Several cultural customs, traditions, skills and events from across the Arab world have been newly inscribed on to Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
In total, 39 new traditions or customs from across the world were inscribed on to the list at the 17th session of the intergovernmental committee for the safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, held in Rabat, Morocco, over the past few days.
Though it is known for its preservation of physical monuments all over the world, Unesco also does a lot of work to preserve traditions and ways of living that are at threat of being erased amid increasing levels of globalisation.
The agency considers “oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe” as intangible heritage that it seeks to preserve.
As opposed to physical monuments, intangible heritage is not merely important as a cultural manifestation, but rather because it constitutes essential knowledge, skills or ethics transmitted from one generation to the next.
Traditions from the UAE, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and North African nations have been inscribed on to 2022’s list. Here’s a closer look at them.
Talli, also known as Alseen, is a traditional form of embroidery, usually done by combining six cotton threads separated with silver running through the middle.
“These are skilfully woven into colourful shapes with symbolic meanings tied to life in the desert and at sea,” Unesco says in announcing the inscription to the list. “A time-consuming craft, talli is transmitted informally from mothers to daughters, as well as formally through courses and workshops held in schools, universities and heritage-development centres.”
Unesco also notes the social element of talli, which brings women across communities together ahead of cultural events such as Eid and weddings, where garments featuring talli embroidery would usually be worn.
Oman’s khanjar or traditional dagger, part of traditional dress worn by men during national and religious events in the sultanate, has also been added to the list.
“An essential element of Omani culture, its manufacture requires significant knowledge and skills that are transmitted from one generation to next,” Unesco said.
The dagger is attached around the waist, and traditionally includes a belt, handle, blade, scabbard and cover, usually made from wood, leather, cloth or silver.
“Historical sources and archaeological discoveries indicate that Omanis have worn the khanjar for centuries,” Unesco says.
There are formal workshops and training offered across Oman to ensure the craft of the khanjar is passed down through generations, and the item is often gifted to official guests of the country as an expression of culture.
Alheda’a, the oral expression accompanied by gestures or musical instruments played by herders to communicate with their camels, has also been inscribed to the list.
Inspired by poetry, the rhythmic expression is used by herders to signal camels to drinking or feeding areas, as well as in specific directions through the desert.
“Herders train their camels to recognise the difference between right and left, to open their mouths when asked, and to kneel down to be ridden,” Unesco says. “The practice creates a strong bond between the camels and their herders, as well as among the herders themselves.”
The practice is passed down through family members, with children often joining parents on daily trips.