Czech and Slovak puppets added to UNESCO list

The tradition joins Czech folk dances and processions as Intangible Cultural Heritage

Puppetry in Slovakia and the Czech Republic has been inscribed on UNESCO's representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The news was announced during a UN committee meeting in Addis Ababa. Falconry was also added to the list, with the Czech Republic cited as one of 18 countries where it takes place.

Puppet theater for communities in Slovakia and the Czech Republic is not only a popular form of traditional entertainment but also a way of conveying a vision of the world, and an educational tool with messages on moral values, UNESCO stated in its inscription.

“The puppets, whose characters are real or imaginary, are mostly made of wood and animated using various methods. Initial bearers of the practice were families of traveling puppeteers whose works later absorbed local influences in language and themes using namely comical figures with distinct characteristics. Puppet theater is an integral part of Slovak and Czech local theater and literary tradition. It also plays an important role in socialization, helping performers to develop as creative thinkers and learn about cooperation, communication and to strengthen their sense of identity in society,” the UNESCO inscription states.

“Featuring with other traditional rituals and festive events like feast days, markets and fairs, puppet shows today come in many different forms but still draw from tradition. Practice bearers include performers, playwrights, puppet and costume makers, as well as stage designers. Skills are transmitted by imitation and practice within performer communities, while in Slovakia also transmission takes place in traditional puppetry dynasties, as well as through workshops run by not-for-profit organizations and music and arts schools,” the UNESCO inscription concludes.

The Czech Ministry of Culture praised the cooperation with Slovakia on the joint nomination. The proposal to include puppetry was originally going to be returned for more documentation, but the two countries strongly insisted that the documentation was up to date, and the UNESCO committee finally agreed to include it. “I appreciate the efforts of the Czech and Slovak colleagues and their extremely high quality work on the joint nomination of the phenomenon of puppetry, which fortunately never gets old. It brings joy to children and adults and accompanies our lives from childhood to old age,” Culture Minister Daniel Herman said in a press release.

The Czech Republic along with the United Arab Emirates, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Mongolia, Morocco, Pakistan, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain and the Syrian Arab Republic were named as a location for falconry, which was also added to the Intangible Cultural Heritage list. “Originally a method of obtaining food, the practice of falconry has evolved over time to be more associated with nature conservation, cultural heritage and social engagement within and amongst communities. Following their own set of traditions and ethical principles, falconers train, fly and breed birds of prey … developing a bond with them and becoming their main source of protection,” the inscription says in part. Falconry was previously announced as intangible heritage in 2010, but it no longer appears on the UNESCO list of items for that year.

There are three other pieces of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Czech Republic. The Slovácko verbŭnk, an improvised dance performed by boys and men living in the South Moravia and Zlín districts, was recognized in 2005. The Shrovetide processions, which take place in the town of Hlinsko and six nearby villages in the Hlinecko area of Eastern Bohemia, were entered in 2010. The Ride of the Kings, which takes place as a part of the Pentecost traditions in the towns of Hluk and Kunovice and the villages of Skoronice and Vlčnov, was recognized in 2011.

Among the items added to the 2016 list are yoga in India, beer culture in Belgium, three writing systems of the Georgian alphabet, the merengue in the Dominican Republic, the Tahteeb stick game in Egypt and traditional wall-carpet craftsmanship in Romania and the Republic of Moldova. In total some 33 items were entered on to the list at the 2016 session in Addis Ababa.

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