Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 16.COM 8.B.23

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Malta has nominated L-Ghana, a Maltese folksong tradition (no. 01681) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Ghana (pronounced ‘ana’) is used to describe three related types of rhymed folksong in Malta. The most popular form of ghana is the ‘quick-wit’ ghana, an improvised duel between one or two pairs of singers, focusing on rhymes, convincing argumentation and witty repartee. ‘Factual’ ghana is a long, narrative poem sung by a soloist, usually from memory, to record important local events in collective memory. ‘Bormla’ ghana has simple lyrics sung using a large vocal range and a particular vocal style where a single syllable is sung while moving between several notes in succession. This third style was historically sung by women but has declined in popularity today compared to the more male-dominated ‘quick-wit’ style. Ghana sessions are held year-round in public and private venues, as well as during open-air festivals and celebrations. A strong camaraderie develops between the performers and the audience through friendly exchanges, as the practice of sharing jokes and recalling common experiences fosters a sense of shared history, identity and community. An integral part of Maltese culture, ghana is also considered vital to the transmission and development of the unique Semitic Maltese language that reflects the Arabic, Italian and English influence on the island.

  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:  Once primarily performed by marginalized rural farmers, fishermen and manual labourers, ghana is now embraced at the national level and serves to bring neighbours and families together. The element is performed primarily by men, but there are notable female performers. Altogether, bearers include singers, guitarists, patrons, impresarios and enthusiasts. Musical skills and knowledge are transmitted informally through observation and memorization in domestic settings. The element supports the transmission of the Maltese language, while invoking popular wisdom and conveying social critique through satire. Singers act as the voice of the working class, and the element provides a platform for informal social and political debate and reflection on shared history. The file acknowledges the need for greater efforts to include women.

R.2:  At the local and national level, inscription would enhance the awareness that was started during the consultation and nomination process. It would also increase awareness about the value of oral performances in keeping Maltese and its local dialects alive and in protecting spaces that allow for intergenerational interaction. Moreover, inscription would help strengthen collaboration between community members, government agencies and the University of Malta for safeguarding the element and for identifying other elements in Malta. At the international level, there will be increased visibility for the social and cultural values associated with oral performances, and these would be promoted as peaceful mediums for addressing disagreements and tools to promote participatory democracy and tolerance. The element itself is a creative practice involving dialogue among the practitioners and their audiences.

R.3: Past and current safeguarding efforts include work by community scholars and enthusiasts to organize public outreach events and document and share recorded performances. The State Party currently supports various safeguarding initiatives, such as national folksong festivals and the awarding of national honours to a female singer. The National Archives of Malta and the University of Malta have conducted documentation and dissemination work related to the element and have employed ghanejja, or ghana performers, to teach students basic ghana skills. Proposed measures account for community input, including youth representation as well as representation of women and girls. Other measures identified include ongoing media campaigns to promote access to suitable venues for performances and integration of the element into the school curriculum. Various government entities will be engaged in implementing the measures in collaboration with communities, while also allocating funds to support their implementation.

R.4: The file demonstrates the widest possible participation and consent of communities, groups and individuals. The State Party set up a mechanism and process for information-gathering and consultation. A relatively large number of persons participated in the sessions and were able to provide feedback for the development of the file. Free, prior and informed consent is established in the file as well as in the video. While there are no restrictions on learning the element, the State recognizes the value of community consent and ethics regarding advertising, knowledge sharing and research.

R.5: The element is listed on the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which is administered by the Culture Directorate of the Ministry for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government. The list is reviewed every four years, in alignment with the periodic reporting process, and review begins with a request from the Culture Directorate to the community for the production of a report on the elements listed.

  1. Decides to inscribe L-Ghana, a Maltese folksong tradition on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Commends the State Party for submitting an exemplary file, including the aspect of proposing formal means of integrating the element into the school curriculum and for efforts to increase youth involvement.