Cuban rumba and Ugandan music now on UNESCO’s heritage list

Cuba’s sensual rumba dance and Belgium’s thriving beer culture brought new effervescence to UNESCO’s coveted list of “intangible” heritage on Wednesday.

Meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the U.N. body gave the nod to the rumba, which it said evokes “grace, sensuality and joy”, while it said “making and appreciating beer is part of the living heritage... throughout Belgium”. The Cuban delegation to the Addis Ababa meeting dedicated the rumba’s selection to longtime leader Fidel Castro, who died on Friday aged 90.

UNESCO noted that Belgium produces some 1,500 types of beer, while in Cuba because the rumba sprang from poor communities the dance is an enduring “expression of resistance and self-esteem”.

Staying on the festive theme, the World Heritage Committee also enshrined the March 21 new year’s celebrations of 12 countries stretching from Turkey to India, as well as Bangladesh’s April 14 new year’s festival.

The list of “intangible” cultural treasures was created 10 years ago, mainly to increase awareness about them, while UNESCO also sometimes offers financial or technical support to countries struggling to protect them.

On Tuesday, the U.N. body designated Ugandan traditional music, which is dying out partly because it requires materials from endangered species, as intangible heritage “in urgent need of safeguarding”.

Uganda’s Ma’di Bowl Lyre music and dance is one of the oldest cultural practices of the Madi people of Uganda.

It is still performed at some weddings and to celebrate harvests but is at risk “due to it being considered old-fashioned by younger generations” and because it requires materials from plants and animals now endangered.

Reviving interest

A black pottery manufacturing process from the Portuguese village of Bisalhaes was also added to the UNESCO list. Designed for decorative and cooking purposes, it features on the village’s coat of arms but the pottery is suffering from “waning interest from younger generations and popular demand for industrial alternatives”, the U.N.’s cultural, scientific and educational arm said in a statement.

The third cultural gem added to the list are Cossack songs from Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, which tell stories about the tragedy of war and personal relationships of Cossack soldiers. This art form is also in danger as its participants age, UNESCO said.

The committee winds up its review of nominations to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list on Thursday. — AFP