Brief textual description of the nominated element
The Suiti Cultural Space is described as a complex cultural phenomenon, diverse in both content and its manifestations.
The description is focussed on a number of distinct features, mainly vocal drone singing performed by Suiti women, wedding traditions, traditional costumes, the Suiti language, local cuisine, religious traditions, celebrations of the annual cycle, and a large number of folk songs, dances and melodies recorded in the Suiti community. Old-fashioned extended family structures are seen still to be common here like different customs, traditions and unwritten rules. Suiti wedding rituals are seen to be distinctively different from what is today considered Latvian wedding traditions. Wearing of traditional costumes is gradually coming back. The blend of intangible cultural heritage in the Suiti community is marked by religion and religious rituals because the community is marked by being a religious minority in the region.
Today the Suiti community recognizes elements of this heritage as a significant part of their identity and lifestyle. Members claim to appreciate their difference and the importance of being preservers of a unique heritage inherited from previous generations and see as their obligation to pass it on to the generations to come.
Criterion U.1: “The element constitutes intangible cultural heritage as defined in Article 2 of the Convention.”
Comments on the element’s conformity with the definition of intangible cultural heritage in the Convention
The Suiti Cultural Space as a complex cultural phenomenon is meeting the criteria of Article 2 of the convention, and exemplifies more or less the whole range mentioned in the first bullet point: practices, representations, expressions, etc. The challenging point may be the descriptive phrase in bullet point 3 saying that a ICH “is constantly recreated by the communities and groups in response to their environment, etc. On one hand a constant recreation might be seen as a threat to the identity of an ICH if it turns into conscious “improvement” or “modernisation”. On the other hand if a material with variation and improvisation is fixed into a few authorised, “correct” versions for teaching and performing, this also represents serious threats. The challenge for the application resides in evaluating how “the constant recreation” is functioning, and how it can be kept in a reasonable balance. These questions are extremely difficult and are not strongly focussed in the proposal, and could have been connected to a discussion of “the social and cultural functions at present” and “persons with specific responsibilities …”
Criterion U.2 “a) The element is in urgent need of safeguarding because its viability is at risk despite the efforts of the community, group or, if applicable, individuals and State(s) Party(ies) concerned.
b) The element is in extremely urgent need of safeguarding because it is facing grave threats as a result of which it cannot be expected to survive without immediate safeguarding.”
Assessment of the viability of the element
The rich complexity of the proposed ICH could at the same time be seen as an important quality and a major challenge to its viability. Many of the elements contained in this one ICH could have been seen as individual ICHs in their own right, for instance the singing or the costumes. Is the complex cultural phenomenon a system, where all parts are depending on each other, so if one practice stops, it will seriously harm the totality? Is the disintegration of what is here called a complex cultural phenomenon coming because some vulnerable elements are lost, or rather by other kinds of breakdowns? On the other hand can some practices be viable for years to come, whereas others are not, but can be in some later period. Can it be so that some practices have viability without any support, that others have viability with a strong support, and that some have lost their viability? If so, a focussed and heavy support for some selected elements at a time may strengthen the whole community and open up for improved viability in general. Further, the crossing from a non supported to a supported viability is a critical point and the viability in the second situation will in the evaluators mind be more depending on the methodology of the support than on the viability in the first situation. In conclusion the viability in the present situation is week, but efficient safeguarding measures could bring about viability to many elements if not necessarily to the whole complex.
Assessment of the risk of its disappearing, due, inter alia, to the lack of means for safeguarding and protecting it, or to processes of globalization and social or environmental transformation
No overhanging disaster or catastrophe is threatening this ICH, but depopulation and the slow processes of change towards main stream culture is probably just as important a risk even if not as acute as a disaster. The process of change seems to have come so far at present that many practices, for instance costume making and language are severely threatened of stopping. The urgency then is to bring about a contact between the very old and some younger practitioners in systematic ways and on a bit longer run to strengthen the community’s ability altogether to attract younger people to viable safeguarding activities. This ICH might be better off than many similar ICH’s in European countryside, because of it is distinctiveness, richness and colourfulness. It represents a cluster of typical ICH elements which at present seem to be at a very low ebb of recognition in most parts of Europe. Therefore a recognition of a couple of such ICH’s to stress that folklore as European ICH practices are near extinction, would be an extremely important warning signal. It would have validity far beyond this one example of severely threatened European ICH.
