Tonga possesses a rich tradition of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which is inseparably linked with the lives of the people of Tonga. Highlighted by the ratification of the Convention in 2010, Tonga has undertaken some notable efforts to safeguard Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). Particularly, Lakalaka was proclaimed as a masterpiece of oral and intangible cultural heritage in 2002 which was subsequently inscribed on the ICH Representative List of Humanity established by the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of ICH in 2008. The Lakalaka Safeguarding Project has been implemented by the Tonga Traditions Committee with the assistance of UNESCO.
Tonga government has taken several legislative and administrative measures to preserve ICH. For example, a position for ICH was established at the Culture and Youth Division in 2011. A Working Committee on Culture at the Ministry of Education, Women Affairs and Culture was established in 2012 with a view to promote the use of ICH in education. The Advisory Board for Culture Division was approved in 2016. In addition, following the launch of the national cultural policy in 2013, Tonga is currently in the process of drafting its cultural legislation.
Tonga has also participated and organized numerous workshops and festivals to promote and celebrate ICH with the support of UNESCO and its partner institutions to maintain the social and cultural significance of ICH. These activities include the sub-regional ICH Workshop held in Nukualofa in 2008, the Tui Kupesi Workshop to safeguard the traditional Tapa held in 2009, the Kava Kuo Heka Festival held in 2010 to celebrate Tonga’s cultural diversity, the 12th Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture 2016. In addition, in 2016, the Culture and Youth Division hosted a one-week Workshop for the Community-based ICH Inventorying in Tonga in partnership with the International Training Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the Auspices of UNESCO (CRIHAP), Category II Centre of UNESCO.
Efforts have also been made by the Culture Division to raise awareness on Intangible Cultural Heritage and its importance. Regional awareness programs were held in various places in Tongatapu and ‘Eua with town officers and District officers to create awareness of the convention s, which helps to strengthening the participation of communities in inventorying in the future.
A long-term and ambitious plan of the Tongan government and the Ministry of Tourism (Culture Division) is to write up a Cultural Mapping Framework aimed at establishing a national register of both Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage and an inventory of ICH elements across the country of Tonga. As of now the Culture Division is seeking financial assistance from UNESCO ICH fund to carry out a program on National Inventory on ICH Elements in Tonga. In this programme, other NGOs will be involved in this project, where awareness campaign will be carried out before doing the Inventory. Once this is done the Culture Division will be responsible for storing and dissemination of the information to people of Tonga to access to.
Being an element shared by various groups and communities, ICH represents a huge diversity of traditions, skills and knowledge associated. This brings Tongan pride in their cultural heritage and at the same time encourages them to further safeguard and transmit it to the next generation.