Dancing devils, Armenian poem vie for UNESCO label

Vicky Buffery
Reuters Middle East

PARIS, Nov 30 (Reuters) - An array of little-known and

sometimes outlandish traditions vie for international

recognition when the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO meets

next week to select new additions to its world heritage list.

Venezuelan Dancing Devils and the Armenian epic poem

"Daredevils of Sassoun" are among the more exotic contenders for

a spot on the intangible heritage list, created in 2003 to

safeguard the world's art forms and cultural rituals.

Some 51 contenders are hoping for recognition this year from

the Paris-based U.N. organisation for Education, Science and

Culture, from hat-weaving to folk-singing, embroidery and


The tiny southern African kingdom of Lesotho hopes to win a

spot in the U.N. ranks for "Letsema" - its pragmatic tradition

of "getting together to accomplish heavy tasks". Such tasks, it

says, can include collecting stones or threshing wheat while

others sing, read recite poetry or ululate.

Mongolia, having learned selection was unlikely, withdrew

one entry - knuckle-bone shooting, an activity where people

flick marbles at polished sheep ankle bones while singing "Hail

you, friend" to each other.

Contenders will be assessed from Dec. 3 to 7, with winners

announced at the end of each day.

"If a country has a particular way of laying a table for

Christmas dinner, dressing for a wedding, or celebrating an

historical event, then that's an intangible act," said Cecile

Duvelle, Secretary of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding

of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

"Our aim is to help countries keep these traditions alive

and ensure they are passed on through generations to maintain a

common sense of identity," she said.

Founded in 1945, UNESCO is best known for its World Heritage

List, created 40 years ago, which includes around 1,000 natural

and cultural sites considered of outstanding universal value.

More recently the agency has focused on safeguarding

"intangible" culture such as language and traditions. Past

additions include the art of the French gastronomic meal,

Portuguese Fado singing and Spanish Flamenco.

Nations can apply for a grant from the Convention's $6.5

million annual budget to help save a custom thought to be dying.

The majority, however, seek inclusion on the "representative

list", which comes with no financial aid, but provides

recognition and media attention.

To qualify for inclusion, nations have to show the activity

is part of their cultural heritage and promotes social cohesion.

The Armenian epic poem known as "Daredevils of Sassoun" or

"David of Sassoun", for example, dates back to the 7th century

and is recited for social gatherings or to children for fun.

Meanwhile, Venezuela's Dancing Devils of Corpus Christi

emerged in the 17th century: "devils" in bright red costumes and

ferocious masks parade through the streets and chase locals,

while being whipped by a "captain" or chief devil.

The climax comes when the devils finally surrender,

depicting the triumph of good over evil.

(Editing by Brian Love and Paul Casciato)

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