Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is an important aspect of Jordanian cultural identity, and an essential value of the local communities across the Kingdom. ICH sustains cultural diversity, community resilience, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life. In order to enhance support for ICH, UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture of Jordan, organized a series of training workshops across Jordan, adopting an inclusive approach that includes the involvement of rural communities.
Jordan is particularly rich in intangible cultural heritage, which comprises the traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, including oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, and traditional knowledge and practices. In recognition of their significance, in 2008 the traditions and way of life associated with “The Cultural Space of the Bedu in Petra and Wadi Rum” were inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The UNESCO Amman Office and the Ministry of Culture of Jordan recently facilitated a series of workshops on the safeguarding of ICH with a specific focus on training the local communities in creating a community-based inventory of intangible heritage in the northern city of Al-Mafraq, which was inaugurated as 2017’s “city of culture”. One participant, Hisham, brought along his two daughters Katrine and Shahira to ensure the multi-generational transfer of knowledge. Hisham explained, “Mafraq is portrayed as a dusty desert town with many refugees and we shouldn’t forget about the vibrant talents in this area. We are a family of artists interested in memorializing the culture that surrounds us and transmitting our traditions”. Throughout the workshops, these bright sisters came to represent the intrinsic value of the intangible cultural heritage inventoried, lending dynamism to future preservation efforts in Jordan.
Other participants recorded interviews with local Bedouins, discussing traditional coffee preparation. A local Sheikh explained the elaborate process of coffee preparation in meticulous detail; from roasting the beans over fire, to grinding them in a traditional “meh-bash”, to the use of the beautiful “della” when presenting the drink to company.
A Sheikh explains Bedouin coffee culture in Mafraq. © UNESCO
In Bedouin culture, coffee is accompanied by a strong sense of meaning. The Sheikh explained that when a man is asking for a woman’s hand in marriage, he approaches her family and they drink coffee. If the bride’s family accepts his proposal, they signify this by drinking the coffee before it becomes cold. Coffee conveys acceptance or rejection in a number of scenarios. If a guest is offered a full cup rather than the few small, strong sips usually poured, it symbolizes dislike. If no coffee is offered at all, an insult is perceived.
Participants explored as well the complexities of Nabatean poetry. Meeting in a goat-hair tent, a passionate Bedouin elder recited his poems, pausing to explain that poetry is a way for men to attract the attention of women. During a visit to a Druze community near the Syrian border, workshop participants interviewed Druze women and chronicled the intricacies of their traditional dress, displayed by three generations of women. The women discussed the stunning georgette silk of their dresses and veils and shared how preserving this traditional clothing is linked to preserving their cultural identity.
A Druze woman displays her traditional dress. © UNESCO
The workshops have served to emphasize the need to develop inventories of intangible cultural heritage. The preservation of cultural heritage goes beyond monuments and collections of objects, serving as a bridge between generations and peoples. Participants agreed that ICH is a precious patrimony of Jordanian culture, and safeguarding this for the future generations is a shared task contributing to enhancing the identity and resilience of the local communities. Local authorities recognized as well that a strong culture component of shared values, and human-centered approach to development, will contribute to local strategies for sustainable development.