What do Maltese ghana, religious festi and the voluntary teaching of music at band clubs have in common? They are all examples of Malta’s intangible cultural heritage – an umbrella term that includes the practices, knowledge, and skills that communities recognise as part of their cultural heritage. Malta’s list of intangible cultural heritage also includes other elements, from crafts and artisan works which are becoming extinct due to technology, such as tinsmithing and church gold embroidery, to the making of salt using salt pans, and falconry.
Malta’s Culture Directorate has recognised the value of these essential elements of Maltese identity, and is currently working on setting up a website through which it will encourage the Maltese community to nominate aspects of local heritage for acceptance onto UNESCO's growing intangible heritage master list, which was started in 2008. “This will be the first time Malta presents elements for submission onto the prestigious list, which attempts to raise awareness of cultural traditions which need safeguarding, such as language, the performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, as well as traditional craftsmanship,” said Mario Azzopardi, the Director of the Culture Directorate.
The public will be invited to nominate aspects of cultural heritage under three main categories: those requiring urgent safeguarding; those to be added onto the longer ‘representative’ list and those to be included on the register of good safeguarding practices.
The Directorate will also be nominating a Committee for the National Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (CNSICH) which will establish the policy, the criteria and evaluate the nominations so that they are first recognised at a national level and inserted on the national inventory.
Once an element has been accepted for placement on the local level, and a successful plan for safeguarding it is implemented, it will be passed on to UNESCO for evaluation. “If the element submitted is not recognised by UNESCO, the Culture Directorate and the CNSICH will review and evaluate the rationale by UNESCO for its non-recognition. One hopes that the rigorous process adopted at national level will not lead to a futile nomination to UNESCO,” Mr Azzopardi said.
Besides the obvious cultural value of protecting such heritage, there is also real monetary value in protecting Malta’s intangible heritage. “There’s no denying the fact that culture and heritage tourism tend to attract high-yield tourists. In fact, one study shows that a culture and heritage tourist spends as much as 38 per cent higher per day and stays 22 per cent longer overall compared to other kinds of travellers,” Mr Azzopardi said. “Moreover, there are indicators that show the level of repeat visitation amongst this group of travellers is higher than that of traditional tourists.”
“UNESCO now recognises intangible cultural heritage as being as important as buildings,” he explained. “In the case of intangible cultural heritage tourists, studies have shown that these trips are more memorable than conventional holiday trips, since they allow the travellers to learn something new. This focus on learning skills and gaining enrichment has been identified as a core global trend in travel, linking to broader macro trends in consumer needs.”
“Protecting Malta’s intangible cultural heritage promotes the preservation of local traditions, customs and culture,” he asserted. “It is a clear signal of our strong commitment to the conservation and nourishment of collective memory and national identity. A market for experiences and traditional projects provides the economic support for keeping these skills and traditions alive. This helps in building opportunities for healthy and useful community relationships and partnerships. Furthermore, it creates enjoyable opportunities for both local residents and visitors attracted to the cultural arts, history and preservation, and boosts local investment in heritage resources and amenities that support tourism services.”
The full version of this article originally appeared in the February edition of The Business Observer