PARIS, Nov 30 (Reuters) - An array of little-known and
sometimes outlandish traditions vie for international
recognition when the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO meets
next week to select new additions to its world heritage list.
Venezuelan Dancing Devils and the Armenian epic poem
"Daredevils of Sassoun" are among the more exotic contenders for
a spot on the intangible heritage list, created in 2003 to
safeguard the world's art forms and cultural rituals.
Some 51 contenders are hoping for recognition this year from
the Paris-based U.N. organisation for Education, Science and
Culture, from hat-weaving to folk-singing, embroidery and
The tiny southern African kingdom of Lesotho hopes to win a
spot in the U.N. ranks for "Letsema" - its pragmatic tradition
of "getting together to accomplish heavy tasks". Such tasks, it
says, can include collecting stones or threshing wheat while
others sing, read recite poetry or ululate.
Mongolia, having learned selection was unlikely, withdrew
one entry - knuckle-bone shooting, an activity where people
flick marbles at polished sheep ankle bones while singing "Hail
you, friend" to each other.
Contenders will be assessed from Dec. 3 to 7, with winners
announced at the end of each day.
"If a country has a particular way of laying a table for
Christmas dinner, dressing for a wedding, or celebrating an
historical event, then that's an intangible act," said Cecile
Duvelle, Secretary of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding
of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
"Our aim is to help countries keep these traditions alive
and ensure they are passed on through generations to maintain a
common sense of identity," she said.
Founded in 1945, UNESCO is best known for its World Heritage
List, created 40 years ago, which includes around 1,000 natural
and cultural sites considered of outstanding universal value.
More recently the agency has focused on safeguarding
"intangible" culture such as language and traditions. Past
additions include the art of the French gastronomic meal,
Portuguese Fado singing and Spanish Flamenco.
Nations can apply for a grant from the Convention's $6.5
million annual budget to help save a custom thought to be dying.
The majority, however, seek inclusion on the "representative
list", which comes with no financial aid, but provides
recognition and media attention.
To qualify for inclusion, nations have to show the activity
is part of their cultural heritage and promotes social cohesion.
The Armenian epic poem known as "Daredevils of Sassoun" or
"David of Sassoun", for example, dates back to the 7th century
and is recited for social gatherings or to children for fun.
Meanwhile, Venezuela's Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi
emerged in the 17th century: "devils" in bright red costumes and
ferocious masks parade through the streets and chase locals,
while being whipped by a "captain" or chief devil.
The climax comes when the devils finally surrender,
depicting the triumph of good over evil.
(Editing by Brian Love and Paul Casciato)