Cover Photo: Felicidad A. Prudente Photo Collection / CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition

The preservation of our country's intangible cultural heritage is an effort to remind ourselves of the vibrant and diverse nation that we are

I remember cruising the long stretch of Loboc River on a motorised boat in Bohol during my younger years. It was a hotspot for tourists yearning for the province's local flavour and splendour. Later on, the boat parked by a station where a group of people in bright-coloured traditional garments buoyantly performed the Kuradang song and dance while the others played the instruments.

After being in the city for so long, it was refreshing to set foot in a different region. But it was not at all unfamiliar to me, unlike the other group of tourists at the other table who cheered and gazed at them (either with curiosity or fascination). By then, it occurred to me that not many had had the chance of seeing the beauty of our local heritage. This only comes with the privilege of residing in the motherland for years.

But it should not be the case for those who haven't, most especially those who are in fact Filipino by blood.

In a time when globalisation is rapidly changing the world, we should not forget the traditions and forms of expression that have helped shaped who we are. Fortunately, UNESCO began a convention, a credible avenue for the world to promote and preserve its intangible cultural heritage.

What is the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)?

Oral traditions, performing arts, social practises, rituals, festive events, knowledge concerning nature and the universe, and knowledge regarding traditional craftsmanship are all considered ICH. It must be recognised by the communities, groups, or individuals who create, maintain and transmit the cultural heritage.

ICH is also considered traditional, contemporary and living. This means ICH may not only be inherited traditions from the past but contemporary practices—both rural and urban—in which diverse cultural groups also participate.

ICH is inclusive, given that there are expressions that may also be practised by others, such as those living in another village, city, or even country. It may also be practised by those who have migrated to a different region. It may also bring about social cohesion, which makes an individual feel included.

The National Living Treasures

Before the ICH was established in 2003, UNESCO had already created a program in 1993 called the Living Human Treasures honouring the talented individuals around the world who have contributed to the transmission of knowledge and skills—such as creative genius, cultural and social traditions—to the next generation.

Currently, a counterpart to this title exists. Those who are chosen are known as a Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan awardee.

The first National Living Treasure was Ginaw Bilog, a Hanunuo Mangyan artist and poet from Oriental Mindoro. He had kept records of ambahan poetry on bamboo tubes and old notebooks. He was followed by more skilled individuals like epic chanter Masino Intaray (2013), musician Samaon Sulaiman (2011), weavers Lang Dulay (2015) and Salinta Monon (2009) to name a few.

Yabing Masalon Dulo, a Blaan Ikat weaver, was the most recent awardee. She had mastered the mabal tabih, an art of dyeing and weaving using abaca and hand-woven cloth.

See also: Weaving Patterns in the Philippines: Heritage, Design, and Their Meanings

Proposed Nominations

Currently, there are three elements from the country that are inscribed on the ICH list, namely: Buklog, the thanksgiving ritual system of the Subanen, the Darangen epic of the Maranao people of Lake Lanao, and the Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao.

There are several traditions and practices from the Philippines that are also being proposed for nomination to be included in the ICH list. The list varies from festivals, weaving practises, to rituals. Some elements are: the Ati-atihan festival of Aklanon people, Tepo mat weaving of the people of Tawi-Tawi, Ulaging Epic of Talaandig Manobo of Bukidnon, Kudaman Epic of the Pala'wan people of Palawan, and even the Digdiga Ni Tupayya courtship dance of the Kalinga people.

See also: Hispanic Catholic Churches In The Philippines: Haven of Faith and Repository of Art

Why Preserve the IHC?

There are more intangible cultural heritage known to Filipinos such as the likes of the Kuradang song and dance or the widely known folk dance, Tinikling.

But it also makes you wonder about all the other practices, songs, expressions and rituals that most of us are unfamiliar with. Particularly those that aren't performed to the public and can only be found in far-flung communities that hold a rich history.

Hopefully, more efforts are made to preserve our country's cultural heritage before it becomes lost and forgotten in the evolving times.

See also: Philippine Independence Day: A Look Into The Art of Kundiman—Origins, Singers, Relevance Today