Sunday, March 11, 2018

Singapore's Intangible Cultural Heritage

Singapore on February 22, 2018 became the 177th state to join the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Singapore thus part of network of countries promoting the safeguard of living traditions. Recent poll results list food as top of people's mind. No surprise to that and Singapore favorites include: Chicken Rice, Rojak and Chili Crab. Beyond food, the examples cited in Strait Times (11 March 2018), performing art forms such as dikir barat (Malay choral style) and religious customs and festivals such as Thaipusam and Qing Ming. Folk tales such as Sang Nila Utama and the legend of Bukit Merah were also cited.

Chinese Opera Artisan preparing in Ubin Island 

My list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of Singapore 

If i were polled, this will be some that i hope will make the list of ICH for Singapore that the National Heritage Board and the Government of Singapore should take into serious consideration.

1. Baba and Nyonya identity and culture
Often described as the "Peranakan" culture, this culture is unique to this region with includes Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia with a community that is continuously seeking to preserve its identity, language, food and its customs and traditions and yet embracing the future by making it relevant to the community at large. The Baba Malay language, its food (e.g. ayam buah keluak, etc ) and its pantun ( singing of Baba Malay verses in poetic form) are prime examples.

The Nyonya Sarong kebaya and its modern adaptation is another example of keeping this art form alive and relevant in today's world (reference: Peranakan kebaya maker Raymond Wong: Passion for a dying art brings him world fame, Straits Times. 1 May 2017). and (reference: Defiantly, he weaves life into a dying Peranakan craft. Channel News Asia. 22 June 2016). which features Heath Yeo, a sarong kebaya maker.

2.Traditional Artisans supporting local customs and industry
There are many that can be suggested here and the potential for growth is in this area. I am not an expert in this area, but i was fortunate to have meet some traditional artisans whose trade has been surviving for many generations and supporting local customs and religious festivals. What i sometimes see also is the involvement of the younger generation of trade folks, acknowledging the need to adapt to changes but yet keeping the traditional methods alive. The suggested links below are not comprehensive, but meant to be a discussion and search point for more out there.
Effigy Artisan at Say Hong Tian Hng 
a) Effigy shop that make deities (e.g. Say Hong Tian Hng Buddha Shop)
Where gods are born (Say Hong Tian Hng Buddha Shop)
Godmakers - The Artisans and the Effigies (Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop)

b)Traditional lantern paper maker 
Yeo Hung Teo (traditional lantern painter)

c) Traditional Puppet or Marionette Troupe in Singapore
Traditional Chinese Puppet Troupe in Singapore

d) Chinese Opera in Singapore 
Faces behind the Chinese Opera (Pulau Ubin) - Part I
Faces behind the Chinese Opera (Pulau Ubin) - Part II

e) Rattan furniture artisans 
Rattan Furniture Industry in Singapore

3. Customs and festivals.
Again there are many to list and each community will come forward to list its merits. I will again focus on what i am familiar with.

a) Qing Ming practices in Bukit Brown and Ubin Island
Qing Ming is an affirmation of the importance of Bukit Brown as a space of cultural heritage where the traditional practices of filial piety and recollection of family stories and bonds are again renewed. What is for sure, Bukit Brown was never an abandoned cemetery.
Qing Ming in Bukit Brown (2017)
Qing Ming in Bukit Brown (2016)
Qing Ming in Ubin Island (2016)

Qing Ming in Bukit Brown

b) Fire Dragon at Mun San Fook Tuck Chee 
The Mun San Fook Tuck Chee (萬山福德祠) or also known as  Sar Kong Temple is one of the oldest Cantonese temple in Singapore and one of its famous festivals involves a "Fire Dragon".
Chasing the Fire Dragon (Mun San Fook Tuck Chee)
My first temple dinner (Mun San Fook Tuck Chee)
Fire dragon greeting its visitors

What is UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

Extracted from the UNESCO website, this includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.  This elements include:
  • Traditional, contemporary and living at the same time: intangible cultural heritage does not only represent inherited traditions from the past but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part.
  • Inclusive: It promotes and contributes to social cohesion, encouraging a sense of identity and responsibility which helps individuals to feel part of one or different communities and to feel part of society at large;
  • Representative: It thrives on its basis in communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs are passed on to the rest of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities;
  •  Community-based: It is recognised as such by the communities that create, maintain and transmit it.

UNESCO Intangilbe Culture Heritage. (website).

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