2011’s traditions you never knew needed protecting

Judging by the latest reports from Durban, your children may never know what a glacier is, but thanks to the UN’s cultural body — recently defunded by the United States for other reasons — they’ll still be able to watch cross-dressing Czech boys on horseback have money stuffed in their boots. Last year, FP listed ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
546498_111130_sadu2.jpg
546498_111130_sadu2.jpg

Judging by the latest reports from Durban, your children may never know what a glacier is, but thanks to the UN's cultural body -- recently defunded by the United States for other reasons -- they'll still be able to watch cross-dressing Czech boys on horseback have money stuffed in their boots.

Last year, FP listed 10 of the odder entries from UNESCO's Intangible Heritage List, examples of cultural practices the body has decided merit preserving, as opposed to actual physical sites. That list included such treasures Turkey's Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival and Luxembourg's Hopping Procession of Echternach.

UNESCO has just released its 2011 list. Here are a few highlights:

Judging by the latest reports from Durban, your children may never know what a glacier is, but thanks to the UN’s cultural body — recently defunded by the United States for other reasons — they’ll still be able to watch cross-dressing Czech boys on horseback have money stuffed in their boots.

Last year, FP listed 10 of the odder entries from UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage List, examples of cultural practices the body has decided merit preserving, as opposed to actual physical sites. That list included such treasures Turkey’s Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival and Luxembourg’s Hopping Procession of Echternach.

UNESCO has just released its 2011 list. Here are a few highlights:

Nijemo Kolo, silent circle dance of the Dalmatian hinterland (Croatia)

According to UNESCO, the Nimemo Kolo is a circular dance which involves “male dancers leading female partners in energetic, spontaneous steps — the male dancer publicly testing the skills of his female partner, seemingly without defined rules. The steps and figures, often vigorous and impressive, depend on the mood and desire of the participants.” In other words, it’s dancing … but without music!

The Ride of Kings, south-east Czech Republic

This procession happens in the spring around the time of the Pentecost:

“The ride is headed by chanters, followed by pageboys with unsheathed sabres who guard the King – a young boy with his face partially covered, holding a rose in his mouth – and the rest of the royal cavalcade. The King and pageboys are dressed in women’s ceremonial costumes, while the other riders are dressed as men. The entourage rides on decorated horses, stopping to chant short rhymes that comment humorously on the character and conduct of spectators. The chanters receive donations for their performance, placed either in a money box or directly into the riders’ boots.”

That sounds sort of fun. But when it comes to Central European springtime costume parades, it’s hard to top the Annual Carnival Bell Ringer’s pageant of the Kastave region of Croatia – a 2009 UNESCO inductee – during which local men dress as “plants and animals (including a prankster bear), prowl through the forest, burn garbage, ring bells, and bump into each other.”

Al Sadu weaving

The weaving form traditional to the United Arab Emirates made this year’s list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding” and involves the production of “soft furnishings and decorative accessories for camels and horses.” Why is it endangered? UNESCO blames “the rapid economic development and social transformations brought about by the advent of oil in the Emirates” and the fact that “pastoral Bedouin communities have dispersed among urban settlements, and young women increasingly work outside the home.” Call me a cultural imperialist, but much as I love a well-appointed camel, those all seem like good things to me.

Tsiattista poetic dueling

Basically a Cypriot freestyle rap battle, Tsiattista is traditionally “performed to the accompaniment of violin or lute in ‘jousts’ in which one poet-singer attempts to outdo another with clever verses made up of rhyming couplets.” There are a ton of Tsiattista clips on YouTube. It’s a little hard to appreciate if you don’t speak Greek, but the music’s not bad.

Mariachi

Mariachi music, a ubiquitous form familiar to anyone who’s ever been to a Mexican restaurant, looks a little out of place on a list of things like the Enawene Nawe people’s ritual for the maintenance of social and cosmic order, but hey, it’s hard to think of anything more distinctively Mexican. Even sea mammals like it.

Equitation in the French tradition:

According to UNESCO’s citation, French equitiation is a “school of horseback riding that emphasizes harmonious relations between humans and horses. … guided by non-violence and lack of constraint, blending human demands with respect for the horse’s body and mood.” Last year France managed to get the French “gastronomic experience” added to the list.

Granted, the French may not be the only people in the world who enjoy riding horses and eating tasty food, but don’t tell them that.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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