Intangible Cultural Heritage

Posted on November 8, 2013 by

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Our editor Natalie Haly reflects on the intangible cultural heritage within Marrakech and asks should we do more to preserve it?

In these dark and dreary autumnal days, I’ve recently taken to scrolling through past holiday photos wishing I was in sunnier climes.  Whist this is mainly nothing more than a great time wasting exercise, it did succeed in getting me thinking about intangible cultural heritage, and how vital its preservation is. A slightly random leap, but this fleeting moment of insight occurred whilst looking at holiday snapshots of Marrakech, a place brimming with a rich tradition of oral culture. Oral histories have been the main form of evening entertainment in the Place Jemaa El-Fna for centuries, with halaka’s, or story-tellers taking their place in the bustling square each night to tell tales of their ancestors, often blended with legend for good measure.  In a country where a large proportion of the population was, and still is illiterate, these oral histories have formed a vital part of local life and learning.  However, this centrepiece of Moroccan culture, a tradition going back centuries, is now at risk of dying out. In 2001, UNESCO named Marrakech’s square as a ‘masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity,’ recognising its relevance but also its vulnerability.  It is the intangible nature of this oral culture which makes it so difficult to preserve. As Marrakech moves with the rest of the world towards the modern age of electronics and fast-paced living, it seems that the newer generations are reluctant to take up the ill-paid profession of story-telling.  However, this is not a plight unique to Marrakech; the fading out of traditional cultural practices is something which is occurring all over the world.  We can learn so much from these undocumented aspects of our heritage; the ephemeral events and rituals, the things we can’t touch but which are the essence of daily life.  These cultural practices blend the lines between the public in the modern age, and our ancestors in the past, and we should all be doing more to preserve these intangible cultural traditions.  This could mean conserving things such as folk songs, festive rituals or even the practice of oral history.  These things are at the heart of daily life, they are practices which have flowed from generation to generation moulding our culture, and if we break the link now we will lose this connection which is vital to our understanding of the past.

Posted in: Editor's Blog