UNESCO adds Arab traditions to world heritage list

UNESCO emphasized that the aim of its list lies mainly in celebrating traditions, practices, traditional skills and the surrounding culture, and preserving them from extinction, not on the products themselves.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added Arab traditions in its list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage of humanity, during the 17th meeting of the organization’s committee, which began on Monday, November 28, in Rabat, Morocco.

UNESCO began announcing the accepted files on Tuesday, November 29, and it is expected that more files will continue to be announced until Saturday, December 3.

Among the Arab traditions included by the organization are the skills of making the dagger and the social practices associated with it, which were advanced by the Sultanate of Oman, Jordanian Mansaf, the Saudi Khawlani coffee, and the celebrations of the Egyptian holy family’s journey.

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UNESCO emphasized that the aim of its list lies mainly in celebrating traditions, practices, traditional skills and the surrounding culture, and preserving them from extinction, not on the products themselves.

Here’s a closer look at them

Al-Khanjar, craft skills and social practices — Oman

The dagger is part of the traditional dress worn by men in Oman on national and religious holidays and special occasions such as weddings. 

The dagger is attached to the waist and consists of a belt, a handle, a blade, a scabbard and a cover. 

The dagger is an essential element in the Omani culture, and its manufacture requires a great deal of knowledge and skills that are passed on from generations. It is part of the state’s emblem and has an essential role in many Omani customs and traditions.

Festivals related to the Journey of the Holy family – Egypt

Festivals related to the journey of the Holy Family in Egypt are held to commemorate the journey of the Holy Family from Bethlehem to Egypt. 

Two festivals are held annually to commemorate this event, in which Egyptians, including Muslims and Coptic Christians of both sexes and of all ages, participate in large numbers. 

The knowledge and skills associated with these ceremonies are transmitted through churches and monasteries, and are inherited by families, as well as through active participation in rituals, which is an embodiment of the common social and cultural fabric between Coptic Christians and Muslims.

Knowledge and practices related to cultivating Khawlani coffee beans — Saudi Arabia

The Khawlan tribes of Saudi Arabia have been cultivating coffee for more than 300 years, and families pass on the skills and techniques associated with it. 

Coffee is a symbol of generosity, and in order for people to honour and show respect for the guest, they offer him coffee made from the beans they produce on their farm. 

The cultivation and preparation of Khawlani coffee promotes social cohesion and develops a sense of shared identity among farmers who come together to share knowledge and support one another.

Alheda’a, oral tradition of calling camel folks— Saudi Arabia, Oman and UAE

Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE camel shoeing is included in the list, as it is an oral tradition of calling out to herds of camels. 

This rhythmic expression is inspired by poetry, and the shepherd uses a unique repository of sounds that camels are accustomed to guiding herds across the desert or pasture to an area for drinking, feeding and preparing for milking.

The shepherds train their camels to recognize the difference between right and left, to open their mouths when asked and to kneel down to be ridden.

Crafting and playing the Oud— Iran and Syria

From Iran and Syria, making and playing musical instruments is also included in the list. Oud is a traditional musical instrument played in Iran and Syria.

In both countries, the oud consists of a pear-shaped sound box made of walnut, rose, poplar, ebony, or apricot wood.

Traditional Ahlat stonework— Turkiye

Traditional Ahlat stonework refers to the knowledge, methods, and skills related to the extraction, carving, and use of Ahlat volcanic stones.

It is used in architecture such as homes and mosques, as well as in tombstones, fountains, and other pieces of art.

Al Mansaf, a festive banquet — Jordan

UNESCO also included the Jordanian Al Mansaf dish as a festive banquet linked to the nature of life from agriculture and grazing, with social and cultural meanings and as a symbol of identity and social cohesion.


Yalda/Chella— Iran and Afghanistan

Yalda/Chella is a traditional celebration of the sun and the warmth of life. It is celebrated in Iran and Afghanistan on the last night of autumn, when families gather around a table decorated with an array of symbolic items and foods, such as the lantern, which symbolizes light, and the red fruit, which symbolizes warmth. 

Activities range from reciting poetry, storytelling, playing games and music. Families transmit this celebration in an irregular way, and it celebrates cultural identity, nature and peaceful coexistence.

Al Talli, traditional embroidery skills – UAE

Talli, also known as Alseen, is a traditional form of embroidery, usually made by combining six cotton threads separated with silver running through the middle.

“These are skilfully woven into colourful shapes with symbolic meanings tied to life in the desert and at sea,” stated UNESCO while announcing the inscription to the list.

“A time-consuming craft, talli is transmitted informally from mothers to daughters, as well as formally through courses and workshops held in schools, universities and heritage-development centres.”

Date palm knowledge, skills and traditions

Date palm, which grow in oases in desert regions, have been associated with the Arab world for centuries including – UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen.

“Today, the communities, groups and individuals in the areas where the date palm has spread still maintain the related practices, knowledge and skills,” UNESCO says. “These include caring for and cultivating the date palm tree and using its parts (leaves, fronds and fibres) for traditional crafts and social rituals.”

Harissa, knowledge, skills and culinary and social practices— Tunisia

Harissa is a type of spice made from red pepper paste. It is an integral part of the household supplies and the daily cooking and food traditions of Tunisian society.

The women of the family or neighbors usually undertake the task of preparing the harissa in a joyful atmosphere. 

Red peppers are grown according to an agricultural calendar that prohibits planting seeds during certain periods considered to be unlucky. 

The knowledge and skills associated with the cultivation of red pepper are passed on among local farmers as well as through agricultural schools and institutes.           

Turkmen-style needlework art— Turkmenistan and Iran

Turkmen-style needlework is a decorative art used to decorate the national costume of people of all ages and genders in Turkmenistan and Iran. 

This needle art is used for wedding gowns and other ceremonial garments, as well as for decorating parts of ordinary clothing such as scarves, coats, and ornaments. Girls usually learn this handicraft from their mothers and grandmothers.

Rai, popular folk song of Algeria

Rai is popular folk song from Algeria, and it is a way to address the reality of society without taboos or censorship.

This music touches on issues of love, freedom, disappointment, and social restrictions. Rai is a style for young people, as it allows them to express their feelings while seeking liberation from the constraints of society. 

Musicians make and decorate their instruments, and this art is transmitted either informally through observation or systematically through learning.  

Al Sadu Educational Programme: Train the trainers in the art of weaving — Kuwait

Created in 2018, this educational programme has been newly added to the Register of Good Protection Practices by UNESCO.

The Al Sadu Society developed the Educational Programme: Training of Trainers in Textile Art in cooperation with the Department of Arts in the Ministry of Education in Kuwait. The aim is to raise awareness of the traditional Sadu weaving among the younger generations.

“The programme has had a significant impact on students and art teachers, many of whom have demonstrated a high level of manual ability and creativity in traditional weaving,” reads UNESCO’s description. “The positive effects of the programme are evident in the students’ artwork and in the teachers’ enthusiasm to instruct and arrange end-of-year exhibitions revolving around Al Sadu weaving.”

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