Other comments on the urgent need of safeguarding the element
The threats are mainly the low status the lack of support through cultural politics and the distrust in what is in many circles seen as low class amateur activity. If these attitudes do not change most ICH practices of the kind promoted in the Suiti proposal will be in urgent need of safeguarding in many European countries.
Criterion U.3: “Safeguarding measures are elaborated that may enable the community, group or, if applicable, individuals concerned to continue the practice and transmission of the element.”
Assessment of the feasibility and sufficiency of the safeguarding plan
The safeguarding measures proposed are very many, covering the broad spectre of manifestations and content of the ICH. Strong focus is on education, and many activities for transmitting knowledge, which is particularly important. (1). The point with protection, restoration and popularization (2) may not seen as central to the intentions of the convention, since it is about restoring forgotten practices or popularising. It may, however be valuable for giving broader contexts to the central parts of the work with the ICH. The point with aims to facilitate research and publicity (3) has an important point about research. It seems, however that the whole project looks at its ICH as sufficiently documented. This is a weak point, since changes is necessarily taking place, and the view of documentation as something finished is problematic in an application that is so broad in design. This is particularly so when compared to the money and efforts planned for publication, which would mostly be needed by external users, this is of course useful and important, but hardly urgently necessary. Relatively large sums are also proposed for the restoration of material monument (4). Most of those seem to combine the need for restoration with ensuring localities for safeguarding work. It seems well documented that the local community is fully supporting the project. With as large a project as this, administration and management and coordination will be vital. All the activities which have already been carried out and the many partners involved with different kinds of expertise, seems to make the plans feasible. The involvement of the Suitu Novads Foundation, the Ethnic Culture Center Suiti Foundation, the Alsunga municipality and Alsunga Catholic congregation and the State Party well demonstrates the commitment at local and national level.
Criterion U.4: “The element has been nominated following the widest possible participation of the community, group or, if applicable, individuals concerned and with their free, prior and informed consent”
Comments on the participation of the community, group or, if applicable, individuals concerned
The description of the process leading up to nomination is well described, including participation of local institution/organisations and relatively large meetings with the local population, particularly the community meeting in Alsunga on August 17, 2008. The participation of all the institutions and organisations are well documented. The agreement of individual participants could also easily have been documented through a simple signed list by participants in the meetings, but no standards have been demanded in this respect from UNESCO, and there seem to be little reason to question the descriptions.
Comments on their free, prior and informed consent
As mentioned above a simple signed list by individuals could have been an easy and convincing additional documentation, but no standards have been demanded in this respect from UNESCO, and there seem to be little reason to question the descriptions. I do fully recommend.
Comments on respect for customary practices governing access to the element, if applicable
The brief statement given could have been stronger if mentioning examples of points from local discussions on the issue, if such did take place. A total unanimity in the community seem to underlie the description, but there is no documentation for that this was the case, letters from organisations and institutions would normally represent a majority, and may not necessarily be based upon unanimity. As far as the evaluator can see, however, hard documentation more than what is already given is not required, so the comments are reflections for future and no criticism for the Latvian candidate.
Criterion U.5: “The element is included in an inventory of the intangible cultural heritage present in the territory(ies) of the submitting State(s) Party(ies) as defined in Articles 11 and 12”
Comments on the nomination’s conformity with Criterion U.5
A State Agency of Intangible Cultural Heritage has been assigned the responsibility to draw up the Latvian List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. An expert group has been established and has drawn up a list of Most Important Values of Latvian Culture and the Suiti Cultural Space is on the list. An inventory list of intangible cultural heritage, as defined in Articles 11 and 12, has not been completed in Latvia yet. Work on this inventory is currently in progress. What has been achieved and submitted fully meets UNESCO requirements.
Comments on your recommendation
Much of the European intangible cultural heritage in the fields of music, dance, costume and customs is in general threatened as depending largely on voluntary, amateur activity which is hardly recognised as anything of significant value. In many countries of western Europe the status and support has been extremely low for many years, and such ICH is really on the fringe of being lost if not already lost. The communist countries of Eastern Europe did give more support and higher status, but the new situation is mostly less favourable, even it may also give new possibilities. It would be important in general to grant one or a few European candidates the status of being in urgent need of safeguarding to draw attention to the urgent situation in many European countries with regard perhaps particularly to the field of dance. This applicant is a good candidate for representing European problems.
Certification by examiner
By submitting this report, I hereby certify that I am not a national of the State(s) Party(ies) submitting this nomination and that this report truly and accurately reflects my examination of the nomination.