The United Nations has announced that Mexican mariachi music, Chinese shadow puppetry and poetic dueling competitions in Cyprus are among several cultural traditions that are at risk of dying out, prompting moves to protect and encourage their practice.

A UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) intergovernmental board met for one week in Bali, Indonesia to discuss living cultural practices, examining oral traditions, art forms and generational rituals.

This cultural traditions were evaluated based on their importance to their originating society and their danger of becoming extinct.

Those selected were then added to the List of Intangible Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

'Respect,' 'Harmony' and 'Cultural Values'

These traditions are crucial not just from a historical or aesthetic perspective, but from a very pressing cultural one. They bind communities together, convey a country or people's outlooks and ideals and can even serve very practical, social purposes.

French-style horseback riding, for example, is not only a symbolic celebration of the harmony between beast and man, according to The Guardian, but also a practical guide to riding lightly and establishing a close relationship with one's mount.

The committee commended mariachi music for teaching values of respect for Mexico's history and indigenous heritage and Chinese shadow puppetry for [promoting] cultural values.

Nineteen items were added to the Intangible Heritage list in total.

Traditions in Danger

Below is a brief description of some of the cultural traditions advocated as most crucial for preservation. The United Nations encourages both locals and readers around the world to explore and promote them in the coming year.

  1. Fado (Portugal): Songs part of a musical tradition for the urban poor in Lisbon that soon spread to Coimbra and beyond. First recorded in the 1820s, the tradition probably stretches back even further. Distinctive elements include the Portugeuse guitar, Arab musical influences, and a singing style modeled off of women wailing.
  2. Jultagi (Korea): Tight-rope walking that is distinctive from usual circus performances due to the inclusion of a story. Musical plays present a narrative that accompanies the tight-rope walker's performance.  Jultagi also can also involve a clown as a sort of tight-rope sidekick.
  3. Hezhen Yimakan (China): From the Hezhen people in northeast China, this is a form of storytelling narrated in both verse and prose. The stories involve multiple independent episodes depicting tribal alliances and battles. The Yimakan performers alternate between improvised speaking and singing (sans musical accompaniment) and use different melodies to indicate distinct characters or plot lines.
  4. Lenj (Iran): Traditional fishing boats with an entire cultural tradition around their construction, uses and inspirations. The northern coast of the Persian Gulf has many oral traditions and performing arts festival associated with sailing, navigation techniques, terminology and the skills of Lenj building.
  5. Keskek (Turkey): Ceremonial meat or chicken cooked in wheat or barley stew. Found in Iranian as well as Turkish cuisine, it is a common meal consumed during religious festivals, weddings and funerals.
  6. Rice Rituals (Japan): Closely tied to ancient Japanese mythology and the roots of Shintoism, rice is intimately associated with Japan's birth. As a result, for generations the Japanese have seen rice production as part of their cultural heritage and have specific rituals associated with the planting, harvesting and distribution of rice grains.
  7. Jaguar Shamans (Colombia): A brother/sisterhood bonded with the jaguars of the Amazon Rainforest and surrounding jungles. These shamans protect the health and well being of their tribe, provide a powerful group identity of elemental forces like wind, rain and thunder, and possess great knowledge of their environment and local animals. This knowledge is now being lost as the jaguar shamans die out.
  8. Saman Dance (Indonesia): From the Aceh province, this dance originated with the Gayo tribe and incorporates both Arab and Gayo languages and traditions. The dance incorporated dramatic, perfectly synchronized movements by a dance troupe in vibrant costume and at one time was performed exclusively by males.
  9. Shadow Puppetry (China): A form of theater involving colorful silhouette figures performing against a back-lit cloth screen. The puppeteer's skill, which include crafting the dolls, manipulating the puppets and employing improvisational singing and music playing, are passed down in families and troupes from master to pupil.
  10. Tsiatista(Cyprus): A duel between warring poets, this tradition celebrates quick wits and a rich vocabulary. Competitors try to outdo each other by constructing improvising, elaborate verses of rhyming couplets.