Stakeholders in the cultural sector in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are being sensitised about the importance of preserving living heritage in crisis situations, such a natural disaster or health pandemic.
This sensitisation comes in the form of a three-day workshop sponsored by UNESCO — the United Nations agency for culture — and is being held until Thursday of this week.
“We had the volcanic activities, we are still going through the COVID-19 pandemic and during all of this, we noted the culture; a number of persons may not see culture as a priority. However, UNESCO, as one of its mandates, noted that culture is always important to the people of a nation,” Janeil N. Henry-Rose, SVG Secretary General for UNESCO told workshop participants on the opening day.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Commission for UNESCO in partnership with the UNESCO Kingstown Cluster Office is holding the workshop under the theme, “Safeguarding and Promoting Living Heritage in Crisis Situations in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
Intangible cultural heritage refers to the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills handed down from generation to generation. This heritage provides communities with a sense of identity and is continuously recreated in response to their environment.
The workshop includes in-person as well as online attendees and Henry-Rose told the opening day that without culture, the past will be lost.
“Without culture, how will our future generations know where we have come from? Without culture, how can we continue to live our legacy for the future?” Henry-Rose said.
She said that UNESCO noted during the volcanic eruption and the novel coronavirus pandemic, a number of intangible assets of cultural heritage such as art, craft, and music and that even some tangible elements of the nation’s cultural heritage have suffered.
“For example, we have some churches that were damaged. We have petroglyphs; we look at the trails to the volcano. We know that a lot of persons make their living but using the vetiver bush. We also have persons trailing the volcano to make their living. We have other persons making mats; we have other persons using the environment to make their living. So what this workshop is all about is basically helping us to see how we can develop policies and how we can mitigate against future disasters,” Henry-Rose said.
in the wake of the most recent eruption of La Soufriere, Marina Lampkin, the local UNESCO consultant, noted that over the past few months, SVG had been preparing for and coping with the eruption of La Soufriere. Therefore, most of the attention has been focused on saving lives.
“But no attention or time was really given to how to preserve our culture. We were not aware of the importance of our culture. So I thank UNESCO for bringing this to our attention so we know how important this exercise is to the preservation of our own tangible and intangible heritage,” said Lampkin who is also a facilitator.
Richenel Ansano, a regional UNESCO consultant, and a facilitator at the workshop, told participants that over the past five years or so, UNESCO has been concentrating on emergencies and how they affect living heritage.
The UN agency has also been paying attention to how living heritage can be used to counteract or at least respond to disasters in a fruitful way and in a way that’s effective, both in terms of preserving human lives and preserving cultures, Ansano said.
On Tuesday the discussions were centred on “How living heritage in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is impacted by crises; how its practice can be interrupted; promotion of knowledge sharing; how it can be safeguarded”
The other sessions will look at the importance of inventories; developing a tool and undertaking surveys to assess impacts; and, building resiliency for living heritage; identifying key actions.
In-person participants are gathering at the National Sports Council Conference room in Arnos Vale, and the workshop is geared at governmental and non-governmental organisations, associations, community groups and individuals involved with intangible heritage.