Intangible heritage

Algeria’s rai and Tunisia’s harissa now included in the World Heritage List

By Jeune Afrique

Posted on December 2, 2022 15:06

 Tunisia’s harissa was  included on UNESCO’s list of humanity’s intangible heritage. © FETHI BELAID / AFP.
Tunisia’s harissa was included on UNESCO’s list of humanity’s intangible heritage. © FETHI BELAID / AFP.

On Thursday, Unesco added Tunisia’s hariss – its spicy national condiment and Morocco’s music genre ‘rai’ to its list of intangible cultural heritage.

Earlier this week in Rabat, Unesco examined applications featuring the French baguette, Algerian raï, Serbian “slivo” and Tunisian harissa to decide whether they should be included on the list of humanity’s intangible heritage. The list is currently composed of 530 items, 72 of which require urgent safeguarding.

Chaired by Morocco, the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee said it examined 56 applications, including four that require urgent safeguarding, such as pottery belonging to the Cham people in Vietnam.

Almost live results

This week was the first time the committee met in person, following two successive annual sessions (2020 and 2021) held online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The most prominent items included:

  • the baguette (France);
  • popular raï song (Algeria);
  • funfairs (France and Belgium);
  • the culture of “chai/tea” (Azerbaijan and Turkey);
  • traditional tea processing techniques (China);
  • the rubab, a Central Asian lute (Iran/Tajikistan/Afghanistan);
  • slivovitz – plum alcohol from Serbia;
  • light rum (Cuba);
  • as well as the know-how and culinary practices around Tunisia’s harissa.

Tradition and know-how

In order to avoid controversy, Unesco honours all the traditions, practices and know-how to be safeguarded. Therefore, it does not recognise that the baguette is an item of intangible world heritage, but rather that “the craft skills and culture of the baguette” are part of it.

Following on from that, the expertise demonstrated by the masters of Cuba’s light rum were considered, rather than the spirit itself. As for Algerian raï, it was not included on the list as music, but rather as a tradition surrounding this musical genre.

“It is living heritage. The big difference between this list of intangible heritage and the list of world [tangible] heritage is that here it is the communities that are represented and that are the protagonists of this safeguarding,” said Ernesto Ottone, Unesco’s assistant director-general for Culture.

No Algerian-Moroccan dossier for Raï

Thus an item of intangible heritage can be shared between several countries, just like in 2020, when couscous was registered as a result of a joint application by Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

Samir Addahre, Morocco’s ambassador to Unesco, regretted “not having been able to present a joint dossier” with Algeria for Raï due to the breakdown in diplomatic relations between the two neighbours. However, he said he hoped other joint candidacies will be submitted “when circumstances improve one day”.

(with AFP)

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