Protecting Intangible Cultural Heritage in Vanuatu

The UNESCO Office of the Pacific States recently reported on how field research is important for disaster needs assessment on the island of Ambae, Vanuatu, to better protect its Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH).

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The Ambae community, with a total population of 11,000, is the custodian of a wide range of Intangible Cultural Heritage such as custom dances, traditional farming and fishing practices, traditional food preparations, weaving, and “sand drawing.”

Since the eruption of the Manaro Voui Volcano on Ambae Island in September 2017, and the following the state of emergency declared by the Vanuatu Government in August 2018, the Ambae community members have evacuated on the neighboring islands. At the request of the Vanuatu Government, UNESCO launched a project “Disaster Needs Assessment of the ICH belonging to Ambae Community” with funding from the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund in October 2018.

Under the project, The Vanuatu Cultural Center organized a Training Workshop in Port Vila on 7 November 2018. The workshop brought together Ambae Fieldworkers and experts at the Further Arts Nesar Studio in Port Vila. The participants learned  the community-based ICH inventorying methodology and developed the guidelines and interview questionnaires for the field researches on Santo and Maewo Islands.

The field surveys took place from 12 to 18 November 2018 on Santo Island and from 19 to 26 November 2018 on Maewo Island. Thanks were given to the strong support of the National Disaster Management Office Operation Center, the Town Council, and the Chiefs. The team was able to collect stories of the Ambae community focusing on the impact on their traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, customs and protocols or ICH.

The field researchers shed light on several important challenges and issues facing the Ambae community. One of these issues included the vulnerability of the Ambae ICH that was perceived as a threat even before the disaster.

The field researchers also noted their key concerns over the protection of their livestock, mats and gardens as traditional wealth items that underpin the resilience and well-being of the community. The findings of the field researchers will provide the basis for developing the Ambae ICH safeguarding plans at a forthcoming consultation in Port Vila in early 2018.

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Ambae Island from lechaudrondevulcain.com

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