Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bhojpuri Wedding folk traditions inscribed on UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List


The wedding folk songs and traditions taken by indentured immigrant labourers from India during British colonialism now find a place on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.The tradition was approved this month at the meeting of the intergovernmental committee on intangible cultural heritage through an application by Mauritius for the Bhojpuri songs and the accompanying ritual, prayers, songs, music and dance of the Hindu Wedding Ceremony, Vivaah Samskara. The songs, music and accompanying dances are known as Geet Gawai in Mauritius. Similar traditions are practiced across the Indian diaspora.  These are known as Lawa or Matikor in the Caribbean with widespread practice in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname, and the associated Caribbean diasporas in North America, Canada and Europe. 
The practices,
transposed from India through mass movement of bonded labour in the 19th century, include song, dance, music, cuisine, rituals and communal engagement in the wedding ceremony. See video this page

In the nomination submission, Mauritius noted: “Geet-Gawai is a pre-wedding ceremony that combines rituals, prayer, songs, music and dance. It is performed mainly by Bhojpuri-speaking communities in Mauritius who have Indian descent. The traditional practice takes place at the home of the bride or groom and involves female family members and neighbours. It begins with five married women sorting items (turmeric, rice, grass and money) in a piece of cloth while other participants sing songs that honour Hindu gods and goddesses. After the site has been sanctified, the mother of the bride or groom and a drummer honour musical instruments to be played during the ceremony, such as the dholak (a two-headed drum). Uplifting songs are then performed and everyone joins in and dances. Geet-Gawai is an expression of community identity and collective cultural memory. The practice also provides participants with a sense of pride and contributes to greater social cohesion, and breaking class and caste barriers. Knowledge about the practice and its associated skills are transmitted from older to younger generations on an informal and formal basis. This is done via observation and participation by families, semi-formal teaching houses, community centres, and academies. Nowadays, the practice of Geet-Gawai extends to public performances and men also participate.(see UNESCO ICH List )

The UNESCO Executive Board in 2014 approved a new international indentured  Indian immigrant labour route initiative, piloted by Mauritius and unanimously supported by all our executive board members. (See details n Flashback below) 
Hindu Wedding traditions transposed, adapted and evolution from India to the Caribbean are explored in Finding a Place, and LiTTscapes – Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago. Finding a Place locates the role of these practices in the oral traditions that fed the evolution of a literary and journalistic sensibility while adapting to a new society while LiTTscapes provide representations of the practices and rituals in fictional literature.

Dr Kris Rampersad is a UNESCO certified heritage expert and has served as Chair of the UNESCO Education Commission; co-chair of UNESCO Executive Board Programme and External Relations Commission, and co-chair of the Consultative Body of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage as an independent cultural heritage expert.

 Flashback: Trinidad and Tobago key to understanding migrations, UNESCO told
In supporting the Mauritius initiative entitled The International Indentured Labour Route Project, geared to enhance knowledge around its landing point of Indian immigration, the Aapravasi Ghat, Rampersad, Dr Kris Rampersad,  the co-chair of the Programme and External Relations Commission on the 58-member UNESCO Executive Board, pointed out that the Caribbean was a critical dimension of labour migration to post slavery societies, noting that more than one million Indian and other Asians crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean and the Americas in the immediate post-emancipation period. 
She said her research shows the islands may hold the key to broadening and deepening understanding pre-Columbian migrations in the Americas as it has been in the colonial and post slavery migrations from Europe, Africa and Asian in its location off the tip of South America and as the most southerly of Caribbean islands.
Rampersad, a heritage educator, researcher and journalist, who has been researching and advocating for greater national and international efforts at safeguarding. 
Piloted by Mauritius, the International Indentured Labour Route Project was universally supported and adopted by the UNESCO Board, along with other programmes to safeguard vulnerable heritage assets in other countries, following the negotiation of the text which came before the Programmes and External Affairs Commission.
Rampersad suggested to UNESCO that as the project unfolds, the Board also explore not only the synergies with the Slave Route project but also the potential of private-public sector and NGO partnerships within both and how they may broadening and deepening the proposed refocus on oceans and small island developing states so as “to accommodate equity and balance and the cultural diversity and heritage dimensions in the United Nations post-2015 sustainable development agenda.”The Mauritius initiative drew from a decision of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee that considered “the importance of an International Indentured Labour Route Project to complement the Slave Route Project and the General History of Africa which will be implemented in the context of the International Decade of People of African descent.” 
Rampersad is the UNESCO trained facilitator for the English-speaking Caribbean on the Convention for the Protection and Safeguarding the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (2003) and served as an independent member of the consultative body of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage.. She has also been part of Commonwealth and UNESCO initiatives to recognise culture-centred development through these and other conventions that drive the cultural and creative industries sectors as the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005).
Rampersad noted that the new programme, which has already been highly commended by Africa, Asia/Pacific, European and Latin American and Caribbean delegates also presents possibilities towards heightening the dimensions of international cooperation promoted in the UNESCO conventions against trafficking in cultural property (1970), World Heritage (1972), intangible cultural expressions (2003), diversity of cultural expressions (2005) and underwater cultural heritage (2006).


Rampersad noted that the new programme, which has already been highly commended by Africa, Asia/Pacific, European and Latin American and Caribbean delegates also presents possibilities towards heightening the dimensions of international cooperation promoted in the UNESCO conventions against trafficking in cultural property (1970), World Heritage (1972), intangible cultural expressions (2003), diversity of cultural expressions (2005) and underwater cultural heritage (2006).

In an interview on the initiative, she said: “Ebola is today waving its passport of global citizenship and has more clearly brought home to us the realities of the borderless world in which we really exist. As children of both slave and silk routes, though far removed from some of our societies of origin – and I say this acknowledging the also marginalised indigenous communities of our region, we in the Caribbean have naturally existed in trans-boundary spaces with intertwined heritage that span all the continents of the world. While in some of our societies these remain vibrant and effervescent and spawning new cultures through fusions, in others they are significantly in danger of disappearing from various pressures, still unmapped, understudied, underassessed and undervalued in the contexts of our global village.




“In turn, we have also spawned other diasporas, offspring of our complex Caribbean societies, in other parts of the Americas, in Europe, in Africa and in Asia itself, that are not just parallel to but intimately intertwined with the storyline of our post slavery evolution.”

In acknowledging synergies between the Slave Route Project and the new project, the Board “recognised the need to develop professional capacity in fields as history, anthropology, archaeology and heritage towards creating an international database on indentured labour… about such a major historical event and build greater understanding and cooperation among peoples.”

The UNESCO Executive Board also lent support for a series of activities to celebrate UNESCO’s 70th anniversary; initiatives related to prioritising education and culture in the UN post 2015 development agenda, introduced new international prizes and revived some which were suspended owing to financial and other challenges. 


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