What is intangible cultural heritage?
What do drum dancing, kalaallisuut and kalattuut have in common? They are all examples of Greenland’s rich intangible cultural heritage. They are all expressed physically, but how to do a drum dance, make a qilaat frame drum, make and when to wear national dress, as well as the music and the steps of the kalattuut are intangible. Our thoughts, words and actions are all intangible.
The term cultural heritage refers to the culture we have inherited from our ancestors. It testifies to cultural roots and traditions, as well as experience and behaviour. Intangible cultural heritage is what anchors us to our culture. It is comprised of collective traditions, stories, art, language, and patterns of thought. It represents the way we see ourselves and the world about us. Intangible cultural heritage forms the link between a place and its people: it is what makes us feel at home and part of a cultural community – usually without being aware of it.
Intangible Cultural Heritage and Living Culture
The Greenlandic language is a key element of our intangible cultural heritage. We speak it daily, but the language is not the same as it was a century ago. Language changes and adapts to reality. The same is true of most of our intangible cultural heritage: it develops as we do, and is part of our living culture.
It is important when registering intangible cultural heritage that we do not resign it to the past. Which is why it is also important to describe how we use our intangible cultural heritage today, how we imagine its future, as well as how it has developed in the past.
There is no set formula for living culture, and our inventory includes examples of living culture in Greenland that are not necessarily uniquely Greenlandic. Culture often crosses borders, and is influenced from without and within. Living culture can be shared by many and yet be practised in different ways without these being wrong.
Below you will find an inventory of intangible cultural heritage in Greenland. The inventory is part of the work being done in Greenland based on the 2003 UNESCO convention on safeguarding intangible culture. The national states that have ratified the convention have committed to compiling one or more inventories of examples of living, intangible cultural heritage.
UNESCO defines intangible cultural heritage as “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 cultural heritage, handed down from generation to generation, is constantly interpreted and reinterpreted by different communities and groups in response to the environment, their interaction with nature, and their history. Yet their intangible cultural heritage still connects them to the past, creating a sense of belonging in a changeable world.
The inventory will therefore always be a cultural ‘snapshot’, never complete.
It will be constantly updated to reflect our living culture.