Cultural practices from three African nations have been named by UNESCO to this year’s list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.” The decisions were made by an intergovernmental committee meeting in Mauritius through Saturday.
In Algeria, it’s the role of elders who manage water resources in the desert villages of Touat and Tidikelt in the central part of the country that need intentional protection. The traditional “water measurers” manage foggaras, or channels used to move water and account for its use, but their experiential knowledge isn’t being passed on to youth. Other factors include urbanization and modernization in Algeria, and changes in ownership policies.
“The loss of activity for water measurers is directly reflected in their advanced age, which demonstrates a lack of new practitioners entering the business,” said UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
UNESCO also named a traditional form of highly interactive Egyptian hand-puppet theater to the list. Called Al-Aragoz, it takes its name from the main puppet, whose voice is created using a voice modifier.
“The art used to be presented by groups of traveling performers, who moved from one folk celebration to another,” said UNESCO. “However, when these performances began to dwindle, performers and their assistants settled permanently in fixed places, mostly in Cairo.” The practice is threatened by political and religious changes – and the shows themselves tended to deal with social themes like corruption.
The third cultural designation was made for the Maasai community in Kenya, where adolescent rites of passage are impacted by, among other things, climate change and its effects on pastoralists. That puts an entire litany of values at risk: respect and responsibility, conflict management, and the transmission of legends, traditions and life skills among them.
A complete list from UNESCO is available here.