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This is the second report the Sultanate of Oman submits on the implementation of the International Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (hereinafter “Convention”) and the status of the Omani elements inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (hereinafter “Representative List”). This report reflects the Sultanate’s efforts to preserve the Omani intangible heritage by collecting and documenting it and instilling its importance in the young Omani generations.
The Sultanate has been keen to develop plans and programs to document its intangible heritage through field collection and monitoring. In 2013, it updated its inventory lists adding many elements that the 2010 inventory did not include. Moreover, the projects of oral history collection and intangible heritage elements programs implemented by the government or carried out by society members diversified the relevant field documentation programs.
The Sultanate has made good strides in enacting laws and legislations to organize this area. Besides regulations and standards already in force, the Sultanate is looking forward to issuing the Omani Cultural Heritage Law, which is an integrated framework for heritage preservation and documentation. It will also include legal provisions that limit the abuse and distortion of the Omani intangible heritage and help develop the plans and programs aimed at incorporating it in the development plans and programs in the country.
In addition, the Sultanate believes in the importance of young people in preserving the intangible heritage and the need to instill the significance of this heritage within them. Therefore, many programs aim to transfer this heritage from one generation to the next, sensitize young people of its significance as the national identity of the society, and encourage its study and research through educational and academic curricula in schools and universities.
At the level of media promotion and awareness of the importance of this heritage, the Sultanate launched Oman Cultural Channel to highlight the Omani heritage, both tangible and intangible, and to present it to the public. Many drama and media programs highlight this heritage along with various Omani traditional competitions at media and talk shows. In addition, works of art, such as photography, cinema, and theatre, employ the Omani traditional arts creatively.
The Sultanate has also developed a number of programs on the promotion, preservation and protection of the Omani elements inscribed on the Representative List. The Sultanate spreads these elements throughout the world through the Omani cultural weeks and days organized worldwide and in many festivals held in different continents in which the Sultanate takes part alongside displaying these elements in local festivals. At the level sponsoring the practitioners of these elements, the competent Omani authorities organize specialized workshops for the transfer of these elements over generations through educating the young to master their practice and adhere to them. They also organize specialized and promotional contests for these elements. Practitioners of the traditional arts and holders of the intangible heritage represent the basis for the preservation and protection thereof because they present it. Therefore, they are the direct target of the preservation and protection programs. The preservation and documentation of heritage is an integrated responsibility shared by society, government and private sector institutions in the Sultanate of Oman.
Therefore, it is possible to say that the Sultanate, since the ratification of the Convention in 2005, has gone a long way in its implementation, employing this heritage, raising awareness of its importance, and developing programs and plans to improve the skills of those in charge of implementing the Convention as detailed in this Report of the Sultanate of Oman.
The national body charged with the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is the Ministry of Heritage and Culture (MHC), which has the following responsibilities towards intangible cultural heritage: monitoring and registering Omani social customs and traditions; collecting folk literature and documentation (e.g. stories and folk narratives) and presenting their cultural meanings and themes; implementing international agreements; conducting and publishing studies and research in the field of folk literature; overseeing the preparation of printed materials and documentary films relating to intangible cultural heritage; and participating in festivals and exhibitions. Following ratification of the 2003 Convention in 2005, the specialized Department of Traditional Arts was established. The Ministry has established guidelines and policies for Omani folk groups and is working towards the development of a dedicated Law for intangible cultural heritage. The existing Omani legislation allows for the establishment of non-governmental organizations active in the field of intangible cultural heritage. In addition, the Authority for Craft Industries looks after traditional handicrafts and undertakes many programmes to safeguard the craftsmen and their works, including through the provision of training for craftspeople and apprentices. The Omani Centre for Traditional Music is also a governmental institution active in the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, mostly through documentation.
