The term ‘cultural heritage’ has changed content considerably in recent decades, partially owing to the instruments developed by UNESCO.

Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also 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
    • practices concerning nature and the universe
    • the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts

While fragile, ICH is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. An understanding of the ICH of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life.

The social and economic value of the transmission of knowledge natural heritage is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State and is as important for developing States as for developed ones.

Intangible cultural heritage is:

    • 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: we may share expressions of intangible cultural heritage that are similar to those practiced by others. Whether they are from the neighboring village, from a city on the opposite side of the world, or have been adopted by peoples who have migrated and settled in a different region, they all are intangible cultural heritage.
    • They have been passed from one generation to another, have evolved in response to their environments and they contribute to giving us a sense of identity and continuity, providing a link from our past, through the present, and into our future.
    • Representative: intangible cultural heritage thrives on its basis in communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills, and customs are passed on to of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities;
    • Community-based: intangible cultural heritage can only be heritage when it is recognized as such by the communities, groups, or individuals that create, maintain, and transmit it – without their recognition, nobody else can decide for them that a given expression or practice is their heritage.

The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity currently has 492 elements.  It includes forms of expression that testify to the diversity of intangible heritage and raises awareness of its importance.

By enhancing the visibility of communities’ cultural practices and know-how, UNESCO aims to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage of communities globally.