Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 15.COM 8.B.14

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia have nominated Knowledge, know-how and practices pertaining to the production and consumption of couscous (no. 01602) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

The knowledge, know-how and practices pertaining to the production and consumption of couscous encompass the methods of preparation, manufacturing conditions and tools, associated artefacts and circumstances of consumption of couscous in the communities concerned. Preparing couscous is a ceremonial process involving several different operations. These begin with growing the cereal, after which the seeds are ground to obtain a semolina that is rolled by hand, steamed and then cooked. These practices are associated with a set of exclusive tools, instruments and utensils. The dish is accompanied by a variety of vegetables and meats, depending on the region, season and occasion. Nowadays, as in the past, the methods involved in preparing couscous constitute a sum of knowledge and know-how that is transmitted informally through observation and imitation. For the manufacture of the utensils: clay utensils are made by potters while wooden utensils are produced by cooperatives or artisanal factories, which are often family-owned. In recent decades, however, more formal transmission has also developed outside the family circle or home. The non-culinary aspects of the element – namely rituals, oral expressions and certain social practices – are also transmitted by the bearers. Couscous is a dish replete with symbols, meanings and social and cultural dimensions all linked to solidarity, conviviality, sharing meals and togetherness.

  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 description of the element is clear and consistent, taking into account aspects ranging from the preparation process to manufacturing conditions and tools, associated artifacts and consumption practices. The file describes the variety of the element, the process and contexts involved, historical details, as well as its dynamic character and evolution. The range of bearers and practitioners involved is explained in a structured and comprehensible way, taking into account the special role women play in the practice and with a concise explanation of the various forms of involvement. The description also identifies traditional and evolving practices of transmission as well as different modes and contexts. The file addresses various social functions and cultural meanings of the practice of living heritage related to couscous, described as both ‘ordinary’ and ‘special’. The nomination also identifies the multiple ways in which the practice respects sustainable development.

R.2:   The vivid description provided in the file comprehensively explains how the inscription of the element could contribute to: ensuring the visibility of intangible cultural heritage in general; raising awareness of its importance at the local, national and international levels; encouraging dialogue; and promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. The inscription of the element could encourage a reflection on daily eating and meeting practices as expressions of living heritage; such practices highlight the relationships between different fields of intangible cultural heritage, fostering exchange, sharing, solidarity and harmonious coexistence.

R.3:   The viability of the element has been ensured by the communities concerned as families continue to make couscous as an essential part of their daily practices and lifestyle. Outside of the family environment, restaurants, hotels and official institutions include couscous on their menus. The States Parties support such activities in various ways, such as through financial assistance, supporting associations, organizing festivals and awareness-raising activities. The States Parties have planned joint safeguarding measures, involving: 1) Regularly organizing meetings, festivals, workshops and exhibitions, 2) Jointly publishing books and producing audio-visual documentaries to raise awareness about the knowledge, know-how and practices pertaining to couscous; and 3) Setting up a permanent committee that will meet on a regular basis to discuss the implications of the inscription and manage its possible effects. In addition to these joint safeguarding measures, each State has introduced further measures of its own. The safeguarding measures proposed at the international level are of a rather general character compared to those in each individual country. There is sufficient evidence of the regular involvement of non-governmental organizations and relevant associations.

R.4:   In the four submitting countries, civil society stakeholders were the first to actively express their desire to nominate the element for inscription on the Representative List, both as a culinary art and as a set of social and cultural traditions. They were thus involved in the nomination process as they are all convinced that this practice contributes greatly to the construction of their identity. The file demonstrates different levels and dynamics of participation, showing a more top-down and narrow process in some cases, and a more complex participatory strategy in others, involving multiple stakeholders and even a multidisciplinary working committee.

R.5:   The element has been included in an inventory of intangible cultural heritage in all four submitting States. The inventories and documentation of the cultural aspects related to couscous have been carried out at several levels: national non-governmental organizations working in the field of culinary and gastronomic heritage essentially contributed to expanding the data by providing valuable information not only on the different ways of preparing the traditional couscous dish but also on its symbolic and social dimensions. The inventories were prepared in 2018 and 2019 with the participation of the local communities and the support of experts and researchers.

  1. Decides to inscribe Knowledge, know-how and practices pertaining to the production and consumption of couscous on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;

  2. Commends the States Parties for a well-prepared file that can serve as a good example of how the inscription of an element on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity can contribute to ensuring the visibility and awareness of the significance of intangible cultural heritage in general;

  3. Invites the States Parties to stress the important role played by women in each country – such as through women's associations, cooperatives and local associations – in all of the participatory processes and safeguarding measures;

  4. Reminds the States Parties that updating is an important part of the inventorying process and further invites them to include detailed information in their next periodic report on the implementation of the Convention at the national level concerning the periodicity of updating of the national inventories in Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia – in accordance with Article 12.1 of the Convention.