Singapore casting net wide for inputs on second Unesco intangible cultural heritage nomination

NHB plans to consult the public on the shortlist andother possible contenders for nomination in the middle of this year. PHOTO: TM FILE

SINGAPORE - Writer Christopher Tan has long championed the making of kueh and even wrote a book about it.

Now, the making of kueh, a common tradition across races, is in the spotlight, one of 10 contenders shortlisted for Singapore's second nomination for inscription on the Unesco's intangible cultural heritage (ICH) list.

Also on the National Heritage Board (NHB) shortlist are birthing traditions, Chingay, Malay art form dikir barat, getai, orchid cultivation, Peranakan beadwork and embroidery, Thaipusam, traditional medical practices, as well as yusheng and its associated food heritage and social practices for celebrating Chinese New Year.

For Mr Tan, who is of Peranakan heritage, kueh-making is not just an ever-present part of his life, but also a practice he feels is of national importance as it captures legacy-passing and social bonding at the family, community and national levels.

In fact, kueh-making is so important to the 49-year-old that he wrote a 272-page book to celebrate the kueh traditions of Singapore's ethnic communities.

"My fervent hope is to encourage more of us to make kueh, that kueh traditions might not only be preserved, but revived and revitalised, to flourish into future longevity," wrote Mr Tan, a culinary instructor, in The Way Of Kueh, published in 2019.

Traditional Malay medicine practitioner Siti Nurhuda Saleh, 49, who took over her late mother's business selling jamu, a traditional tonic, in 2013, said even among the traditional medicinal practices of various races, there are similarities.

For instance, ginger is a common ingredient in various traditional medical practices.

She added that many of the roots and herbs used in both traditional Chinese and Malay medicines are the same but are imported from different countries.

Ms Juwita Samat, a 30-year veteran of dikir barat, which involves singing in groups, said having the Malay art form on the shortlist will boost awareness of it among non-Malays and younger Malays.

"There are a few non-Malays who join us and we salute them as it's not easy for them to learn to converse and sing in Malay," said the 41-year-old nurse.

Speaking in Parliament last Thursday (March 10), Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Low Yen Ling said Singapore's heritage is a source of national pride, adding that all Singaporeans celebrated when the country's first nomination - hawker culture - was inscribed in December 2020.

She added that during focus group discussions, participants expressed "a clear preference for our second nomination to be multicultural in nature, and relatable to Singaporeans".

In December 2020, hawker culture was inscribed as the nation's first nomination. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

In a statement to The Straits Times, NHB said the elements on the shortlist were the most frequently mentioned and enjoyed support at these discussions. The sessions were attended by 170 ICH practitioners, cultural and heritage representatives, academics, youth and members of the public between June 2021 and January this year.

NHB plans to consult the public on the shortlist in the middle of this year, as well as on other possible contenders for nomination. More details will be shared later.

The board's deputy chief executive of policy and community Alvin Tan said: "We hope that the public engagement efforts will remind everyone of our cultural diversity, and facilitate renewed dialogues about the importance of recognising and safeguarding our ICH across different communities."

NHB said it will also continue to consult other stakeholders such as community representatives and government agencies, and will assess if suggestions by the public meet Unesco's evaluation criteria before making a decision on which one to nominate.

It is too early to determine when the Republic's second nomination will be submitted to Unesco, NHB said, citing ongoing public engagement efforts.

Submissions are due on March 31 yearly, and are subject to an evaluation period of about 21 months.

NHB's Mr Tan said: "As with the successful inscription of hawker culture, we hope that a second inscription will instil in Singaporeans a sense of pride, and allow us to celebrate and share yet another aspect of Singapore's multicultural heritage with the world."

Having ICH elements on the list commits nominating states to protecting and promoting them. Singapore will have to submit a report every six years to Unesco, showing the efforts made to safeguard and transmit hawker culture to future generations.

Cookbook author Mr Tan said Singapore's food heritage will thrive if Singaporeans not just eat the food, but are passionate about it and cook it themselves.

He added: "Almost every heritage dish was once a home-cooked dish. If we stop cooking at home, then we let the well of accrued wisdom and heritage run dry, and the Unesco or any other recognition will not make any difference."

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