For capacity building in the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, the Ministry of Heritage and Culture has organized several training workshops relating to Omani cultural heritage. A set of six training workshops were held for professionals and bearers. A regional three-day workshop was held in Oman in 2011 on national inventorying of intangible cultural heritage, with the participation of many experts from the region. This meeting also covered the steps for elaborating nomination files, whether individually or jointly with other countries.
Colleges and universities (e.g. the Center in Human Studies at Sultan Qaboos University) undertake studies, scientific research and documentation on intangible cultural heritage by both students and university teachers, which are published in the form of specialized scientific publications. The Omani Centre for Traditional Music houses an extensive library and archives of Omani music and traditional arts.
Thus far, there is no specific legislation to govern the inventorying process. Nevertheless, a team has been established with members from the Ministries of Heritage and Culture, Social Development, Information and Sports Affairs and from the Public Authority for Handicraft Industries and Sultan Qaboos University. The criteria used for the inclusion of intangible cultural heritage elements on the inventory list are that the element satisfies the definition of intangible cultural heritage according to the 2003 Convention and that practitioners cooperate with governmental officials in submitting information and details concerning the element. In cases where no practitioners are identified, the Government takes responsibility for the listing, evaluation, promotion and continued viability of an element. With regard to the viability of the elements concerned, the MHC evaluates each element and its need for immediate safeguarding, on the basis of the number of practitioners, the materials used and the surrounding environment. If needed, an element may be designated as requiring urgent safeguarding. Community involvement in inventorying is ensured by gathering information directly from practitioners (individuals and groups). These groups then check and approve the information entered alongside some national bodies such as the Omani Women’s Association, the Folklore Arts Bands, the Culture Club and university professors who audit the scientific and academic viability of the lists.
Awareness raising in relation to intangible cultural heritage is a main priority of Oman’s intangible heritage policy. The MHC set up the Omani Traditional Arts festival to showcase Omani arts through live shows in open squares by practitioner groups and to educate the public and raise awareness through scientific workshops and seminars on Omani arts and their performance. The Authority for Craft Industries seeks to encourage craftspeople through the promotion of their products at international and local levels. It has also published several books and disseminated publications dealing with the Omani cultural intangible heritage. The State-run media has also contributed towards raising awareness of the significance of Omani intangible cultural heritage (e.g. through a radio emission on Omani folklore and several TV programmes on folklore and handicrafts and a drama series that draws its material from Omani intangible cultural heritage).
The Government has introduced several intangible cultural heritage elements into the formal educational curriculum by providing educational materials in life skills subjects whereby students can learn about Omani heritage and become aware of the significance of safeguarding it in their everyday life. As for non-formal training and information programmes for the general public and young people, the Music Training Centre, a musical institute, trains and develops the musical skills of young people and teaches them to play different traditional instruments in addition to providing a traditional music group. The Cultural Club organizes seminars on traditional culture and fosters the talented individuals and writers in specialized associations. Specialist workshops are also held with the purpose of teaching people about the Al-Bar’ah element, listed on the Representative List. The Ministry of Sports Affairs holds workshops and competitions in Omani folk games where the practitioners and bearers of these children’s games compete as a means of transmission. The Authority for Craft Industries has established houses for craftspeople interested in transmitting their knowledge of traditional industries and crafts to young people and others.
Bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation efforts include: the exchange of intangible cultural heritage expertise and experts; organizing festivals and cultural weeks, which involve intangible cultural heritage; hosting performers and practitioners of traditions, habits, arts or gastronomy from many countries at festivals held in Muscat and Salalah; sharing other countries’ experiences in enacting legislation; and encouraging inter-cultural dialogue.
Oman reports here on one element on the Representative List: Al-Bar’ah, the music and dance of the Oman Dhofari valleys (2010). The inscription of Al-Bar’ah has been welcomed warmly by local bearer groups and has resulted in an increased number of performers and strengthened links to their original communities, in addition to raising awareness of its significance and the importance of its safeguarding and presentation at various national social events and activities. It has also led to an increase in the number of researchers in intangible cultural heritage and enhanced the significance of this field.