Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 17.COM 7.b.7

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Egypt has nominated Festivals related to the Journey of the Holy family in Egypt (No. 01700) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

The festivals related to the Journey of the Holy Family in Egypt commemorate the Holy Family's voyage from Bethlehem to Egypt to escape King Herod's oppression. Every year, the event is memorialized by two festivals in which Egyptians, including Muslims and Coptic Christians of all ages and genders, participate in large numbers. The first festival, called ‘The Festival of the Advent of the Holy Family to Egypt,’ is a one-day event generally held in the beginning of June. The second event, called ‘The Nativity of the Virgin’, is a feast that takes place in several towns and cities, including Durunka and Cairo, between May and August. Activities include singing, traditional games, body-painting, re-enactments of the journey, religious processions, artistic performances and the sharing of traditional foods. The festivities are replete with social functions and cultural meanings, including the unified social and cultural fabric between Coptic Christians and Muslims evidenced during the preparations and festivities. The events are also associated with the provision of voluntary services to visitors by local residents and the exchange of gifts. The knowledge and skills are transmitted through churches and monasteries, within families, and through active participation in the rituals.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   The element involves two festivals, the ‘Festival of the Advent of the Holy Family to Egypt’, and ‘The Nativity of the Virgin (Feast)’. They involve hymn singing accentuated by tambourine rhythms, processions, re-enactment of the Holy Family’s journey, and other practices. The bearers and practitioners of the element include residents, both Muslims and Christians, living in neighbourhoods where celebrations take place. They also include clergymen, NGOs, chanting teams, women, boat owners and street vendors, among others. All segments of society and people involved in different crafts and professions engage in these celebrations reviving cherished cultural, social and spiritual values. The knowledge and skills are transmitted through church and monastery efforts, oral narratives, civil society institutions, schools and within families. The element strengthens social bonds and some rites bear specific cultural significance (e.g., the Marian Tree and the Abed Tree).

R.2:   At the local level, inscription would contribute to creating social dialogue on cultural heritage associated with the Holy Family and intangible cultural heritage in general. At the national level, inscription would spread awareness of intangible cultural heritage through the cultural, social and logistical promotion of developmental projects. It would also encourage society to introduce and promote other elements. At the international level, inscription would enhance the role of oral narratives about the journey, which would in turn establish a cultural corridor with other communities around the world. Furthermore, inscription would encourage dialogue within communities by expanding communication between different generations, thus contributing to the spread of the celebrations to other regions.

R.4:   The nomination effort began as a reaction to the societal interest in the journey of the Holy Family route and its associated festivals. A committee involving governmental bodies and practicing communities was formed in 2018 to prepare the element inventory and nominate the celebrations associated with the Holy Family for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The committee held several meetings with organizations, groups and individuals to review the draft nomination file. Standardized letters of consent from the communities concerned were provided in the file. Furthermore, some letters from the communities did not refer to the nomination of the element, and instead made reference to other elements (e.g. craft, planting and the manufacture of papyrus) or churches (e.g., The Church of Virgin Mary and Abanoub the Martyr in Samanoud). Such letters suggest that some members of the community may not have sufficient understanding of the 2003 Convention and the nomination of the element to the Representative List. Notwithstanding the above and taking into account the full information presented in the file, there was sufficient information to determine that criterion R.4 is satisfied.

R.5:   The element was included on the National Inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in December 2019. The inventory is maintained by the Egypt National Commission for UNESCO and is updated every one to three years. The file explains that the authority in charge of the National Inventory supervises data collection for elements of intangible cultural heritage. Researchers visit the concerned parties and practitioners directly to get updates on the inscribed elements. Some of the updates to the inventory are based on requests from the local community, and the updates comprise adding images and videos, consents of community members, and additional data.

  1. Further considers that, based on the information included in the file and clarification provided by the State Party to the Committee during its present session, the following criterion for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is satisfied:

R.3:   The file elucidated the past and current safeguarding measures. It also provided proposed safeguarding measures that have been developed with the involvement of concerned communities, groups and NGOs to ensure proper transmission and promotion of the element such as; inclusion of the element in school curricula, raising awareness about the element and its importance for cultural diversity and sustainable development, facilitating field studies and research for more documentation. Furthermore, the file presented a further set of safeguarding measures, as proposed by the communities, that include developing necessary infrastructure of related practices and rituals to accommodate the growing numbers of believers, who hail from different regions, and help local residents of this cultural space to continue providing voluntary services that will ensure the viability of the element and its transmission in a sustainable socio-economic manner. In addition, efforts are being coordinated between various bearers of the element including official institutions, NGOs and local practitioners to monitor the safeguarding plan and ensure its implementation.

  1. Decides to inscribe Festivals related to the Journey of the Holy family in Egypt on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Invites the State Party to ensure that the safeguarding measures adequately address the potential negative impacts of over-commercialization and increased tourism on the element, keeping in mind that safeguarding measures should be aimed at enhancing the viability and transmission of the element;
  3. Encourages the State Party to raise awareness of the purpose and nature of the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity among the communities, groups and individuals concerned;
  4. Reminds the State Party, when submitting nomination files in the future, that it is necessary to avoid standardized letters of consent and to ensure the free, prior and informed consent of communities concerned by the element.