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Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

UNESCO recognizes Aceh’s dramatic, synchronized Saman Dance as Intangible World Heritage

Nov 28, 2011

The target="_blank">Saman dance from target="_blank">Aceh has joined target="_blank">batik, wayang, and target="_blank">angklung as Indonesian’s contribution to UNESCO’s list of intangible world heritage as announced in Bali Thursday, November 24, 2011.

The Saman Dance was included in the list under the category of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. The decision to include Aceh’s Saman dance was reached at UNESCO’S 6th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage held in target="_blank">Nusa Dua, target="_blank">Bali, from November 22 to 29, 2011.

According to a government spokesman for cultural affairs, Suyud Winarno, one reason the dance is in need of protection is that it is increasingly rarely performed by men, despite being traditionally a performance exclusively danced by males.
"At the session, the Saman dance from Gayo Lues and environs in Aceh province was officially included in UNESCO`s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Urgent Need of Safeguarding," said I Gusti Ngurah Putra, Head of Information and Public Communication of the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, as reported in

The Saman dance dates back to the 13th century, when it was conceived by Sheikh Saman, a Gayo ethnic elder of Aceh, to convey religious messages. The dance features an odd number of performers, male (usually young men), sitting or kneeling in a row. They wear traditional costumes with Gayo embroidery depicting natural and moral symbols. A trainer stands in the middle singing songs with messages of development, religion, advice, culture, satire, humor, and romance, while the dancers engage in a complex percussion rhythm and movements of hands clapping, pats on chest, and thigh slaps. The movements are so harmoniously synchronized and often vigorous, that would leave spectators in awe.
Mari Elka Pangestu, Minister for Tourism and Creative Economy, said that world recognition of the dance will have far-reaching economic benefits for the country, mainly through increased tourism. She also added that in addition to its value to the tourism industry, formal recognition of the dance could also foster a thriving traditional art industry in Indonesia. Meanwhile, Agung Laksono, Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare, stated that efforts to conserve the dance will not end with its inclusion in the list, stressing that this was just the first step towards nurturing and promoting the dance.

Earlier this week, Indonesia's Minister for Education and Culture, Mohammad Nuh, announced that the Indonesian government will contribute funds to support UNESCO's activities, saying that the organization was experiencing difficult times. Irina Bokova , Director General of UNESCO, expressed her gratitude for this significant and timely contribution, affirming that it would support UNESCO's core activities, including the preservation of heritage, capacity building, and improving the quality of education. A substantial part of the funding will be used for programs to support Indonesia and the ASEAN region.

Over 500 representatives from 69 countries, international NGOs, cultural experts, and the media are currently participating in the meeting in Bali. The Sixth Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was officially opened by Coordinating Minister for People`s Welfare, Agung Laksono, in the presence of UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, Education and Culture Minister Muhammad Nuh, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu, and UNESCO`s Assistant Director General for Culture Francesco Bandarin.

UNESCO recognizes Aceh’s dramatic, synchronized Saman Dance as Intangible World Heritage
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