14th October 2022
St. Kitts and Nevis has energetically embarked upon the 2nd phase of a UNESCO-funded cultural heritage project entitled: ‘Safeguarding St. Kitts and Nevis Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) – Developing a National Intangible Cultural Heritage Policy.
Led by local ICH focal contacts Marlene Phillips (St. Kitts) and Patrick Howell (Nevis), and backed by UNESCO funds worth over US$91,000, the ICH project will benefit from leading-edge UNESCO technical assistance, aimed at creating a structured National ICH Policy Framework to safeguard the knowledge of tradition bearers, and also to further identify and preserve individual ICH elements.
Welcoming news of the approval of the funding and assistance from UNESCO, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Culture, Valencia Syder, stated “I am extremely proud of St. Kitts Department of Culture’s accomplishments in six years regarding intangible cultural heritage since ratifying the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016. St. Kitts and Nevis has established two ICH Secretariats, one on each island, to continue safeguarding initiatives. We successfully completed one project that provided skills training in Interview Techniques; Research and Documentation methods; and Digital Audio/camera/video operation.
As a Federation, St. Kitts and Nevis is presently preparing to implement a second project in 2023 that will create the framework for an ICH Policy to guide and regulate practices for safeguarding initiatives. The international assistance received from the UNESCO ICH Fund has helped St. Kitts and Nevis to expand its human resources in a short period of time by creating an extended ICH Community Network, which includes tradition bearers, government departments, private sector businesses, and civil society to assist with safeguarding our cultural heritage, traditions and customs. It is a wonderful and timely opportunity to strengthen an important aspect of the Federation’s rich cultural heritage and traditions. We anticipate a submission on the final ICH Policy Framework plan to be presented to the Minister of Culture towards the end of 2023”.
L/R: Timothy Curtis, Head, Intangible Cultural Heritage Section, UNESCO, H.E. David Doyle, Ambassador of St. Kitts and Nevis to UNESCO
To mark the success of securing new ICH funds from UNESCO, the Federation’s resident Ambassador to UNESCO, H.E. David P. Doyle, recently met with Tim Curtis, head of the UNESCO ICH Programme at UNESCO headquarters in Paris to explore the opportunities for St. Kitts and Nevis.
Tim Curtis commended St. Kitts and Nevis on its success in securing ICH funds to develop an ICH Policy Framework. “It’s an encouraging sign”, he said that, “a Caribbean small island developing state, like St. Kitts and Nevis, recognises the value of the intangible cultural heritage convention as a vehicle for identifying and protecting the traditions on how people live, their identities, legacies and ensuring that such practices provide a sense of continuity with the past”.
Referring to the dynamic nature of the ICH activity, especially on small islands, Mr Curtis emphasised the importance of “living heritage” linked to both the past and capable of adapting itself to current trends. “This is why the involvement of youth in the St. Kitts and Nevis ICH project is critical; the ICH framework will reinforce the notion of intergenerational transmission of key intangible practices, customs and traditions”. He noted that protecting ICH items and knowledge systems had a powerful impact on livelihoods of local communities.
One current positive trend UNESCO had identified was the ICH activity linked to sustainable development, through preserving traditional culinary dishes as a means of addressing food security challenges at a time of nervous impact brought about by climate change.
In terms of advice to the St. Kitts and Nevis ICH team on the ground, Mr Curtis stressed the need for continued wide community engagement, involving citizens, government officials, NGOs, and youth in galvanising both interest and input on the development of a solid and consensus-driven future ICH Policy Framework.
Ambassador Doyle thanked UNESCO’s Bureau of the Committee for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage ICH, and Tim Curtis for assisting St. Kitts and Nevis to secure this new ICH project, “following on the heels of a previous UNESCO-funded ICH project completed in 2021, entitled:: ‘Strengthening Inventory Preparation Capacity for Implementing the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in St. Kitts and Nevis. This enabled the ICH focal contact persons in the twin-island federation to build a solid foundation for implementing the project and, in particular, identify a number of credible intangible cultural heritage items”. The inventory project was also backed by nearly US$100,000 UNESCO funding.
Marlene Philips, the lead ICH focal contact for St. Kitts remarked, “Over the past three years, in close collaboration with my Nevis ICH colleague, Patrick Howell, we drove this ICH inventorying project sometimes against challenges posed by Covid 19, in interviewing citizens about their intangible heritage background. The focus was to identify ICH elements in need of safeguarding and developing an inventory to document them ”
Amongst the ICH items identified were Clay Pottery, Cactus Prickly Pear (the uses), Vernacular Architecture, Calabash utensils, Cassava bread, a Kittitian house-broom and tradition-bearers’ storytelling.
The newly-elected Minister of Culture, Hon. Samal Duggins, equally pleased with the news of this fresh UNESCO ICH funding and technical assistance, had this to say
“In this time of rapid globalisation, many countries are recognizing the importance of our strong cultural roots that is evident in folklore, theatre, music, film, visual arts and cultural heritage. These, individually and collectively represent a powerful way of providing a distinctive image of our country. I lead a ministry with a robust agenda to pursue and ensure this is one by relying on both government intervention and assistance from our Partners. I am elated to accept the assistance sought and provided by UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage”
“This technical assistance and funding will massively scale-up St. Kitts and Nevis’ capacity and expertise in developing an indigenous Intangible Cultural Heritage Policy Framework for the government, citizens and everyone associated with preserving the cultural heritage, customs and traditions in our twin-island Federation. There is value in documenting and safeguarding our traditions and customs. The listing of the internationally recognized Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 has given way to endless marketing possibilities for our Federation. Hence, I foresee tremendous value in safeguarding our sacred traditions and customs, such as broom-making, clay pottery and vernacular housing (just to name a few); this will be a huge accomplishment for our people. I look forward to being able to present the ICH Policy Framework to my Cabinet colleagues”.
The Intangible Cultural Heritage 2003 Convention, which the Federation ratified in April 2016, sets out to identify traditions included in an ICH List compiled by UNESCO embracing a compendium of customs, ceremonies, and traditions from around the globe. The ICH List currently consists at some 500 items from 186 countries.