The Convention defines intangible cultural heritage as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.”
It’s about living heritage
„Intangible heritage is living heritage – knowledge, skills and customs that have an important role in the lives of communities and that are continuously practiced and transmitted. The goal of the inventory is to raise awareness about the diversity and meaning of our living heritage”, Kristiina Porila says. For example eating and baking rye-bread is intangible heritage, too and constitutes a part of our identity.
Cultural heritage has been collected for centuries in Estonia by historians, folklorists and ethnographers. However the starting point of the inventory is different. It relies on the bottom-up initiative and point of view of local communities that have a chance to introduce their own heritage,” stresses Kristiina Porila.
The first entries
The very first entries were made by communities from Hiiumaa island in the west of Estonia and the historical region of Võrumaa in the south-east, where people have consciously been safeguarding their intangible cultural heritage for a long time already. These communities thus make a good role model for others, remarks Kristiina Porila, the Intangible Heritage Specialist of the Folk Culture Centre. The inventory is available in Estonian at www.rahvakultuur.ee/vkpnimistu.
The texts, photos and videos on the webpage of the inventory give us a chance to get to know various elements of the intangible heritage of the above-mentioned communities. We learn about handy-crafts and foodways of the Hiiumaa community: about the way they use and make rocking chairs, pullcarts, traditional jewellery or laces, about homebrewed beer and a special soup. But the most important thing to remember about the people from Hiiumaa, and the most difficult one to capture and to safeguard, is their distinct witty sense of humour.
A distinctive feature of the Võru community is their langue, currently spoken by some 50 000 people. Some newspapers and books are published in this language and in the region children can take Võro-language classes at school. As we see in the inventory people from historical Võrumaa also proudly safeguard their knowledge and customs related to the smoke sauna (a sauna without a chimney) as well as playing and handcrafting the Estonian diatonic accordion.
Training courses raise awareness about intangible heritage and the inventory
Needless to say the inventory welcomes new entries from all over Estonia. Many communities in Estonia have been actively involved in safeguarding their intangible heritage for many years, Kristiina Porila points out, and are therefore eager to participate in the training courses organised by the Folk Culture Centre. “We want to encourage people to notice, cherish and safeguard the knowledge, skills and customs that form their intangible heritage. Our aim is to draw their attention to the importance of these intangible ties that give us a sense of belonging and continuity in a world that is rapidly changing.” The participants also learn to conduct a small scale research in order to compile future entries for the inventory. Furthermore, during the courses likeminded people from different parts of the country have a chance to discuss and exchange experiences, to learn form each other.
The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Many interesting traditions and skills of intangible cultural heritage from the Baltic countries have been inscribed on the international Representative List.
Some well-known examples:
The Baltic Song and Dance Celebrations. Inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2003) Both a repository and a showcase for the region’s tradition of performing folk art, this cultural expression culminates in large-scale festivals every fifth year in Estonia and Latvia and every fourth year in Lithuania. These grand events, held over several days, assemble as many as 40,000 singers and dancers. For the most part, the participants belong to amateur choirs and dance groups.
The Kihnu Cultural Space. Inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2003) The small islands of Kihnu and Manija are home to a community of 600 people whose cultural expressions and agricultural traditions have been kept alive over the centuries largely through the island’s female population.
Seto Leelo (Seto polyphonic singing tradition). Inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. For the Seto community living in South-Eastern Estonia and the Pechory district of the Russian Federation, the tradition of leelo, an ancient polyphonic singing tradition, is a cornerstone of their contemporary identity.