29/07/2020 by Ala’a Baroun, Observer from Kuweit
We are living in a time where a pandemic has largely impacted our lives in an incredibly short period of time. The Covid-19 virus has been declared a health emergency at a global level ever as a dangerous and quick-spreading virus. Consequently, several safety measures were taken by countries to contain and slow down the spreading of the virus. Those measures include limiting and hindering the following social interactions: gatherings, work, public events etc.. in aim to avoid crowds and direct contact between people.
It’s critical for us to understand what is happening to our cultural heritage nowadays; both tangible and intangible. As a region, we have a diverse cultural environment that had a significant role over the years in shaping identity and building a sense of belonging. The new restrictions, social distancing, curfews and lockdowns imposed around the world in response to the pandemic highlighted how intangible heritage has a social, economic and psychological role in our lives.
With the current decline in social interaction, whether it’s fear-based or government imposed curfews and lockdowns, the dynamic traditions and activities of a community is affected negatively. Social practices, rituals, traditions, festivals, performing art and public events heavily depend on the community and people participation. By controlling people’s interaction and participation within a community it affects the social cohesion.
Intangible cultural heritage has the ability and power to adapt and evolve, where communities all around the world are continuing to practice their intangible heritage in creative ways. The community has the power to give value and recognition to their beliefs and culture; where they preserve, practice, transmit and share their culture.
Many practices, rituals, and traditions adapted and continued to be present and practiced despite restrictive measures by using digital platforms. For example, traditional skills and intangible heritage knowledge are being transmitted and taught through conducting online workshops and lectures.
The continuity of practicing and living our heritage is essential, it’s equally important to acknowledge and support the people who are transmitting the knowledge. Covid-19 resulted in affecting the income of those working in performing arts and traditional crafts.The culture within a society depends merely on its people who preserve traditions, skills, and customs, from which it leaks into other part of the community, and then from generation to generation.
Since I was young, during the month of Ramadan and right before the daily prayer of Maghrib I would see people coming out of their houses and head to their neighbors’ houses to share a plate of a cooked meal or dessert before Iftar. This is an old tradition that has been going on for decades; In Kuwait, we call it a niqssah . This year and given the instructions directed by the government (24-hour curfew that restricted social activities ), we were unable to practice this tradition. A niqssah which translated into “ to take part of something”, where in this case it means to share part of your food with someone else. The beauty in this tradition that it ensures that neighbors and families stay in touch.
During this life-changing pandemic, as we grieve over trivial restrictions such as the inability to share a niqssah, we were given the opportunity to reflect on how our intangible heritage is deep-rooted in our lives and identity. We are to acknowledge the role of intangible cultural heritage in emergencies like this. Our responsibility, as a community, is to cherish our traditions and heritage are ensure they are kept alive and preserved.