UNESCO’s Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage were first started in 2008, to highlight and safeguard intangible knowledge and traditions that make up our cultural world heritage, such as the art of Arabic calligraphy and falconry (both listed in 2021), camel racing (listed in 2020), and the majlis (2015).
The newly included Arab traditions are crafts (At Talli embroidery from the UAE; daggers from Oman; the art of weaving from Kuwait), food and beverages (the Mansaf banquet from Jordan; Harissa from Tunisia), agriculture (date growing throughout the region; Khawlani coffee beans from Saudi Arabia; and the camel-herding sounds of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman), music (Oud playing in Syria; the music known as Rai from Algeria), and two Egyptian festivals commemorating Jesus’, Joseph’s and Mary’s journey from Bethlehem to Egypt.
Some of these traditions are well-known to people throughout the region and beyond. After all, the Algerian music known as Rai is popular throughout the Middle East and in many European countries. Everyone remembers Shab Mamimi and Sahab Khaled’s famous songs in this genre. However, as a city dweller, I was not aware that camel herders in our region use special expressions and sounds to guide their camels, and the video on UNESCO’s website is fascinating.
Likewise, while we enjoy making and drinking Saudi coffee, how Khawlani coffee is grown in the South of Saudi Arabia is something new to me.
Uniquely Saudi traditions that have been listed in past years are Asiri wall painting (listed 2017), the drumming and dancing with sticks known as Almezmar (2016), and Nejdi dancing, drumming and poetry known as Alardah Alnajdiyah (2015). Detailed descriptions and videos of these and other traditions can be found on the UNESCO website.
It is good that these things are brought to our attention and preserved, and that we have an opportunity to learn about them. More learning is required.