Inclusion of Kalash practice in world heritage list celebrated

ISLAMABAD: A dinner was held at the residence of the Swiss ambassador to celebrate the inscription of Suri Jagek, a Kalash cultural practice, on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list.

The inscription of Suri Jagek is the first inscription exclusively from Pakistan. Suri Jagek is a spiritual tradition linked to the Winter Solstice; it is a meteorological and astronomical practice of the people of Kalash Valley to observe the sun, moon and stars in reference to the local topography for weather-related forecasts.

The dinner was hosted by Swiss Ambassador Thomas Kolly and Unesco representative Vibeke Jensen.

Ambassador Kolly welcomed guests to the event, saying, “Diversity is a very valued notion, especially when speaking of countries. And when speaking of Pakistan it is a perfect match — Pakistan is a very diverse country.

“I am a representative of a country that is much smaller than Pakistan but one that also has a high degree of diversity. This is a common point we have with Pakistan. There are different languages, traditions, and there is the Kalash community as an example of this high level of diversity. This is also the reason why we are gathering here.”

He added: “The Kalash community just obtained admission onto a Unesco list of intangible heritage sites. This is comparable with Switzerland where we have, together with Austria, an intangible listing which is the traditional knowledge of handling natural disasters that is avalanches.”

He praised the governments of Pakistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for their role in the process, saying: “Unesco of course was critical but what the government is doing is highly positive in the sense of appreciating diversity and culture as a factor of development — in the larger sense but also in the sense of economic development.”

Ms Jensen said this particular cultural practice “was inscribed on the 2003 Unesco Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage and in a specific soft chapter which is about cultural practices which are in need of urgent safeguarding in December 2018.”

She added: “Being inscribed on a Unesco list for world heritage is not something that just happens in a few months, it takes several years.

“Professor Sajida Vandal along with her team worked very hard with the Kalasha community in preparing the file for submission to the committee. The work began right after the devastating floods of 2015 and some ambassadors and heads of agencies met here at the Swiss residence with some members of the Kalasha community to discuss how we could support the Kalasha.

“The Swiss, SDC, the Canadians and the Australians pooled together small amounts of money to do the immense research that is needed and to facilitate the community to see what they would like to see nominated and safeguarded.”

MPA Wazir Zada, the first Kalasha to become a KP MPA, was also present.

He said: “I remember just three years ago when we met at this embassy and discussed cultural preservation. It’s very important to preserve the intangible culture as the Kalasha rituals, festivals and the entire system is run by folk songs, folk tales and family history and with the passage of time and the passage of the elders, the oral knowledge is disappearing.

“All our festivals and spiritual practices are linked with the Suri Jagek.”

He added that in recent years the government has been supportive and interested in preserving the Kalasha culture and it is the responsibility of the government to make policies and laws to protect and preserve the culture, ecology and area of the Kalasha, which will be for the benefit of all.

Minister for Education, National History and Literary Heritage Shafqat Mahmood said: “We will do everything we can to protect the cultures of all peoples of Pakistan.

“The Kalash culture is part of the national heritage. Our ministry is trying to map out all our built heritage, but that is only one part of our heritage. This kind of recognition and protection means that that there will be no danger to this sort of intangible tradition.”

“This is a very good initiative. We need to protect these cultures and these practices. I didn’t know that something like this existed and I have invited Ms Jensen to the Senate committee for education and culture to come and explain this to us.

“The more the parliament knows, the more informed they are, the greater role they can play to preserve the cultural traditions of Pakistan,” Senator Saleem Mandviwala said.

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