Presentations ranged from falconry in Mongolia to acquainting a diverse group of young people with the heritage of George Town, Malaysia.
While most of the other NGO practitioners do amazing work on preserving and safeguarding particular practices, the focus of the IAP is broader. Ultimately, we aim at providing an Internet platform that is general and adaptable enough to allow communities, groups, and individuals from diverse cultures to safeguard their culture by uploading and sharing records of practices. During the conference in Hue, we presented our most recent work: Instructing and advising people in Palau how to use website templates provided by ICHCAP to safeguard their intangible culture. Specifically, I talked about our most recent workshop, which we hosted in Palau in November 2017, as well as our upcoming workshop in January 2019.
Aside from presenting and listening to presentations, our hosts treated us with presentations of superb examples of tangible and intangible culture. We visited the imperial citadel, an impressive ancient city resembling the forbidden city in Beijing (or so I was told), as well as the tomb of the fourth emperor Tu Duc, which served as a second, smaller imperial city where the emperor could work in a more serene environment.
After the end of the conference on Friday, I took the little time I had before my flight on Sunday to explore the area with another conference participant. From the back of a motorcycle, we enjoyed the views of the Hai Van Pass, tried food from the plethora of food stalls we passed, and ended up in the beautiful alleyways of Hoi An. Way to go to amaze your visitors, Vietnam. Thank you!
In retrospect, I am not only grateful to have enjoyed a great introduction to the country, people, and culture – contemporary and ancient – of Vietnam. This conference was a great opportunity to learn about the efforts of other ICH organizations and the challenges they are facing. Some encounters and conversations make me confident that we will be cooperating more closely with them in the future.