UNESCO Launches Platform on Living Heritage and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Traditional artists Venuca Evanan, Violeta Quispe Yupari, and her mother Gaudencia Yupari have developed a prototype mask that contains traditional designs based on the heritage of the Ayacucho region. © Venuca Evanan, Violeta Quispe, and Gaudencia Yupari

Impact on Living Heritage

Experiences shared so far through the online survey have shown the scale of disruption across the world, with many significant festive events and rituals canceled or postponed. Some communities can no longer access the cultural and natural spaces and places of memory necessary for expressing their intangible cultural heritage. In contrast, others are restricted from coming together to share and enjoy many aspects of their intangible cultural heritage, so important to them.

These changes have caused disruptions in the social and cultural lives of many and have also resulted in a loss of income for ICH bearers and practitioners. Those working in the performing arts and traditional crafts, who mainly operate in the informal sector, have been particularly hard hit. Although it is still early to assess the economic costs, artisans the world over have responded to the survey noting the loss of livelihoods as they face challenges in supplying orders and accessing raw materials.

Adapting to the Crisis

ICH, however, is dynamic and can adapt and evolve. Survey results demonstrate that communities have sought ways to continue practicing their ICH, despite quarantine and confinement measures. Many Holy Week celebrations, for example, from Colombia to Venezuela, and Croatia to Italy still went ahead this year, albeit in an adapted form. Online initiatives and platforms have sprung up, providing new ways to disseminate and transmit knowledge about ICH. In Georgia, traditional feasts continue to take place online, with tables of traditional food and drinks arranged in front of computer screens and toasts performed virtually.

Social networks are playing a prominent role in helping people stay connected while being physically apart. For folk singers in Rajasthan, India, who must often travel to perform, live performances are organized through Facebook, providing a sense of solidarity with other artists and hope to continue.

More time spent in the home has heightened opportunities for teaching about ICH within the family. From Jamaica to Lebanon, many traditional cultural practices, such as culinary traditions and crafts, are being revisited under lockdown. Parents are cooking traditional meals with young members of the family, using recipes passed down from older generations, and sharing the results online.

Tools for Resilience

While the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the fragility of living heritage in emergencies, such situations can also provide reinvigorating or creative contexts for intangible cultural heritage, prompting the re-emergence or renewal of interest in abandoned elements or even the emergence of new ones.

Many ICH elements are being transformed in the context of the pandemic to support and reinforce public health measures. Artists in Peru and China, for example, are creating face masks using traditional designs and techniques. Amazigh communities in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains share poetic verses related to COVID-19. Traditional string puppet performances in Sri Lanka tell stories of confinement and social distancing, while in Senegal, the mythical figure of Kankurang, traditionally the guarantor of order and justice, parades the streets from 8 pm until dawn, enforcing village curfew.

Share Your Story

Explore these stories and more on UNESCO’s web platform on living heritage and the COVID-19 pandemic. Living heritage continues to be important for all of us during the crisis, in providing a sense of connection and continuity and reinforcing the social bonds between us. How have you been engaging with your living heritage in response to the pandemic? And what role can living heritage play in such difficult times? Share your story through our online survey and tell us your experience of living heritage during the COVID-19 pandemic.