The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage on 17 October 2003. The Convention’s General Provisions acknowledges “the importance of intangible cultural heritage as a mainspring of cultural diversity and a guarantee of sustainable development” and yet observes that globalization and other detrimental forces are a grave threat to the future of this unique kind of heritage.
The Convention thus seeks to:
  • Safeguard intangible cultural heritage;
  • Ensure respect for the communities, groups, and individuals who produce intangible cultural heritage;
  • Raise awareness at the local, national, and international levels of the importance of intangible cultural heritage; and
  • Provide for international cooperation and assistance. The Convention recommends that one of the key actions at the national level is the production of an inventory of intangible cultural heritage, which can be the foundation of management and safeguarding strategies.

Intangible cultural heritage encompasses living expressions and the traditions that countless groups and communities worldwide have inherited from their ancestors and transmit to their descendants, in most cases orally. The definition of Intangible Cultural Heritage as defined in the Convention is as follows:

 “The ‘intangible cultural heritage’ means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills—as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith—that communities, groups, and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible heritage, transmitted from generation to generation—and often between cultural groups—is constantly recreated by communities in response to their environment, their interaction with nature, and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.”

Furthermore, the Convention proposes five broad domains to categorise the elements of intangible cultural heritage, namely:
  • Oral Traditions and Expressions

    The oral traditions and expressions domain encompasses an enormous variety of spoken forms including proverbs, riddles, tales, nursery rhymes, legends, myths, epic songs and poems, songs, and more. Based on the recommendations of UNESCO, languages taken as a whole will not be listed in the inventory, although specific language practices can be included. Oral traditions and expressions are used to pass on knowledge, cultural, and social values and collective memory. They play a crucial part in keeping cultures alive.

  • Performing Arts

    The performing arts range from vocal and instrumental music, dance, sung verse and beyond. They include numerous cultural expressions that reflect human creativity and that are also found, to some extent, in many other intangible cultural heritage domains.

  • Social Practices, Rituals and Festive Events

    Social practices, rituals and festive events are habitual activities that structure the lives of communities and groups and that are shared by and relevant to many of their members. They are significant because they reaffirm the identity of those who practice them as a group or a society and, whether performed in public or private, are closely linked to important events. Social, ritual and festive practices may help to mark the passing of the seasons, events in the agricultural calendar or the stages of a person’s life. They are closely linked to a community’s worldview and perception of its own history and memory. They vary from small gatherings to large-scale social celebrations and commemorations.

  • Knowledge and Practices Concerning Nature and the Universe

    Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe include knowledge, knowhow, skills, practices and representations of the known world. They are created by communities interacting with the natural environment. These ways of thinking about the universe are expressed through language, oral traditions, and feelings of attachment towards a place, memories, spirituality, and worldview. They also strongly influence values and beliefs and underlie many social practices and cultural traditions. They, in turn, are shaped by the environment and the community’s wider natural world.

  • Traditional Craftsmanship

    Traditional craftsmanship is perhaps the most tangible manifestation of intangible cultural heritage. However, the Convention is mainly concerned with the skills and knowledge involved in craftsmanship rather than the craft products themselves. Rather than focusing on preserving craft objects, safeguarding attempts should instead concentrate on encouraging artisans to continue to produce craft and to pass their skills and knowledge onto others, particularly within their own communities.

The Republic of Mauritius ratified the Convention on 04 June 2004. To honour this commitment and endeavour the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, Mauritius has undertaken several measures to research, inventory and document its intangible heritage. In June 2010, the Government of Mauritius designated the National Heritage Fund as a National Repository of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The National Heritage Fund has undertaken an inventory of intangible cultural heritage. In 2013, the Traditional Mauritian Sega and Bhojpuri Geet-Gawai files were sent to UNESCO for possible inscription on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In 2014, the Traditional Mauritian Sega was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.