Eritrea Launches Inventorying of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Intangible Cultural Heritage of Eritrea
It is part of the project “Strengthening the capacities of Eritrea for implementing the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (i.e oral traditions, ways of living, dances, knowledge and skills that create those cultural materials.)


On 3 April 2017, the Eritrean Commissioner of Culture and Sports, Ambassador Zemede Tecle, opened a two-week capacity-building workshop on community-based inventorying of intangible cultural heritage.

This activity is part of the project “Strengthening the capacities of Eritrea for implementing the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage”, financed by the generous contribution of the Government of Norway through the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund.

The workshop runs from 3 – 18 April 2017 at the Commission of Culture and Sports in Asmara, Eritrea and with over 40 participants, including District Officers and community representatives from the nine ethno-linguistic groups of Eritrea.

Mr. Lovemore Mazibuko, a UNESCO trained international facilitator, leads the workshop with the support of Dr. Senait Bahta, Professor of Anthropology and national expert.

During the opening ceremony, the Ambassador confirmed that the UNESCO project is reinforcing national efforts and helping to ensure the safeguarding of Eritrea’s intangible cultural heritage.

The elaboration of the first National Cultural and Natural Heritage Legislation, proclaimed on 30 September 2015, is already one significant achievement of these joint efforts.

Over the course of the workshop, participants receive theoretical and practical training on techniques for carrying-out a community-based inventory as well as photo and video documentation of intangible cultural heritage in view of preparing digital archives for Eritrea’s Research and Documentation Centre.

Following the training workshop, Dr. Bahta will lead local teams in undertaking a three-month fieldwork in community-based inventorying of intangible cultural heritage in the nine ethno-linguistic groups: Tigrina, Tigre, Saho, Rashaida, Nara, Bedawiet, Afar, Kunama, and Blin.

Another workshop to train participants in applying for International Assistance from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund and preparing nominations will be held in September 2017.

Checking on Eritrea’s Intangible Cultural Heritages

Lovemore Mazibuko, UNESCO certified trainer
Mr. Lovemore Mazibuko, a UNESCO certified trainer


As cultures have been handed down from generation to generation for years, we are at a period where it no longer seems an important matter to the new generations all over the world. Today’s Q&A gladly shares an interesting topic on the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which is a field that deals with non-material cultural heritages.

Recently, a workshop was given by Mr. Lovemore Mazibuko, a UNESCO certified trainer regarding the importance of Intangible Cultural Heritages and their safety. Here is an interview he held with Eritrea Profile.

Q: Thank you for joining us, please introduce yourself.

It is a pleasure. My name is Lovemore Mazibuko, I am from Malawi. I am a certified UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage trainer. I was trained by UNESCO to facilitate member states activities which are implementing the convention on the protection of their imperceptible cultural heritages. These includes the Sub Saharan African English speaking countries. I visited many countries in relation to my work, however, it is my first to Eritrea. As I can see, the country has great climate and what got my attention most astonished is the friendliness of the people. I can gratefully say it is a very enjoyable trip.

Q: Glad you are enjoying it. Please tell us more about the Tangible and Intangible cultural heritages.

Why not! Tangible cultural heritages are material heritage aspects that can be touched and felt. For instance, the wooden cultural music instruments, cups, and plates. On the other hand, what we call intangible cultural heritages are the oral traditions, ways of living, dances, knowledge and skills that create those cultural materials. So, they are very important matters and wouldn’t exist without one another. Yet in the 2003 convention, we focused on the intangible cultural heritages.

Q: The 2003 convention?

It was first introduced in the General Assembly of the 2003. It was a convention for safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage. Yet, it came in effect in 2005. It specifically emphasized and worked on non-material heritages. UNESCO consists seven conventions that deal with the category of culture. The 2003 convention was the fastest among the other conventions to be adopted and many countries signed to be part of it. As a matter of fact about 195 countries are members to this day.

Moreover, the convention consist of 5 domains. 1) Oral traditions and expressions (songs and poems) 2) Performing arts such as dances and traditional games, 3) Social practices and festive events (weddings, funerals…), 4) Knowledge about the nature and universe (on traditional medicine, food preservation…), 5) Traditional craftsmanship (making of tools, jewelries,). The focus for this domain purely lies on creativity.

