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Intangible heritage isn’t about witchcraft, says UNZA lecturer

INTANGIBLE Cultural Heritage is a broad subject and it would be folly to reduce it to witchcraft, says University of Zambia lecturer Gankhanani Moyo.

There is a ferocious debate about the proposed degree at the University of Zambia, which many people have reduced to the study of witchcraft.

Addressing a debate on the development of a degree programme at the University of Zambia to safeguard Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), Moyo explained that intangible cultural heritage was about practice, representation, expression, knowledge, or skill, as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces.

Moyo, who is an ICH expert, said the trade was being recognised, accepted and considered by people to be part of their cultural heritage.

UNESCO has given the University of Zambia US$340,000 to develop a degree programme to safeguard Intangible Heritage with the first intake comprising of 20 students.

Moyo further said contrary to assertions that ICH was about witchcraft, examples of it include oral traditions such as poems, songs, performances, and knowledge about ecological systems and healing.

“An intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is a practice, representation, expression, knowledge, or skill, as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts, and cultural spaces that have been recognised, accepted and considered by people to be part of their cultural heritage. In ICH, though the object itself may not be considered to be ICH, the knowledge and skill in making or using it is what is considered as ICH,” Moyo explained.

“The 2003 Convention of UNESCO which Zambia has ratified is intended to help State parties to safeguard this heritage. Examples of ICH include oral traditions such as poems, songs, performances, and knowledge about ecological systems, healing, etc. It is a broad subject and it would be folly to reduce it to witchcraft.”

According Dr Charles Ndakala, the Zambia National Commission for UNESCO secretary general, despite efforts in safeguarding cultural heritage, there were cases of destruction of priceless cultural heritage in certain countries, which threatens traditions and customs.
According to the UNESCO website, cultural heritage has changed content considerably in recent decades, partially owing to the instruments developed by the UN agency.
“Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects, it also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts,” UNESCO states.
“While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalisation.
An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life.”
The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself, it says, but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next.

“The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State, and is as important for developing States as for developed ones,” states UNESCO.

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