Workshop on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)

The National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) through the Institute for Social and Cultural Research (ISCR) recently held a National Workshop on the Implementation of the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage from the 5th - 9th November, 2012.  House of Culture, Belize City. 

By ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ we refer to music (punta, brukdown, zapateado, etc), songs (carnival songs, folksongs), dances (jonkunu, deer dance), festivals (San Jose Palmar Festival, Maya Day Festival), games (pitpan race, torrito), storytelling (annansi, Maya animal stories), rituals (nine-nights, marriage), language (Maya, Creole), and masquerades (carnival, cortez dance), among other expressions of culture.

Belize signed the Convention in 2007. Since then, we have submitted only one of our ICH to the International List which is the "Language, dance, and music of the Garifuna" in 2009. This was a result of the Garifuna language having been declared a Garifuna Language, Music and Dance a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Belize along with Trinidad and Tobago are the only two Caribbean states with an item on the international list thus far. 

This does not mean that we have not been involved in safeguarding our cultural traditions. Indeed, it became apparent that many Belizeans (individuals, communities, educators, organizations and groups) have been contributing towards the goals of the convention. The Convenetion nonetheless provides an excellent platform from which current measures of 'safeguarding' can be improved for greater success. 

The workshop was part of regional and global effort organized by UNESCO Cultural Section and funded by the government and people of Japan. The workshop focused on developing the necessary knowledge and research capacity for cultural workers to obtain the maximum benefits of the Convention for our communities and nation.

The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Kris Rampersad, who did a wonderful job. 

The participants were from a cross-section of the Belizean socio-cultural landscape. They were persons who have been engaged in promoting and preserving the major cultural groups in Belize such as the East Indian, Maya, Mestizo, Creole, and Garifuna cultures. They were also representatives from the various Houses of Cultures and educators.  Like myself, they all found the workshop to be a very enlightening experience. 

On the final day of the workshop, an "ICH Declaration for Belize" was drafted and signed by participants. The Declaration recommends key goals that ought to be pursed by the participants and NICH to fulfill the Safeguarding of Belize's Intangible Cultural Heritage. Another workshop is schedueld to take place in 2013 to continue the capacity building of Belizeans necessary for the implementation of the Convention and by extention for the cellebration and preservation of Belize's rich multicultural society and heritage. 

Here is a verbatim rending of the ICH Declaration: 

Photos courtesy of Sylvia Perez and Phylicia Pelayo


  1. If, for the sake of discussion, one accepts that a country consists of borders, language, and culture, what would you consider "Belizean culture", that is, folklore, music, celebrations, music, etc. that are unique to Belize - something one can export to another country and call truly Belizean?
    Only two come to mind, both music: Brukdown and Punta Rock.

    1. First let’s start on the premise that by Belizean culture we are referring to the diverse ethnic and cultural expressions within the state. Secondly, let’s realize that in most cases all “cultures” or group of people have tended not to develop in isolation. There has always been exchange of ideas between peoples. These exchanges have become increasingly common in today’s global village.

      For instance, let’s take the Hog-Head dance, a communal dance which is carried out in Maya/Mestizo communities in various parts of Belize. Yet, this Dance is also carried out in Yucatan, Mexico. Does this means then that it is not Belizean?

      As another case, the infamous Anansi stories which are widely known in Belize across the various ethnic sub-sets is a continuity of West African culture which is also known in other Caribbean states. Nonetheless, there are intricacies which develop over time that are distinct. In Belize, Anansi is not the hero, he is rather the trickster who develops strategies to reach his goals.

      The reality is that people and the various cultural groups have more in common that we think. We need not to be pressured to divide ourselves into wanting to be unique. More interest is to be made towards highlighting our similarities, towards celebrating our cultures as a cultural heritage of humanity.

      Therefore across the various cultural forms in Belize one can make the argument for the “unique in the general” and the “general in the unique”. For example, punta rock is a musical genre which became increasingly popular across Belize as a result of adding the electric guitar to the genre. The electric guitar was not used before the 1970s. Nonetheless, like all cultural forms Belizeans have added a distinct taste to it, it’s that Belizean taste. :)

      Good question.

      For more on punta rock:


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