Q: About the workshop you had been giving…

At the beginning, as long as cultural preservation was concerned, the focus was only on tangible materials. But later, we adopted an idea that cultural materials on their own without the meaning and creating skills alone don’t make sense. We ought to preserve the materials but we had also to safeguard the messages, skills and more that are associated with the objects; so we can actually preserve and safeguard everything.

The workshop was inspired by the 2003 convention for safeguarding the intangible cultural heritages.
Besides, people may wish to know that Eritrea is a state that has signed to be a member of this convention. By being a member of this convention, the country can take some steps to help it safeguard its intangible cultural heritage. The workshop was arranged to be a training program to build capacity among the community members on how to document and take safety measures.

Eritrea has been doing a great job so far on preservation of its cultural heritages. For instance, on the festival days, the nine ethnic groups come together to show their cultures, which is one of the great impressions Eritrea has got. If we take a look at other countries cultures, ethnic groups have their own leaders and do their own things. Although Eritrea is on the right track on documenting and safeguarding of it intangible cultural heritages, it doesn’t mean that Eritrea’s work is done in preserving its intangible heritages, there is still a lot to do; documenting, making videos, publicizing it through the mass media as well as keeping photos etc. That is what exactly the workshop is all about.

I am happy with the team that has been assembled. We have forty participants selected from each ethnic group which include teachers, researchers, writers and culture experts. We were able to assemble a very vibrant team. They are ready to take any program that might be provided for the intangible cultural heritage for Eritrea.

Q: What do you expect from the training?

The workshop also included different practices outside of the city. The combination of the workshop’s theoretical and practical practices are designed to provide participants an experience on how it is done on the actual work. After I leave this great country of yours, Eritrea, the participants will go to their respective locations, accompanied by the commission of culture and sport researchers. Each of the nine ethnic community will spend time collecting different aspects of intangible non – material cultural heritage for the next three months. At the end of the day, we expect to collect the needed materials which will be used to process through the media.

Q: Do you think that Eritrea has what it takes to make the list on the UNESCO?

In my opinion, I do. Eritrea is culturally very rich. The fact that it has nine ethnic groups means that each group has its own culture. Again, Eritrea displays a unique show when the nine ethnic groups offer a variety mode of culture as they unite at different festivals. That is something that most countries dont have. In other countries, each ethnic group is concerned with its own activity. I believe that Eritrea is doing a lot but I also think that there is much to be done to preserve its intangible cultural heritages.

There is a provision that countries which are members of the convention can nominate some of their elements and practices and have them enlisted in the UNESCO. There are three lists which such cases might fall into: The Representative of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Agent of Safeguarding, and Register of Best Practices.

What Eritrea is doing to bring all its ethnic groups together in unity and showcase every festival is one example of the best practices category. I believe that Eritrea can make the list. There is a lot that can be documented out there and join the country in the list.

Q: How about the preservation of the intangible cultural heritage in Eritrea?

As I said before, Eritrea is doing a great job; yet, safeguarding the cultural heritages is an ongoing process that should never come to an end. I am sure that those forty participants who attended the workshop can contribute hugely towards preserving those legacies. As the team consisted people from different domains, I believe that writers can contribute books regarding the importance of safeguarding cultural heritages to schools and the general public. We have researcher and writers and I think they can write books regarding the matter that can be used at schools.

Additionally, I assume that mass media’s contribution would add much to the society’s knowledge about the particular field. This time I would like to use this opportunity to invite Eritrea to apply for the fund that is contributed by the UNESCO and take advantage of the different campaigns and programs on the convention.

Q: What got you interested most during your stay?

The food. I was amazed when I learned about the whole process of Enjera starting from the harvest time until it is put out and served on the table. It is a special table for me as it takes up so much time and energy. Besides, I loved the dances and the friendliness and hospitality of the people. I really enjoyed my stay here.

Q: Anything you might want to forward at the end?

I want to thank the Culture and Sport Commission for inviting me to share the little knowledge I have about the convention. I was able to work with a team that was ready and willing that made my work easy and enjoyable. This shouldn’t be the last but the beginning of many programs in the future. I am very fond of the state and I want to encourage Eritrea to keep up the good work.