“My favourite element of intangible cultural heritage is food culture, because food brings people together. With the many different cultures, recipes and dishes, it helps create a sense of familiarity and fosters a community.”
– Visitor to Our SG Heritage Plan travelling exhibition
Our cultures cover our intangible cultural heritage, which comprise the traditions, rituals, crafts, expressions, knowledge and skills that we practise and pass on from generation to generation. As it is part of our living, everyday heritage, it is important that we document and safeguard it for future generations.
How can we safeguard Intangible Cultural Heritage?
Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage does not just mean merely documenting and conducting research on practices, rituals, festivals, crafts, art forms, etc., but also transferring the knowledge and skills critical to these elements to the next generation. These safeguarding efforts include public education and outreach programmes that increase the awareness and appreciation of our intangible cultural heritage.
What will Our SG Heritage Plan do?
Strengthen Research and Documentation
Intangible cultural heritage is often passed down by word of mouth from one generation to another, and it may be lost over time without proper documentation. Robust research and documentation are therefore important in ensuring that the knowledge is retained. Under Our SG Heritage Plan, more efforts will be devoted to the research and documentation of our intangible cultural heritage and they will include the following strategies and initiatives:
Intangible Cultural Heritage Survey
The National Heritage Board launched the Intangible Cultural Heritage Survey in November 2016. The survey involves research and documentation of cultural practices, trades and traditional knowledge found in Singapore. It also involves interviews with practitioners as well as photography and video documentation. The survey’s findings will guide future initiatives in safeguarding and promoting Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage.
Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory Co-created with Singaporeans
We will develop a new Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory that will draw on the findings from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Survey. It will serve as a comprehensive repository to showcase the diverse, multicultural elements of intangible cultural heritage that exist in Singapore, and help us better understand the diverse cultures that make up Singapore.
Partnerships with Institutes of Higher Learning
We will step up efforts to partner our universities and other institutes of higher learning (IHLs) to conduct in-depth research on Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage through our Heritage Research Grant, which seeks to encourage our IHLs to embark on heritage-related research for the documentation and preservation of Singapore’s heritage.
Encourage Greater Awareness and Transmission of Intangible Cultural Heritage
Under Our SG Heritage Plan, we will leverage existing platforms, work with partners, and introduce new initiatives to raise public awareness and appreciation of Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage. We will also expend more efforts to facilitate the transmission of different aspects of our intangible cultural heritage to future generations of Singaporeans. The strategies and initiatives will include the following:
Leverage Existing Platforms and Showcases
We will continue to use exhibitions, festivals and programmes, such as the Singapore Heritage Festival and Singapore Food Festival, to showcase and promote greater appreciation of different aspects of Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage. We will also conduct talks and workshops by experts and practitioners to facilitate the transmission of knowledge and skills about Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage.
Develop a New Recognition Scheme
We will introduce a new scheme to recognise intangible cultural heritage practitioners who are dedicated to promoting and transmitting Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage. We will work with the practitioners recognised under the scheme to increase public awareness and transmit their skills and knowledge to the next generation of practitioners.
Promote Traditional Trades in Historic Precincts
Many traditional trades and interesting stories still exist in our historic precincts such as Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India. We will bring a spotlight on these interesting trades by working with other agencies, such as the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), and precinct partners such as the Chinatown Business Association, One Kampong Gelam, and Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association.
Promote Traditional Performing Arts
Singapore’s traditional arts are made up of deeply-rooted cultural and artistic expressions linked to our major ethnic groups. These form part of our intangible cultural heritage and contribute to Singapore’s rich cultural diversity. The National Arts Council (NAC) administers various programmes and initiatives to promote traditional arts in Singapore, including traditional arts showcases and educational programmes for schools. A major initiative of the NAC is the re-opening of the Stamford Arts Centre in 2018, which will have a strong focus on the traditional arts.
Ratify the UNESCO 2003 Convention
On 22 February 2018, Singapore ratified the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The main goal of the convention is to safeguard the practices, expressions, knowledge and skills of communities and groups, as well as to promote awareness of and respect for intangible cultural heritage.
By ratifying this convention, we signal our commitment to safeguard and promote Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage. The convention also provides a framework to guide our safeguarding efforts and facilitates collaborations with our international counterparts.
Nominate a Singapore Intangible Cultural Heritage Element for UNESCO’s Representative List
As a member state of the UNESCO 2003 Convention, Singapore will work towards nominating an intangible cultural heritage element to be listed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Representative List, which comprises intangible cultural heritage elements from different countries, showcases the diversity of cultural heritage across the world and raises awareness about their importance so that they can be safeguarded.
We will work with heritage experts, practitioners and the public to identify an element that best resonates with Singaporeans and that best reflects our rich, multicultural heritage. The successful listing of an intangible cultural heritage element from Singapore will allow us to share the multicultural aspects of our heritage with the international community and contribute to the diverse cultures of the world.
Read about Examples from the Asia-Pacific Region on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity