Geet Gawai Listed as World Heritage of Humanity at UNESCO

It is a matter of great pride and honour that the Bhojpuri Folk Songs Geet Gawai…

have been listed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage Representative List of World Patrimony of UNESCO on Thursday 1st December last, at the 11th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO.

An official delegation led by the Minister of Arts and Culture, Hon Santaram Baboo attended the session from 27th November to 2nd December 2016 at the seat of the Conference Centre of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Inter-Governmental Committee is composed of 24 States and elected by the General Assembly of the States Parties to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. It is to be remembered that Mauritius forms part of the Intergovernmental Committee for four years since April 2016. Mauritius was one of the first countries that signed the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

With the inscription of Geet Gawai, Bhojpuri gets not only a national but international dignity and recognition. In fact, there are many elements in Mauritius both tangible and intangible that are worthy of consideration and preservation.

For this year, 37 countries submitted their Nomination Dossiers for inscription on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, among which that of Geet Gawai figured prominently on the Agenda. The 11th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee also reviewed such intangible cultural heritage that are threatened by modernity and need to be safeguarded urgently.

Among the countries which submitted their Nomination Dossiers for consideration figured Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, China, France, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Venezuela, Viet Nam and Cuba. India submitted a dossier on Yoga, which was also listed and which was warmly acclaimed and strongly supported by Mauritius. Bangladesh on the other hand had submitted for nomination the “Mangal Shobhayatra on Pahela Baishakh” (a legacy of Rabindranath Tagore), also inscribed, and China the Twenty four solar terms, knowledge of time and practices developed in China through observation of the Sun’s annual motion. Saudi Arabia had submitted a dossier on “Almezmar, drumming and dancing with sticks” and Switzerland the Winegrowers’ Festival of Vevey and Japan the Yama, Hoka, Yatai float festivals. Cuba had for its part sent for consideration the Rumba, a festive combination of music and dances and associated practices and Belgium, the Beer Culture.

The Geet Gawai Dossier was submitted in March 2015 by the Ministry of Arts and Culture for the Government of Mauritius. The Geet Gawai, as a very rich intangible cultural heritage transmitted by tradition bearers particularly women, has been preserved and maintained in Mauritius for 182 years since their implantation on Mauritian soil with the advent of the Girmitias from the Bhojpuri belt of India. These women were and continue to be known as Geetharines. They sing particularly on ceremonial occasions associated with Hindu marriage rites, rituals and customs. The songs are very vibrant, lilting and melodious. The Geet Gawai in its present day form is unique to Mauritius.

With the inscription now Geet Gawai belongs not only to the community, but is part of the Mauritian patrimony and indeed the International Cultural Heritage. This is indeed a matter of great pride and dignity for Mauritius and the whole Bhojpuri belt spread across the Indian diaspora.

The Nomination Dossier on Geet Gawai was very well and meticulously prepared by a team of resource persons under the National Heritage Fund and the Ministry of Arts and Culture and satisfied all the five criteria required for inscription by the Evaluating Body of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO.

The 2003 Convention for the preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage proposes five broad domains which include preservation of language as a vehicle of intangible cultural heritage.

Ever since the 2003 Convention was adopted at the 32nd session of the General Conference of UNESCO, it became a milestone in the evolution of international policies for promoting cultural diversity. “Because it was the first time that the international community had recognized a need to support the kind of cultural manifestations and expressions that until then had not benefited from such a large legal and programmatic framework.”

With this inscription, Government of Mauritius is bound to safeguard the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills associated with Bhojpuri and Bhojpuri Folk Songs, i.e. Geet Gawai. There are periodic reportings carried on by States Parties and submitted to UNESCO to evaluate what the Government has done to promote, preserve and transmit the listed elements. With reference to Article 11 of the 2003 Convention, from now onwards the Government of Mauritius has the obligation to take the necessary measures to ensure the safeguarding of Geet Gawai as well as other cultural heritage on its territory.

To date 172 countries out of 195 Member States of UNESCO have ratified the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which is more than 4/5 of all Nations.

What are the benefits for Geet Gawai with this International Recognition?

1. Geet Gawai will be integrated in the cultural tourism policy of the Government and consequently promote greater exchanges worldwide.

2. The recognition will create awareness in the citizens of the world about the different symbolical traditional rites and rituals and associated songs of Geet Gawai.

3. Geet Gawai can contribute in the socio- economic development of the country through the promotion of artistic events and extravaganzas, give livelihood and recognition to artists.

4. It will cement further the relationship with countries of similar cultural background, therefore the links between Indian Diasporic countries will only strengthen.

5. Empowerment of women and artists and encouraging cinematic industry as the people of Bhojpuri origin constitute a wide diaspora in such countries as in Fiji, South Africa, the Caribbean countries of Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Surinam in Latin America. It will encourage a great cultural and cinematic industry with a potential global market. The Bhojpuri Diaspora including India and the Diasporic countries constitute about two hundred million people worldwide.

6. It will encourage the youth to take cognizance of this rich intangible cultural heritage of the country.

7. Progress towards sustainable development of the communities concerned and their social and natural environment is also ensured.

With the Listing, States Parties and other actors can also benefit from cooperation and international (financial) assistance in the following ways:

(1) Being part of a global network active in the field of heritage, to share expertise and information on intangible cultural heritage at the international level; and

(2) Having access to international assistance from the Fund of the Convention.

The 12th Session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage will meet at Seoul, Korea in 2017. 50 files have been selected out of 174 receivable files for evaluation for the 2017 cycle. There are 132 “baglog” files carried over from previous files which could not be treated previously or which did not meet the requirements of the Evaluation Body.

For the cycle 2017 India has submitted the Kumbh Mela for inscription, Mauritius has submitted the Sega Tambour of Rodrigues.

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