Singapore submits nomination to inscribe hawker culture on Unesco list

Key characteristics of Singapore's hawker culture include hawker centres serving as community dining spaces for everyone, and how it is a reflection of Singapore's multicultural society.
Key characteristics of Singapore's hawker culture include hawker centres serving as community dining spaces for everyone, and how it is a reflection of Singapore's multicultural society.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Republic's nomination to inscribe hawker culture in Singapore on the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was submitted on Wednesday (March 27).

The nomination includes letters, photographs and videos demonstrating community support for the bid.

The photographs feature an Indian Muslim hawker preparing briyani, a Chinese hawker demonstrating a chicken rice recipe, and a father and his children enjoying the chendol dessert, among other snapshots.

A 10-minute video was also produced to give a 12-member Unesco evaluation body - comprising six experts qualified in various fields of intangible cultural heritage - a better understanding of hawker culture in Singapore.

The nomination documents, to be available for public viewing from July, were jointly submitted by the three organisations driving the bid - the National Heritage Board, the National Environment Agency, and The Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore.

Using the evaluation body's assessment and recommendation as a guide, a 24-member intergovernmental committee will then decide on the suitability of inscribing Singapore's hawker culture.

The results will be announced at the end of next year.

If successful, hawker culture will join 429 cultures of other countries which were inscribed since the list was established in 2008.

These include Belgium's beer culture, Indonesia's bamboo musical instrument angklung, China's shadow puppetry, and kimjang, or the making and sharing of kimchi in South Korea.

Singapore's first such submission in the category of intangible cultural heritage comes after the Botanic Gardens was made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2015.

If inscribed, it could help to further lift the profile of the country's rich cultural heritage.

The list is not intended to define the origins and ownership of cultural practices.

 
 
 
 

Instead, the bid will be assessed based on the criteria of meeting Unesco's definition of intangible cultural heritage, how the potential inscription will increase awareness of Singapore's hawker culture, how the existing and future safeguarding measures promote the continued practice of the culture, whether the nomination involved the community, and whether it is part of the country's intangible cultural heritage inventory.

The nation's inventory, comprising 70 elements so far, including pilgrimages to Kusu Island and Malay weddings, was established last April.

In a joint statement, the organisations driving the bid said the attempt received "overwhelming support" from Singaporeans since it was announced last August.

They noted that apart from hawker associations, more than 850,000 pledges of support and over 31,000 messages have been registered across various platforms.

They added that their social media movement also generated 810,000 likes and comments in support of hawker culture.

The statement said: "A successful nomination will demonstrate to the world how proud we are of hawker culture in Singapore, encourage greater appreciation for our hawkers, and show our commitment as a nation to safeguard hawker culture for generations to come."

They added that the submission of the nomination documents is a milestone in Singapore's Unesco inscription journey to better recognise and protect the island's intangible cultural heritage.

The nomination documents took into account input from a nomination committee, comprising representatives and stakeholders from various sectors, including hawker representatives, academics, community partners, non-governmental organisations and other government agencies.

Singapore's bid has received some criticism from across the border. Some Malaysians have claimed that their country is a street-food paradise and that Singapore's hawker version is not that special.

Key characteristics of Singapore's hawker culture include hawker centres serving as community dining spaces for everyone, and how it is a reflection of Singapore's multicultural society.

There are more than 100 hawker centres in Singapore and more than 80 per cent of the population visit them at least once a week.

Other features are Singapore hawkers' mastery of culinary skills and how hawker culture thrives in a highly urban environment.

Messages written by Singaporeans in support of the bid note that hawker centres serve as spaces where "a variety of multicultural cuisines" can be found under one roof and where "people of all races gather to eat together".