Date palm’s journey to join UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

Nada Deyaa’
6 Min Read

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed last week date palm on its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, to be the first-ever listed heritage combining 14 countries from the Middle East. The flourishing palm was admitted as a unique element of the Arab region, that brought together the cultural ties of the neighbour countries.

The listing came at the 14th gathering of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which took place in Colombia from 9 to 14 December. The date palm was accredited to be one of the elements that help in deepening the relations between Arab countries and its populations.

The file was admitted to the committee by Saeed Hamad Al Kaabi, director of the Intangible Heritage at the Department of Culture and Tourism in Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), in cooperation with Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen.

Daily News Egypt interviewed Al-Kaabi to explore the details behind the bid, the challenges they faced throughout the process, and the cooperation between the participating countries.

What made you interested in bidding to list date palm in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage?

Our bid for adding date palm to the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on behalf of 14 Arab countries was based on the existence of the date palm in most Arab countries, which constitutes a pan Arab cultural component, and its importance for Arab economy as a source of food and raw materials for many traditional handicrafts that met the daily needs of Arab families.

Moreover, it was based on the social and cultural connotations of the date palm in the Arab society where it is the inspiration for many customs, traditions, and oral history.

How long have you been preparing the bid, and what are the listing elements?

A call was made to prepare a joint Arab date palm bid by the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO). Thus, two meetings were held between the member countries, the first in Sudan’s Khartoum and the second in Luxor in Egypt from 16 to 18 December 2018, ending with the mandate of the United Arab Emirates to be the coordinating country for the bid.

As for the included elements, they were mainly the required criteria in the nomination process, including the names given to the date palm in different Arab countries, its spread in the Arab world, a brief description of its history, the bearers and practitioners of the economic activities related to the date palm, methods of preserving the date palm, ans its cultural and social connotations.

What were the challenges that you faced while preparing the bid?

The large number of Arab countries participating in the bid, which were 14, was the biggest obstacle which delayed the submission of the required documents. However, the well-management of the team and the long experience of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism in preparing such bids for UNESCO overcame all challenges.

What was the contribution of the other 13 countries participating in the bid?

The participating Arab countries submitted their respective bids in addition to other required documents. Afterwards, a committee was formed to coordinate the bids and prepare it as one.

Then, the Arab file drafting committee represented all countries involved, and produced the file according to required standards.

These steps were followed by presenting the bid in its final form to the participating countries to obtain their approval, and finally the bid was submitted to the UAE’s Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, which in turn sent it in to the Arab League and then to UNESCO.


How would the date palm’s joining of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list increase its popularity?

Joining the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list sheds light on the date palm and its cultural and heritage importance in the Arab world through research, studies, books, and publications. It appreciates the efforts being made to develop different breeds of date palm, methods of preserving it, and develop products made from them.

As the Arab countries participating in the bid shared their experiences in the field of date palm cultivation, developing new breeds, and ways to benefit from its products, the bid also highlighted common cultural and heritage elements in the Arab world that must be preserved and nominated to UNESCO in the future.

How do you plan to use this step in promoting tourism in Arab countries?

We aim to highlight the aesthetic aspects of date palm plantations and their impact on the environment, and hold festivals, exhibitions and competitions related to the date palm. This is mainly through organising tourist visits to the industrial areas associated with the processing of date palm products.

As for the industries relying on it, we aim to devise new methods to fully benefit from the date palm in modern industries. Moreover, we are currently preparing promotional documentaries about the date palm.

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