Unesco's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage

50 items identified in NHB inventory

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at Singapore Hawkerpreneurs, a Singapore Heritage Festival event at Jurong Town Hall yesterday.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at Singapore Hawkerpreneurs, a Singapore Heritage Festival event at Jurong Town Hall yesterday.ST PHOTO: ALVIN HO
From left: Kusu Island pilgrimages, Malay weddings and xinyao were among the items listed in Singapore's first intangible cultural heritage inventory.
Kusu Island pilgrimages (above), Malay weddings and xinyao were among the items listed in Singapore's first intangible cultural heritage inventory.ST FILE PHOTOS
From left: Kusu Island pilgrimages, Malay weddings and xinyao were among the items listed in Singapore's first intangible cultural heritage inventory.
Kusu Island pilgrimages, Malay weddings (above) and xinyao were among the items listed in Singapore's first intangible cultural heritage inventory.ST FILE PHOTOS
From left: Kusu Island pilgrimages, Malay weddings and xinyao were among the items listed in Singapore's first intangible cultural heritage inventory.
Kusu Island pilgrimages, Malay weddings and xinyao (above) were among the items listed in Singapore's first intangible cultural heritage inventory.ST FILE PHOTOS

They comprise crafts, traditions, rituals, expressions, knowledge and skills

Hawker heritage, pilgrimages to Kusu Island and Malay weddings are among 50 things that feature in Singapore's first intangible cultural heritage inventory.

Comprising traditions, rituals, crafts, expressions, knowledge and skills, it was issued by the National Heritage Board (NHB) yesterday.

It is hoped its publication will get more people involved in the inventory and start a conversation about what the Republic's nomination should be for its first attempt at making Unesco's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Malaysia's Mak Yong theatre - from Kelantan villages, Belgium's beer culture and Italy's Neapolitan art of pizza twirling already feature on the almost 400-strong Unesco list, which sets out to demonstrate the diversity of world heritage.

Singapore's bid, which comes after the Botanic Gardens was made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2015, aims to lift the profile of the country's rich cultural heritage.

Items on the inventory were identified in consultation with the NHB's Heritage Advisory Panel from an ongoing intangible cultural heritage survey, started in 2016.

STRIKING A CHORD WITH S'POREANS

It should also resonate with Singaporeans from all backgrounds, and help in building a greater sense of our national identity.

MS GRACE FU,Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, on the Unesco listing.

Elements are grouped under six categories, with some entries overlapping. The categories are: oral traditions and expressions; performing arts; social practices, rituals and festive events; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; traditional craftsmanship; and food heritage.

The pilgrimage to Kusu Island falls under several categories and is arguably a truly Singaporean experience as it is location-based.

The island's history as a place of worship dates back to at least 1813. In modern times, pilgrims visit the island's Tua Pek Kong temple and Malay keramats during the ninth lunar month.

  • Protect sites too, not just practices

  • Experts say the National Heritage Board's intangible cultural heritage inventory must sit alongside its ongoing survey on places, sites and structures.

    If value is placed on existing practices here, then the locations where they are exhibited or conducted should be safeguarded.

    For instance, in the case of wood-fired pottery - listed in the inventory released yesterday - it would make sense for the 1940s dragon kiln at Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle in Jurong to be granted official protection status.

    Similarly, some point out that hawker culture - which can be traced back to peddlers selling food on the street - has disappeared owing to environmental regulations and development.

    Historian Goh Geok Yian of Nanyang Technological University said: "Efforts must be made to protect both forms of heritage - tangible and intangible - and for them to continue to exist alongside developments."

    The owner of Xin Sheng Gor Hiong Prawn Crackers in Boon Lay, Mr Anthony Low, 50, believes that hawker culture has a shot at being listed under Unesco's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

    He wakes up at 6am to make spring rolls, ngoh hiang (minced meat rolls), crispy prawn fritters and a chilli dip.

    He learnt the trade from his late father, who sold "five-spice prawn fritters" from a pushcart. Mr Low said hawker centres have become part and parcel of everyday life here.

    He said in Mandarin: "In Singapore, you have a wide range of options that are both delicious and affordable. Tourists come here to experience this."

    Melody Zaccheus

Malay weddings here, meanwhile, are typically held at HDB void decks, instead of the traditional arrangement of a reception at the family home's courtyard.

Another entry, xinyao, is a repertoire of Mandarin songs composed, written and performed by young Singaporeans. It can be traced to the late 1970s. The board said the inventory will be updated in batches.

The Sunday Times understands that another batch of 50 elements could be released this year.

The Singapore National Commission - chaired by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu - will submit the country's nomination after consultations, and feedback from the public and NHB's panel. It is not yet known when this will take place.

It takes about two years for Unesco to officially list an element.

In Jurong yesterday, Ms Fu launched the Singapore Heritage Festival, and Our SG Heritage Plan - the first holistic masterplan for the heritage and museum sector here, which covers the inventory.

On the Unesco nomination, she said the eventual element listed "should reflect our multicultural and multiracial make-up", adding: "It should also resonate with Singaporeans from all backgrounds, and help in building a greater sense of our national identity."

The $66 million Our SG Heritage Plan also includes a survey of places of architectural, historical, cultural, social or educational significance, and sites or structures completed in or before 1980. This will be developed by next year, and findings are expected to be factored into future land planning decisions.

The masterplan comes as citizens are paying more attention to the island's history, heritage and identity. The goal is to develop a long-term strategic plan for heritage issues, and enhance the country's capabilities in research, documentation and commemoration.

Ms Fu said the food heritage category was a recent addition following "significant enthusiasm and interest" among Singaporeans.

The NHB said countries often share similar intangible cultural elements and the inventory will include elements that can be found elsewhere. The NHB will highlight unique features of how these elements are expressed or practised here, and show how they evolved to suit the local context.

Other entries in its inventory include silambam (a martial art using a long staff), wood-fired pottery and the cuisine of ethnic groups here. The NHB said languages and dialects are not defined as intangible cultural heritage by Unesco.

The public can contribute information and resources to the inventory at www.roots.sg/ICH

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 08, 2018, with the headline '50 items identified in NHB inventory'. Print Edition | Subscribe